In collaboration with the PCI Foundation Wells sponsors a PCI Design Studio at Minnesota State University Mankato (MSUM). Setting up this studio took a lot of work on the front end; developing curriculum, goals, and a business plan. Utilizing a comprehensive proposal developed by University staff, Wells applied to the Foundation, along with several others, and MSUM was selected and awarded a grant from the Foundation; Wells matches the foundations grant.
In 2014, at the time this program at MSUM was developed it was the sixth design studio to be introduced in the United States and is unique for its focus on engineering and construction management departments. Wells has received great recognition from the Foundation as well as other industry members for the success of the program. MSUM has a very dedicated staff involved in the studio and many employees at Wells have participated in class visits, plant tours, Big Beam Contests, Concrete Canoes, and site tours.
The first year of the program we had six students sign up for the prestress design class; growing to over 20 students in subsequent years. The beauty of being a sponsor is we were involved in building the curriculum and the syllabus for these classes. The mission of the Foundation and Wells is to teach these students about precast concrete. We follow a specific project (or projects) from the beginning to the end, starting in sales and estimating, then going on to engineering and BIM, followed by plant visits and visits in the classroom to show the students about real life projects - which involve risk management, safety, and site analysis - and finally conclude with field trips to job sites.
Today, the studio has become very popular; the students like the tours and especially the site visits, both of which include a free lunch! The first year we had 15 students total from the Civil Engineering and Construction Management Departments involved in the studio, and we put together some site visits to observe several projects under construction in the metro area. In 2015, Dr. Reza called me up and asked, “How many students can we bring?” Assuming 18 students were in the class, we thought a small bus would suffice. The Studio put up a sign up sheet and offered it to all Civil Engineering and Construction Management students and we actually had to turn students down because the biggest bus we could find was limited to 55 passengers. We took the students to the Vikings stadium and had a caravan of student following the bus. We had three staff members attend along with the Dean of Engineering. I have never seen so many selfies taken at one time as the students were toured around the stadium.
Our mission is to teach students about precast specifically, as one day many of these students will be in a position to choose a particular building material as a solution for projects throughout their career. In return, this allows us to expand our market share and we believe this is where it begins. We have made exceptional progress toward our mission and we will continue building the program in the years to come. It was not intended to draw students to Wells Concrete specifically, but to send them into the workforce with another tool in their tool box – that tool being precast. There is, however, a hidden benefit: during the process of creating this unique opportunity, we have attracted some of the best students in the program and they have come to Wells for employment. The entire process has been a lot of fun, and working with the students and the staff has allowed me to make many new friends.