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Behind the Scenes of the PCI Foundation Curriculum Development Grant

As the PCI Foundation has grown and developed, the programs we work with have grown right alongside us. In the beginning, the trustees saw how successful we could be using the design studio approach at schools of architecture to teach precast and help the material integrate into more of the curriculum. However, as more schools became involved, we found that each school has a unique approach to education and we can play a helpful role that caters to that school’s needs. While some of our programs are studios similar to the first program at Illinois Institute of Technology, most of what we do has become providing curriculum development grants. Nearly every industry and area of study we want to work with must develop and present new curriculum - whether it be as part of an architecture, bridge, engineering, real estate, or construction management program. 

Since 2007, the PCI Foundation has focused on providing curriculum development grants to schools of architecture, engineering and construction management. These grants allow professors to partner with local precast fabricators, engineers and architects to create unique content that cultivates productive relationships between the precast industry and the academic community, develops high-potential students for production careers within the precast industry and facilitates including precast concrete information and technologies in university curricula.   So how does this work? 

Identify the Need

The first step is for the community (the precaster, the school, etc.) to identify a need for new precast concrete curriculum. This may be done either by the school or by the precast industry. Examples of needs our grants have helped address is rather diverse - no two programs are exactly the same.  In some cases, the program is meant to educate future decision makers / customers of our products. This could be when your sales people attend meetings with area architects and find themselves having to do basic precast concrete education because studens have not learned the basics of designing with our products prior to graduation. Even when the producer has stepped in and provided lectures and tours, it often isn’t enough to give the in-depth knowledge that we would like our customers to have. So, working with the school we can create new curriculum that solves this issue. 

In other cases, there may be a need by our industry make direct hires from programs in their area. Making our industry understandable, and forming connections with the students allows us to create relationships that will take the student beyond school and directly into our industry. Workforce development has been at the heart of several of the grants we have provided. 

The Foundation has also worked with several programs that focus more on the precast product fabrication - especially as it relates to digital fabrication. Some of this work will be the technology that our industry uses for the future. And we have seen interesting research  come out of these programs.

Curriculum Development Team

Once the need is identified, the proposal team needs to put together its curriculum development team. Typically, this includes local industry partners, professors, and administrators. At times, this can also include engineers, contractors, developers, and others who can assist in meeting the needs that have been identified. The team will have a few leaders, and it should work together to ensure that the needs are being addressed and the team’s skills are being put to good use. 

Propose Methods and Intended Outcomes

The team looks at the needs and its strengths, and then it comes to the PCI Foundation to make a request for a grant. The PCI Foundation Trustees will look closely at the methods and the outcomes to ensure it meets the PCI Foundation Mission: 

  • Cultivate the relationship between the precast industry and academic community

  • Develop and attract high-potential students to productive careers within the industry

  • Facilitates inclusion of precast concrete systems and technology in university curricula, and 

  • Exposes students to “real world” design/construction experiences related to precast concrete. 

I personally place a lot of emphasis on the last of these items. When students have unique experiences they tend to remember them and learn from them. And, time and time again when I survey students about their program, they come back to the positive experiences and relationships they formed. It also works closely with the idea of experiential learning that is a focus on a number of college campuses right now. 

If the proposal meets these and the Trustees approve it, the next step is taken. 

Develop Methods and Programs

  • The next challenge in the curriculum development process is selecting content that will meet the needs identified by the team. Some of the ways this content has been delivered in our Most of this work comes during this phase. Many of the programs include things such as:

  • Case studies of precast projects

  • Small mold and piece making

  • BIM / computer work

  • Student research project

  • Document development

  • Critiques with industry professionals

  • Plant and project tours

  • Industry Lectures

  • Community Outreach

  • Precast design problems

Pilot Testing

This is the portion of our projects that PCI members see the most about. The actual teaching studios, courses, plant tours, guest lectures, and project designs that all stem from the planning and development process. Sometimes this is a “Precast Studio” sometimes it is an entry in the solar decathlon. The actual curriculum looks different for each grant that is given. 

Evaluation and Redesign

One of the reasons that the PCI Foundation has made an effort to provide multiple year grants to schools of architecture, engineering and construction management is because the importance of the final step of creating new curriculum. It isn’t enough to finish a semester and feel like the job is done. It takes evaluation after the program to fine tune it and make the curriculum better after each semester. The team should meet together after the school year or semester to reflect on what worked well and what could be improved. What are new ideas that would make the education better.  At the end of the grant, a school should have a program that is ready to serve the needs of the school, the students and the industry. 

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