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Looking Back at 10 Years of Education Projects - What's Our Return on Investment

What started 10 years ago as one architecture studio at the Illinois Institute of Technology has blossomed into an amazing education program - now including 19 schools that include architecture, civil and structural engineering and construction management programs. The investment in each of these programs (formerly known as studios, but which have now morphed into more all-encompassing “education projects”) is enormous. Not only in terms of the dollars invested in each school by the PCI Foundation, but also the time, talent and treasure brought to bear on the projects by the local partners who get involved on each and every program. 

As I look back on the history of the programs, and the evolution of the PCI Foundation, some of the benefits to our industry are apparent right away. Each year, I survey students who have been in the program to learn about how they view their precast concrete experience. Most of them tell us that they have an excellent experience through the PCI Foundation program, and a theme throughout many of the comments is that the precast program is often the highlight of a college career. Answers like this University of Southern California students are not at all unusual. "I think it was a very educational studio and was very well organized. The trips to the precast plant were very motivating and inspiring throughout the semester. The hands-on experience is definitely a must for the coming years!” 

For many of the students, their time learning about precast will affect the choices they make while seeking positions after college. Eighty-four percent say they plan to design with precast concrete and 64% say they will seek work with a firm that typically designs with precast. And sometimes, once they leave school past-students find unexpected ways that the program was helpful. "I do actually use what I learned in Doug Nobles' studio,” says Nicolle Landowski of IA Interiors. "I learned about the limitations and best uses of precast. Now I am working in silicon valley mainly doing offices that are steel construction, but we have quite a few labs/warehouses that are precast concrete construction that are being converted into nice offices. It was helpful to learn because now when we detail/modify the precast shell of the building, I have an understanding of how it was made, what its limitations are, and what we can do. Also, it was helpful in the past when doing multi-family housing, as they typically used precast elements for the parking lots. And, we have been using precast concrete elements a lot in interiors for offices. I was just on a project where we cast the reception desk in concrete sections because of its unique form.” 

In one case, a student who graduated in May from the the University of Michigan contacted his local partner in July looking for a precast for a project he was working on. The turn around isn’t always so quick, and yet we are finding many stories similar to this from many graduates. In other cases, students have gone directly from school to work with the precast industry. Wells Concrete has hired at least two graduates from the Minnesota State at Mankato program.

Another benefit of using the PCI Foundation program is the number of students we are able to “touch” through the schools. While the number of students who have been directly involved with programs is just over 1200, students who participate in activities before and after grants are complete is more than 2100. This is because some students who may not be enrolled in precast classes often tag along for industry tours or lectures from the precast group. And, these programs typically continue even after the grant is complete. 

One of the elements of our programs that the PCI Foundation has gotten much better at over the last 10 years is working with schools to keep a program rolling even after the grant is complete. This often takes some effort on the part of the local partner, and the interest from the professor who sees how his or her students have benefitted over the course of the program. Currently, 50% of the programs continue at the same level once the grant is complete and 75% of program carry at some level - either by continuing to include tours, speakers or other precast materials, or by continuing to include precast instruction within other curriculum such as materials classes.

Memorable experiences gained in the PCI Foundation programs and relationships students form with our industry have lead graduates to look for careers where they can use what they learned about precast, specifically precast projects once they are out, go to work for the precast industry and carry on a legacy for our industry like nothing we saw in education prior to the first studio starting 10 years ago. The return on investment is amazing.

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