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Research Shows: PCI Foundation Learning to Love New Math

When the trustees started the PCI Foundation, the thought was to get precast concrete design into architecture, engineering and construction management curriculum. As we have seen that goal achieved at the various schools we have worked with, we have noticed another phenomenon. The money the PCI Foundation puts toward a program seems to multiply … and at rates that we never knew were possible.

At the end of October, the PCI Foundation held its Board of Trustees meeting at Arizona State University in Tempe, Arizona. In addition to hearing from the two newer grant recipients  (ASU and University of Arizona) we asked Dr. Adel ElSafty of the University of North Florida School of Engineering and our Academic Council Chair, to report on how his program is going.

If you have followed the PCI Foundation programs, you will remember that Dr. ElSafty was the first recipient of a grant for an all-engineering studio. He reported, “Since we started with our PCI Foundation Studio in grant in April 2009, I was able to get 2.5 million dollars in the last nine years. When we went to the Department of Transportation, Federal Highway Administration and National Science Foundation and we say we work in collaboration with the PCI Foundation and we are conducting this research it helps. We then ask them, can you partially fund us? And they were able to do that. FDOT gave me about 10 projects in the last seven years.” So while the money from a PCI Foundation grant is not used for research, research follows the grant. As professors learn about the industry and its needs and as other funding sources find that schools are working with industry, they become more interested in working with that school as well. Peter Finsen, executive director of the Georgia/Carolinas PCI, noted that along with the professors at University of North Carolina at Charlotte, his group calculated that all told, more than $250,000 of additional support beyond the PCI Foundation grant based on in-kind donations and other support received by the school.

Professors have also told us that knowing industry is interested in a college program often helps research move to the top of a funding list faster. “And the other advantage is that, if I get an NSF project, 47% to 57% of it is going to overhead. In our PCI Foundation grant, I can negotiate with the research office to have only 5%. So the money that you've got from the PCI Foundation goes a long way.”  The flexibility allowed by a PCI Foundation grant provides professors a way to travel and to integrate into the precast industry by attending conferences and meetings. This has proven to be helpful not only to the professors, but also to the industry as we are able to learn from the research that the professors conduct and help steer the types of curriculum students receive. During his presentation, Dr. ElSafty also touched on some of the changing trends he is seeing in how professors are being evaluated for tenure. While publishing and research dollars continue to play an important role - schools are also asking professors to exhibit engagement with the community - often by partnering with industry. So our programs could not come at a more opportune time for many of the  professors we are seeking to connect with. Additionally, the trend in teaching is experiential learning - students don’t want to sit and be lectured, but instead want to be “doing” - walking in a plant, creating molds, casting concrete. During the PCI Convention you will have an opportunity to meet many of the students and professors through the education session on Saturday morning and through the student posters on the show floor. Stop by there to see how you might help a school near you appreciate the PCI Foundation “new math.”

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