New minor offers on-site construction skills


South Dakota State is addressing one of the fastest growing sectors in engineering: heavy-highway construction, according to South Dakota State faculty.

The new minor,  officially launched this fall, overlaps with civil engineering and construction management majors to cover a majority of the courses required for the minor. 

While the minor applies more directly to a construction management major, civil engineering majors will learn to develop on-site and practical skills that are lacking in the civil engineering curriculum, said Suzette Burckhard, assistant department head for civil and environmental engineering. 

“This goes through an asset of skills that are needed when you’re confronted by a big construction project, which takes into account developing common sense, and you have to think differently and understand the entire planning process and the enormity of what you’re doing and be able to work it at that scale,” Burckhard said.

Although there aren’t any students enrolled in the minor, Janet Merriman, construction management instructor, hopes more students will choose to enroll. 

“They [civil engineers] have all the material knowledge, so they just need to get the equipment, the estimating and the planning and scheduling [skills],” Merriman said. “It prepares them to go out and be an entry-level project engineer for a company that specializes in road and highway construction to dams and bridges.”

According to Merriman, SDSU was recommended to have a specialization in heavy-highway construction not only from various employers, but also The Beavers Heavy Engineering Construction Association. 

This industry need stems from a higher demand to have both structure design and structure assembly knowledge, said Gary Johnson, owner of Sioux Falls-based contractor A-G-E Corp. and part-time CM-452, heavy and highway estimating instructor.

“What it does is, it’s especially helpful for the civil engineering graduates to have a CM minor, so they’ve also got the management of it, and the workability of it to go along the design, theory and proving of it,” Johnson said.

Johnson said he was “instrumental” in securing a $50,000 scholarship award from The Beavers Association to the SDSU Foundation. This scholarship was awarded to SDSU in order to stimulate the number of students graduating with construction management majors and minors.

As a land grant university, SDSU’s mission is to provide graduates with necessary skills to be readily employed as well as serve national and state-level needs, Merriman said. 

The current civil engineering curriculum prepares students with common-sense skills in design. This new minor, however, focuses more on the common-sense skills needed when planning and building large structures in real-life situations — not just ones drawn on paper.

“The reason SDSU has a very lab-heavy curriculum is because they need to learn the common sense of what works and what doesn’t work,” Burckhard said. “This allows that option to go in and get a better sense of the enormity of just what it is that you’re doing … you’re trying to get across the skills they need along with the ability to work with a large construction project.”

With the United States continually building new structures and repairing old ones, Johnson said this minor puts SDSU on the cutting edge of heavy-highway construction management paired with a civil engineering major.

“Because those two combinations together, as indicated earlier, too, give someone a really rounded education with potential experience, and that puts them in the driver’s seat for a job,” Johnson said.

With this minor, “there’s no shortages of good things that will happen to you,” Johnson said.