By Betsy Simon
Feb 6, 2020
For Brent MacDonald, the construction management field is a lot about legacy and he’s helping Indiana State University students in the major leave their own mark in Terre Haute.
An instructor in the department of built environment since 2016, MacDonald, ’06, MBA’07, worked as a project manager and superintendent for nearly a decade before returning to his alma mater, where he teaches courses in construction surveying, project management as well as the capstone course. He also serves as coordinator of the construction management program.
“I brought back to ISU my field experience as well as my experiences as a student, which I use to help me teach the undergraduate students better and translate my experience in a way that relates to what they need to know to be successful,” he said. “As program coordinator (with the help of the other faculty in the department), I’m also trying to update the curriculum and keep it relevant so students are prepared for an ever-changing environment, which means looking for opportunities to be efficient and effective with student learning and be an advocate for projects that involve community and service learning.”
MacDonald’s advocacy helped to facilitate the Griffin Bike Project, in which two sections of a construction management classes each built a changing shelter in the on-campus lab by breaking into small groups to build each component. Plans were finalized early fall, so students in the program’s methods, materials and equipment course, led by instructor Dan Bawinkel, could build the deck and put up the walls before winter.
“The work itself isn’t different than projects done in the past, but with a project like this the students know it benefits someone outside of themselves,” MacDonald said. “I’m trying to install a sense of pride and accomplishment in our students’ work, instead of just building a wall in the lab and dismantling it at the end of the semester. Projects like the changing shelter at Griffin Bike Park are more efficient uses of materials as well as the students’ efforts and benefit others.”
This isn’t the first community-related projects that construction management students have been involved in. In past, student organizations have helped build ramps for handicapped in community, but the push to be community-centered is growing with professors reaching out to organizations, like the Scouts, to align merit badges with construction management programs.
The community mission led MacDonald to begin researching the possibility of students in the capstone course, which is taken by all students in the program, building tiny homes for the homeless in Terre Haute.
“We wanted to do meaningful instruction by benefiting others and, seeing what was done historically in the program, I wanted to do more hands-on projects that would allow students to see how the process works in construction, holistically.
“I saw a show about tiny homes that benefit the homeless and I remembered a project I did with Mental Health America while I was working in industry,” MacDonald said. “I did some research and found there aren’t any tiny home locally due to local ordinances preventing the construction of these smaller shelters, so I reached out to MHA and talked to my contact to see if MHA could get behind a project like this as they would likely have better relationships with local officials to see if the city would consider revising some of their regulations to accommodate the project.”
With MHA’s support for the project, MacDonald began researching grants and how to facilitate the construction, which ranges from $20,000 to $25,000 per tiny home.
MacDonald believes that construction management degrees are still highly sought after, especially in booming economies and he wants students to see firsthand all of the benefits of such a degree through more community-based learning.
“I always had a passion for building things with my hands and take pride in the structures I helped to create,” he said. “After I earned my MBA from Indiana State and moved to Dallas, I worked for a contractor and now when I go back to visit my in-laws I go see the projects I did and reflect. There’s something to be said for being able to drive by physical projects and know that you helped build something that someone still benefits from. It doesn’t have to be a 60-story project, either. It’s a legacy that you’re leaving behind.”