Estimating costs, scheduling, assessing risk, negotiating — all across four countries. These are just some of the real-world skills that students develop in the popular International Collaborative Construction Management course.
The class was created by Carnegie Mellon civil and environmental engineering professors Lucio Soibelman and Burcu Akinci as part of the university-wide Global Course Initiative, in response to the very real concerns of today's employers.
"Our industry contacts look to hire engineers specifically prepared to work in a globalized world," said Soibelman.
To gain these skills, the 20 grad and undergrad students work in five teams, along with university students from Brazil, Turkey and Israel. The teams are presented with construction challenges that mimic those of actual joint ventures, which are often formed by the need to successfully navigate the tricky terrain of unfamiliar cultures.
Importantly, team members from each country take on 'roles,' such as cost estimator or information manager, encouraging them to interact with their counterparts across the globe. They communicate and work using state-of-the-art information technology, including video-conferencing and web-based collaboration tools.
"Students learn that the technology is not the most difficult part in conference, as you might expect," noted Soibelman. "It's culture."
"The way the people operate the technology makes the difference," Akinci explained. "For example, in the U.S., we expect a response to email in 5 minutes, but when our students send emails to Turkey, they may not receive a response for a week. The student in Turkey is not checking email, not thinking there is something he needs to respond to."
Not surprisingly, the focus of the course is less about engineering and more about cooperation.
"The students think it will be easy, but when you have this information and communication all around the world, the complexity is exponential," stressed Soibelman. "It's much, much more difficult when you have these interaction challenges. We study issues related to working across cultures, to organization, negotiation and cooperation."
The class was recently honored with the American Council on Education's Award to Recognize Innovative Use of Technology to Promote Internationalization.
"[Creating a course like this] at Carnegie Mellon is easy because we understand about sharing and collaborating, knowing that we don't have to be responsible alone for doing something to achieve our goals," said Soibelman. "It's something we do here a lot."
"Every year, it's a learning experience for the students, and different in many ways," added Akinci. "For us, too."