Montana State engineering students draw recognition at regional competition

BOZEMAN — A team of six Montana State University students from the Norm Asbjornson College of Engineering drew recognition at a recent competition that pitted them against 1,400 other students from across the region.

The undergraduate students, each majoring in construction engineering technology, were among 40 MSU students who competed in the Associated Schools of Construction Region 6 Estimating Competition held Feb. 7-11 in Reno, Nevada.

“Not only did one of our teams take third place in the commercial category, they also won a technical award for figuring out one of the most difficult pieces of the project they were given ” said Bret Martin, associate teaching professor in the Civil Engineering Department in the Norm Asbjornson College of Engineering, who traveled with the five teams to Reno as a faculty coach.

The construction-planning competition features five categories: commercial, heavy civil, mixed-use, pre-construction and concrete. Each category challenges the teams to solve problems associated with a particular construction project. The teams have 13 hours to submit their proposals and present to the judges the following day.

“It’s one of those experiences where everything you’re doing from scheduling to estimating to planning the logistics of the site is like it is in the real world,” said team captain Drew Kowalchuk, who will begin working at Martel Construction as a project engineer after graduating this spring. “However, I don’t know how many times in the real world we’ll be limited to doing all of that in 13 hours.”

In the case of the commercial category, the team and those from 13 other competing schools were given plans for a five-story commercial building and six-story parking garage. The competitors had to develop a comprehensive proposal to build the structure that included a budget, a schedule, the equipment needed and the number of people required on site to complete the job. However, the plans presented some unique obstacles for teams to navigate, including nearby railroad tracks, overhead powerlines, and a seemingly innocuous prefabricated wall. The MSU team identified the wall as a significant engineering challenge and addressed it appropriately, earning a technical award and a third-place finish in their category.

The teams were judged by a six-person panel of experts from the construction industry on a 350-point scale. The top three teams finished within scores within three quarters of a point of one another.

“It’s very intense,” said senior Tanner Sukle. “It’s exactly what the industry does, just condensed into a short time period. It’s really good prep for the real world.”

Sukle is expected to graduate this spring and will join OSM Construction as an assistant project manager.

The other members of the team are Trent Boyd, Gage Gessner, Colton Walker, Spencer Young and faculty coach Chad Welborn from MSU Design.