CMAA Tops Off Another Year with an Impressive Performance at “Sparks”

Jack Condon | March 13, 2017

After five months of preparation, the CMAA student chapter takes first, second and third place at this year’s construction competition.

One of the CMAA teams at the ASC competition in Sparks, Nev. Photo/Lance Hill

Each year, USC’s Construction Management Association of America (CMAA) student chapter joins universities from all over the west coast to participate in the Associated Schools of Construction (ASC) competition held in Sparks, Nev. This year, USC’s CMAA sent six teams to the event, taking first place in Design Build, second place in Integrated Project Delivery, and third place in Virtual Design and Construction.

“Sparks,” as it is commonly referred to due to its location, is the biggest competition that CMAA participates in. It provides exposure to prestigious construction companies and helps students learn what sectors of construction they truly enjoy by working on real-life project proposals.

For example, Design Build tests students’ creativity in shaping the design, logistics, costs and scheduling to meet the goals of a contract. Integrated Project Delivery (IPD) on the other hand, is primarily for graduate students and mainly tests their conceptual and practical knowledge. IPD differs from every other category as, instead of a presentation, there is just a 30-minute Q & A with professionals regarding their proposal. While, Virtual Design allows students to demonstrate their ability to interpret contractual documents into the latest modeling software.

“You really do learn a lot. You’re essentially doing what you’re going to be doing when you go out into the workforce” said Isabela Arce, a senior civil engineer and CMAA president.

Sparks is a four-day event consisting of the competition, a job fair and an award ceremony. A full day is committed to the competition, beginning at 6 a.m. and ending at midnight. Students are handed a proposal in the morning, spend all day working on it, and deliver a 25-minute presentation to a group of professionals the following day.

“When you present, there’s a bunch of companies there watching you, so it also works as a recruiting event too. Then at the job fair there’s probably over 100 companies you have the opportunity to network with,” Arce said.

One of the CMAA teams giving their presentation to an audience of industry professionals. Photo/Lance Hill

The amount of preparation that goes into Sparks is tremendous. Students are interviewed in September by coaches who are competition alumni and are then placed onto teams based on their personal interest or where they are most likely to succeed.

After teams are made, students attend five “Dinner and Learns” throughout the semester, which are alumni-taught information sessions. These dinners cover a wide range of topics, such as cost estimating and project scheduling, and are designed to help the students understand primary skills. In addition, teams are expected to meet on their own for learning sessions with their coaches several times throughout the semester.

“Students also work on understanding more general construction knowledge, such as how to address an architect, or distinguishing between a lump sum contract and a guaranteed maximum price contract,” Arce said.

With a first, second, and third place finish, Arce was very happy with his year’s success. As for CMAA, the club is essentially over until next fall, aside from a few company information sessions and elections for next year’s executive board. For Arce, Sparks caps the end to another very successful year for CMAA and the end to her time as president.

“CMAA has been a great experience. I’ve learned so much, and it really has prepared me for what I will face in the real world. I loved it,” Arce said.