Building Leaders

| June 7, 2017

USC Hosts the Global Leadership Forum for Construction Engineering and Management Programs

Lucio Soibelman, Astani Department chair and professor, presenting to GLF-CEM attendees. Photo/Sonny Astani Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering

Over Memorial Day weekend, instead of relaxing at barbecues with family and friends, the members of the Global Leadership Forum for Construction Engineering and Management Programs (GLF-CEM) met at USC to discuss how to create the next generation of construction leaders.

Bringing together professors from top universities around the world, the GLF-CEM’s main objective is to establish a body of academic leadership in construction engineering and management to review methods for research, teaching, administration and collaboration.

Their mission, as told by current Chair Simaan AbouRizk, is to, “Develop program guidelines for creating credible programs that promote educational excellence by preparing students with practice and theory to become global construction leaders in academia or industry.”

As this year’s host, Lucio Soibelman, professor and chair of USC Viterbi School’s Sonny Astani Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering and GLF-CEM treasurer, showcased the department, their two construction engineering and management master’s programs, and the prize-winning Construction Management Association of America (CMAA) student group.

“It’s a pretty large program. We have 103 master’s students in construction a year, 61 in engineering and 42 in management. Within our group, we have 13 Ph.D. students in construction management,” said Soibelman, recipient of the 2017 Construction Management Award from the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE).

Attendees of the 2017 Global Leadership Forum for Construction and Engineering Management Programs. Photo/Sonny Astani Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering

Many of the courses are taught by adjunct faculty in senior level positions at construction management companies like The Reynolds Group, Griffith Company and Powell Constructors.

“We have a lot of really good people,” Soibelman said. “You can really utilize industry when you’re in a big city like Los Angeles.”

At the GLF-CEM, the relationship between industry and academia was discussed at length during the event’s concluding panel on leadership, moderated by David Ashley, professor of engineering practice in the Astani Department. During which, panelists from industry, government and academia discussed their views on leadership and methods for cultivating leaders.

Panelist Feniosky Peña-Mora used his experience in public service as the commissioner of the NYC Department of Design and Construction to focus on the role of a leader.

“They aren’t serving you, you are the one to provide the infrastructure for them to succeed,” Peña-Mora said. “Everyone is important, and you as a leader are providing service to everyone in the organization.”

“Leaders teach and influence people,” said panelist Philip Stassi, executive advisor to the CEO and chairman of Jacobs Engineering Group Inc. “Leadership is essential for progress. You can have whole groups working on something, but without leadership, nothing gets done.”

Stassi, along with panelist Jim Rowings, chief learning officer and vice president of Kiewit Corporation, have taught leadership courses to employees within their companies, focusing on key attributes like authenticity and adaptability. However, they question whether academia is doing enough to prepare students for leadership roles.

Newly inducted members of GLF-CEM. Photo/Sonny Astani Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering

“They know how to build bridges and buildings, but they come out of school half-prepared,” Stassi said. “When a person comes out of your curriculum, what do you want them to be able to do?”

AbouRizk, distinguished university professor at the Hole School of Construction Engineering at the University of Alberta in Canada, spoke about his academic program. Through group projects and industry involvement, he creates leadership experience, although he acknowledges that leadership is not their primary goal.

“It looks like most leadership is being taught and developed at companies,” AbouRizk said. “We can create environments where we can produce these people, but I don’t think we just need leaders – we need doers.”

When asked what they looked for in a leader, Stassi instructed attendees to think back to a manager they once worked for that they respected and admired.

“What were their characteristics?” he asked. In addition to being intelligent, confident and inspiring, Stassi concluded, “Above all else, they cared about you.”

The GLF-CEM was founded in 2010 by Makarand Hastak, professor and head of the Division of Construction Engineering and Management at Purdue University. At the time of the first event, held in 2011 at Purdue University, they had 28 delegates. In just six years, their numbers have more than doubled, reaching 72 members from 57 institutions spanning 16 countries. Events have been held all over the world, from Hong Kong to Germany. Next year’s will take place at Stellenbosch University in Stellenbosch, South Africa.