USC-CMAA Celebrates their Tenth Anniversary by Winning the Student Chapter of the Year Award

| September 15, 2017

From the dedicated students, to the supportive alumni, USC-CMAA president and vice president discuss what makes their chapter stand out

The USC-CMAA Executive Board for the 2016-2017 academic year. Top row (left to right): Steve Pokwo (External Chair), Dylan Drescher (Vice President), Felipe Hernandez (Media Chair), Jenny Chen (Treasurer). Bottom row (left to right): Stephanie Istillarte (Symposium Co-chair), Milenne Vega (Sparks Chair), Sam Kinsey (Symposum Co-chair), Isabela Arce (President). Photo/USC-CMAA

After a year of many accomplishments, the USC student chapter of the Construction Management Association of America (USC-CMAA) has received the 2017 Student Chapter of the Year Award from the national CMAA organization.

“We have a very active chapter with lots of support by student and alumni,” said Henry Koffman, the chapter’s advisor and professor of engineering practice for the Sonny Astani Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering. “We host lots of activities and we fund our own student scholarships. It was very well deserved.”

From hosting their 22nd annual symposium, to a successful finish at the Associated Schools of Construction (ASC) competition, the USC-CMAA brings their tenth year, since the foundation of the group in January 2007, to a close. This year’s board leaders, Steve Pokwo, USC-CMAA president (B.S. CE Structural ’18), and Felipe Hernandez, USC-CMAA vice president (B.S. CE Building Science ’18), discuss what they believe puts their chapter above the rest. 

What is construction management?

Hernandez: Construction managers are the ones who are talking with the engineer and the architect and communicating relevant information to the other contractors who are actually physically constructing the structure. Construction managers are kind of like the mediator, so you need to know a little bit about what the actual builders are making and what the engineers are designing.

How many members do you have?

Pokwo: We have a lot of people involved. At the last meeting, we had around 60 people. Toward the end of the year, I would say about 70 to 80 people will be involved in different ways with the club.

H: And every year we go up. I’ve been a part of CMAA the last two years, this is going into my third year, and every year there’s an increase in people that want to be a part of the organization. One thing that we would like to increase is the number of freshman. Usually, it’s a lot of juniors and seniors.

Why should students join?

H: If you are really serious about your career and you really want to explore a little more about construction – which is related to design, related to civil [engineering] and all these other majors – then you want to join this organization.

USC-CMAA students at the 2017 ASC competition in Sparks, Nevada. Photo/Lance Hill

What kinds of activities do you offer?

P: We are a part of a lot of competitions. One of the big competitions that we do is ASC. It usually happens in Sparks, Nevada. USC is really big over there; we have good representation. For example, last year we sent six teams and three of them placed in first, second and third in their respective categories.

We also have our USC-CMAA symposium every year where we bring in a lot of general contractors, owners and architects. It’s a great opportunity for networking because we sit every student with a company; we mix students and professionals. By giving opportunities for our students to talk to professionals, a lot of people are able to find internships.

Another thing that we do is, we really guide our members. It’s a good transition between school and professional work. For the most part, we kind of ensure that most of our members have internships. We are also setting up info sessions throughout the year, one or two per week, which is a good advantage for our members.

H: At the symposium, we also give out $15,000 to $20,000 in scholarships to our members. That’s the money that we personally raised from the symposium and different events that we have. We split it up between a couple upperclassmen, a couple underclassmen and a grad student.

What sets you apart from other student chapters?

P: We have a very strong group of people, especially a group of alumni that commit and really support us. They are always coming back, giving back to us, coaching us and sharing their knowledge. Our alumni, the people that were in the same program before, are always available to help us win awards and place at competitions like ASC. This is really something that we definitely appreciate at USC as a student member of CMAA, and I am pretty sure this club’s culture sets us apart.

How did you react when you found out you won the 2017 Student Chapter of the Year Award?

P: When I received the email, I was very happy about the award. I felt like we put in all this work and this is the prize. It’s always good to have this recognition. We are planning to go to Washington D.C. to get the award. For us, it’s really a big deal and I am really thankful to our advisor Henry Koffman for the great work he has been doing, the alumni, the past president and their team. Isabella Arce, who was president last year, and Kaylee Knudsen and Darren Draper, who were involved the year before, did an excellent job as leaders to put the club in the position to deserve this. One of our main goals this year is to keep the award.

H: I was really excited. I didn’t see this coming. We definitely feel like, not just as an executive board do we deserve it, but as a chapter. The first thing that came to mind was, I was very thankful for everyone that contributed. Not only the current board, but everybody that paved the way for us to be in the position that we can even apply to something like that and be recognized. We’re actually following in their footsteps to get to the place where we are.