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Learning in the Time of COVID-19: Engineering Management Student Joel Martinez Shares His Story

By CSI HQ posted 05-15-2020 18:08


COVID-19 has had a profound effect on how and where people chase their professional goals—especially in regards to continuing education. In this CSI Q&A, Joel Martinez, a Construction Engineering Management student at California State University Long Beach (CSULB), talks about how he is studying for the CDT exam, and also why he is optimistic about the construction industry’s future.

Why is the AEC industry a profession that attracted you?

Construction attracted me because of its complexity and because of its massive influence. Relatively recent trends in BIM, CAD, and VDC are becoming cornerstones of the construction industry, and new technologies have become available at an increasing rate. But even though these technologies may have been developed to simplify existing processes, this seems to bring forth an ambition to tackle newer jobs of greater difficulty that would have been considered impossible in times prior to the integration of these new tools and software programs.


Adding to the complexity, there are also a huge number of stakeholders involved with any construction project, and it is through these stakeholders that a construction project may end up having widespread influence. The impact of the construction industry comes from the involvement of many camps, including owners, designers (i.e. architects), contractors, subcontractors, laborers, suppliers, testing laboratories, consultancies, public and private agencies, professional societies, and others who have direct vested interest and make their livings contributing to this complex equation of an industry.


Of course, this is not taking into account the impact of each facility, which could be argued to be greater than the impact of just the project, but as a Construction Engineering Management student at CSULB, I take joy in learning all the steps it takes to go from an idea through to the completed facility. It is incredible to recognize that a team of people electing to work together, adopting and improving a shared vision, can have such a widespread impact. This gives purpose to the stakeholders during the project, just as the facility may in turn serve as inspiration to those who are able to enjoy it. A construction project is like building history together.


What are your goals in the construction industry?
I sense that there are still strong divisions between the various stakeholders that constitute the entire construction industry. I have this impression because there are existing practices, like Integrated Project Delivery or LEED Charettes, that are specifically intended to improve the coordination of stakeholder interest. Thus, my primary career goal is to help complete each project at peak efficiency.

This means I must perform to my best ability each role I take up in each project, running a tight ship and being knowledgeable in my affairs. I believe I can do even better when I am also aware of all the other stakeholders, in order to take into account their roles, risks, and interests. In addition to being an effective communicator, this also means being a lifelong learner, exercising empathy and cultivating my curiosity. My secondary goal is to develop a healthy respect and appreciation for those in other related professions (e.g. Architecture, Engineering, Laboratory Testing, etc.) and their roles in Project Programming, Facility Design, and Facility Management.


I have enjoyed my experiences so far in General Contracting and Electrical Subcontracting because of how much there is to learn in both settings, and wish to continue long-term through Construction Management, Project Management, or even Construction Engineering. Nonetheless, there are tools, knowledge, and standards I could learn from other professions to use while working in my fields. These takeaways would hopefully allow me to be a positive force not only within the company I work for but also across each project.


How have you been working to increase your knowledge during the quarantine?
Though I was unfortunately put on furlough, the quarantine has felt like a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for increasing my knowledge because I have a lot more free time, including the time I used to spend commuting to my classes. I’ve been studying more for the CDT, which I am already sure will be one of the most important investments of my career. Additionally, I’m tackling modules from the Siemens Technical Education Program, which is allowing me to understand concepts and applications of electrical equipment and automation. In the background, I’m also completing EM-385-1 safety training, and juggling all three of these wouldn’t be possible if not for my increased free time.

Other resources through which I’ve been able to increase my knowledge are the seminars and training sessions that many companies and organizations are making available online. For example, is offering a free course covering OSH Guidance on Viral Exposure for All Industries, which helped me understand more accurately the responsibilities of employers in their response to the COVID-19 pandemic. As another example, E&M regularly offers webinars that cover topics related to motion controls, system controls, components of automation, and others, which allows someone like me to learn for free.


The Construction History Society of America (CHSA) recently postponed their Biennial Meeting and have instead scheduled a webinar to take place May 29th, which I anticipate excitedly. The International WELL Building Institute (IWBI) also had to postpone The WELL Conference from late March to mid-August, and instead hosted six webinars over the last two months. Right now is a great time to look around and learn something new because businesses and other organizations are prioritizing virtual attendance to these events. This convenience may not have been available without the pandemic. I’m not saying that the pandemic is a good thing, but from personal experience it has opened up opportunities that allow almost anyone to grow personally and professionally.


What kind of study materials have been most beneficial?

The simple answer is that it depends. This is because what study material is most beneficial depends on the complexity of the subject and the depth of understanding I require. Not only does the effectiveness of a study material depend on the goal in mind, but also on the student’s learning style. Keeping these two factors in mind should allow anyone to make sure they invest in study resources that will lead to a positive result.


When it comes to things that are pretty formulaic, nothing is better for me than direct, on-the-nose lessons, which I call handholding resources. A perfect example is Bluebeam University, an online resource I purchased access to in order to learn Bluebeam Revu, and the direct instruction was perfect for me to learn how to use this new software. On the other hand, when there is something I need to understand conceptually, the best study materials for me are those I can use for self-managed study.


For example, the Construction Management Association of America (CMAA) offers a Construction Manager-in-Training (CMIT) certification that I pursued last year. Preparing for the exam means reading the book they base the test on, but since they allow test takers to have their book with them for the exam, I studied it well enough to keep it on hand as a reference material.


Where might you be having issues finding the right information?

I’d say that the wide variety of information online is as much a curse as it is a blessing. With the internet today it is easy to find information that seems relevant, but it can take a while to sift through everything to find the most effective study resources. This is especially a problem when information is sought within a pressing time constraint or if the different options all cost money, so there are luck and risk factors involved as well. Even with self-conducted research and whatever advice is available via networking, selecting what resource to trust is ultimately a matter of individual discretion.

Personally, I look to sign up to learn from any sort of hybrid learning material that integrates hand-holding and self-managed study. A great example of this was the library of study materials that helped me prepare for my LEED Green Associate exam, which I purchased from LeadingGREEN. There was strong handholding in that they required I attend an initial lecture which gave cumulative coverage to the important concepts of the exam. Then came the self-managed study, which entailed reviewing the presentation slides as well as a collection of mock exams. Through this combined effort, I was successfully familiarized enough with everything the test included, and I passed on my first attempt.

Big goals for the rest of the year?

Right now, I’m preparing for the CDT exam while also looking for a secure job or internship in the construction industry. Over the summer, once I’ve given the CDT exam my best shot, I want to tackle earning the LEED AP certification in Building Design and Construction. As I will be starting my final year of college after the summer, my goal is to continue leading the CSULB student chapter of the National Electrical Contractors Association and to participate a second time in the Student Passport Initiative by ELECTRi International.


Concurrently, I want to take a preparatory course for the Certified Associate in Project Management (CAPM) exam, offered by the Project Management Institute (PMI). On top of everything else, it is also my ambition to get involved representing CSULB at the ASC Regions 6 & 7 2021 Student Competition and Construction Management Conference, a task that would carry though to next semester as well.