The Morning Sun in Pittsburg, Kan.

“Sometimes the best way to learn is the hard way,” says Seth O’Brien, assistant professor at Pittsburg State University, Pittsburg, Kan. And he gives his students plenty of opportunity to learn.

Tilt-up concrete is not a typical part of an undergraduate curriculum, but O’Brien made it part of his with a grant from the State of Kansas Workforce Development. “They give grants every year but this was the first time it went to a four-year university,” says O’Brien.

Using curriculum from the National Center for Construction Education and Research (NCEER) and ACI, classroom learning includes the techniques for tilt-up: forming and casting, inserts, braces, reading drawings, and layout. O’Brien realized that getting certified through ACI would require too much experience for students, but they could get credentials through NCEER with only 20 hours of hands-on experience. “To get through to them better, we added a hands-on section on placement and lifting of the panels.”

In the field, the students start by using surveying and layout equipment (auto-level and total station), learn to tie rebar cages, position and place inserts, form a miter joint and a butt joint, and then pour and consolidate the concrete. “We erected the panels both as freestanding braced panels and tied to a metal building. We made seven 5x12-foot panels with openings — doors and windows. Each panel had four to eight lifting inserts and the students had to figure out how to rig the crane and pick the panels using different configurations. They had to put on a fall-protection harness and operate a scissor lift. We tried to get as much different equipment involved so they would have exposure to lots of different things.”

Class sizes range from 10 to 35. “Thirty-five was too many. Some would stand around watching and that wasn’t the idea. We found that 15 is the max for hands-on sessions so that everyone stays active. Some can set and brace panels while others can operate the total stations. Then they switch. That way everyone does everything.”

The program is still going strong with a mission to provide a quality construction education and develop professional leaders for the industry.