While some have devoted themselves to recruiting and training badly needed craft workers, the concrete industry continues to need leaders at all levels. For the past 15 years, Heather Brown has been churning out those leaders as director of the Concrete Industry Management program at Middle Tennessee State University. Recently, that program was combined with the construction management program to become the MTSU School of Concrete and Construction Management, with Brown as director. “We are the only school at a major university with the word concrete in our name,” she says proudly.
Brown came to the CIM program after graduate school at Tennessee Tech. “I was looking at a job with a testing lab in Chicago but decided to stay in Tennessee,” she says. “Initially, I looked at this job as a stepping stone but I found out that I love teaching and the interaction with the concrete industry. It’s so diverse and our program is never the same semester to semester. The CIM program for all four schools has a core curriculum but we have the flexibility to interject what we see at conventions and on jobsites.”
As the original and still strongest CIM program, MTSU has five full-time faculty members and just hired a coordinator for all the events they sponsor on campus.
They also have an aggressive research program looking at things like hempcrete (concrete reinforced with hemp fibers), recycled glass as a cement replacement, and flowable fill. They are just finishing a project for the American Society of Concrete Contractors that looked at ACI’s 347.3, Guide to Formed Concrete Surfaces, to evaluate whether those requirements are reasonable and achievable.
Brown has also been instrumental in the CIM Master of Business Administration program, a 15-month mostly online curriculum that provides a deep understanding of the industry and has graduated 18 people in the past few years. “This has been successful, but we are looking to change the program to make it more flexible and to reduce the cost” she says. “Initially, we expected most students to be sponsored by their employers, but right now of the eight students in the current cohort [class] six of the eight students are self-funded. So we need to make some changes.” Of those who have finished, though, most have had a leap up in their company or have found new, better jobs.
Brown’s ambition for the new School of Concrete and Construction Management is nothing less than to “become the center of excellence for concrete education in the entire Southwest U.S. We want to become a resource for training and teaching materials at all levels, including skilled labor.” Another goal is to bring more women into the programs. “I thought it would just happen but it’s still only about 10% female,” she says. “But the girls who make it through are the best. They run circles around most of the guys.”