Going Global: New department in ISU’s College of Technology reflects growing mindset in construction

November 9, 2010

To create a niche market for the College of Technology at Indiana State, Bradford Sims realized that he had to think globally.

Sims, the dean of the College of Technology at ISU, conceived the plan to develop the college's new department of built environment. The department debuted this fall in the restructuring of the college, which expanded from three departments to five. Sims came up with the department of built environment partially as a way to help differentiate ISU from other universities.

"It's a department that allows existing programs and some new programs to come together that are pretty attractive to students who won't have the same opportunities elsewhere in the state," Sims said. "Those students who are also interested in sustainability will also find an interest in one of the many areas covering design, construction, and the lifecycle use of a structure to be an attractive aspect of the built environment."

The term "built environment" refers to the human-made surroundings that provide the setting for human activity, ranging in scale from personal shelter and buildings to neighborhoods and cities, and can often include their supporting infrastructure, such as water supplies or energy networks. The term is used more globally than it is in the United States, though young people have become more familiar with the term because it has started to be used more frequently. A house is an example of a built environment, as is Central Park in New York City, since it was created for people to use.

The built environment terminology allows for a more holistic perspective of construction, said Robert English, associate vice president and professor in the College of Technology.

"As compared to looking at a lot of little separate things, they're looking at how these different things work together for more efficiency and effectiveness," English said.

Sims can't recall exactly when he was first introduced to the term. He taught at the University of Florida before he worked for an international organization in Europe, and he worked in construction management for several years before coming to Indiana State.

"It's not a new concept to me because I've worked in that arena," Sims said. "In the traditional university structure in America, right now they're much more isolated into their areas. Architects are in schools of architecture. Engineers are in colleges of engineering. So the interdisciplinary approach is really what built environment is. It combines design, construction and life-cycle facilities management of all human made structures."

Three undergraduate degree programs are part of the department of built environment: construction management, interior architecture design and safety management. Minors in safety management and construction management are also part of the department, as is a graduate degree in occupational safety management.

Construction management was a field created by the construction industry because "presidents of construction companies many years ago only had architects or civil engineers to hire and build construction projects," Sims said, "but they came together in the late 1960s to form an interdisciplinary curriculum to increase the project management background of their future project managers, and that is what we see today in construction management curriculums."

ISU has also developed plans to bolster the department. English visited the school of built environment at the University of Salford in England, and representatives from Salford have also visited ISU. The two schools over the summer entered into a pact which lays the groundwork for future collaboration on items ranging from visiting professors to curriculum and publications.

University of Salford does a lot of research, English said. Since Indiana State is known for its experiential learning, he said that it was possible for ISU to offer certain possibilities to apply some of Salford's research.

"I've been involved in international relations for the last seven years," English said, "and the interesting thing is, if we can get two people together from two different countries, it's amazing how one person can see advantages that the other person wouldn't see."

The department is young, but more plans are being developed to enhance its offerings and visibility. College of Technology officials hope to have additional programs added to bolster offerings in the department of built environment.

"Part of our goal of the future will be that we make the built environment this well-thought of department where maybe employers eventually will come here just because it's the built environment department," Sims said, "not because of just the programs in it."

Photo: http://isuphoto.smugmug.com/photos/1082880817_r9Ytj-O.jpg (ISU/Tony Campbell)
Indiana State University seniors Vince Davitto and Ben Crooks, professor Donald McNabb and senior Steven White review blueprints during class. McNabb teaches courses in construction management, a program that is in the department of built environment in the College of Technology at ISU.

Photo: http://isuphoto.smugmug.com/Campus-Scenes/Campus-Scenes/DSC5318Campus/828446855_YoYFt-L.jpg (ISU/Tony Campbell)
The John T. Myers Technology Center, which houses the College of Technology at Indiana State University.

Contact: Bradford Sims, dean, College of Technology, Indiana State University, 812-237-3166 or bradford.sims@indstate.edu.

Writer: Austin Arceo, assistant director of media relations, Office of Communications and Marketing, Indiana State University, 812-237-3790 or austin.arceo-negrich@indstate.edu.

Story Highlights

The department of built environment debuted in the College of Technology's restructure this fall. The built environment terminology allows for a more holistic perspective of construction.

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