“One thing our professors teach us about is ethics,” he said. “My freshman and sophomore year I was, like ‘We’re going over ethics again? It’s the same story. Blah. Blah.’ But the lack of ethics had a lot to do with the building collapses during the earthquake. Seeing that was kind of when those ethics lectures really sank in.”
The professors were interested to see the student’s reaction to the role that poor construction practices played in the national disaster.
Students were awestruck by the immensity of the historic Forbidden City in Beijing.
“What really impressed me was that their first question about the school collapses was ‘Where did they go wrong?’ said Morton. “Our students understand that the thing that we teach and stress is the process and process control. It starts with the footings and then it goes all the way through and you have to have measures in place to control every step of that construction process. Otherwise you are going to have a failure.”
The earthquake also affected the group’s itinerary as fears of possible aftershocks cancelled their trip to the ancient city of Xi’an, home of the famed terra cotta soldiers. Even when the students visited fellow construction management program at a Chinese university in Tianjin, they noticed students sleeping outside on the soccer field rather than inside buildings.
Construction management is a relatively new career field for Chinese students. The group from ECU was able to visit the construction management programs at universities across China, and tour building sites to see how the government was implementing into the job sites, the ideas, philosophies, and techniques taught at the universities.
For Harrell, the key difference between ECU’s program and the Chinese programs is not what they are learning, but how they are learning.
The trip included visits to prominent construction management programs at Chinese universities. Here an ECU student poses with some new friends.
“A lot of the classes that they take are similar to ours. But a big part of our program is that you have to have experience before you can graduate. You need 500 hours of internship experience in our program. There, they just go and spend all their time in class, studying and doing all these lab tests and learning theory,” he said. “They walk on a job site for the first time at 24 years old with a degree from a college.”
The trip visited four of the largest cities in. In Beijing, they saw the iconic buildings that would later become famous from the Beijing Olympics—the Bird’s Nest, the Water Cube, and the Egg. They visited construction management programs at Chinese universities including Tsinghua University, which is considered by many to be the finest university in China, and they also toured the Chinese headquarters of American corporations like Caterpillar and Coca-Cola to learn about international business.
“If you are going to operate [in China] you better be able to do business there. You better know the culture. You better understand how you communicate and how you negotiate. It’s different, but you’ve got to know it, you’ve got to appreciate it, and I think once students get that it just enhances what they are learning here at ECU,” said Morton.