Professor combats improper testing through ACI certification requirement

One of the largest problems ready mixed producers face every day on the job is the quality and consistency of concrete field testing. Ask if they have experienced poor quality testing then brace yourself for stories of uncalibrated machines, uncovered cylinders, incorrect curing temperatures and uncertified technicians.

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Dr. Stephen Durham and Structural Engineering Professor Dr. Mi Geum Chorzepa.

Enter University of Georgia Professor of Civil Engineering Dr. Stephen Durham, who specializes in concrete materials and feels educators often times stress the theoretical over the practical. His aim is to graduate engineers prepared to hit the ground running. One unique way he is doing this is by requiring students in his Civil Engineering Materials course to pass the American Concrete Institute Concrete Field Testing Technician Grade I certification.

Dr. Durham was invited to assist in the creation of UGA’s program due to his prior success with another civil engineering startup at the University of Colorado, Denver. With the support of the local concrete industry, he implemented mandatory ACI certification and saw 245 students become certified from 2007–2010.

Since the program’s 2012 founding, UGA has seen enormous engineering interest. Civil Engineering has proved one of the school’s fastest growing programs, nearly tripling in enrollment since inception. Dr. Durham believes that the state of Georgia really gains something from the program and strives to turn out practical engineers who are equipped to tackle real world problems and transform construction in the process.

His efforts have not gone unnoticed and enjoy tremendous support from the local concrete community in Georgia. The Georgia Ready Mixed Concrete Association had been actively raising awareness of the issues surrounding improper concrete field testing when Dr. Durham made a proposal: If the GRMCA could help secure funding, he would make the ACI certification a course requirement. The concept was overwhelmingly embraced and GRMCA now provides a grant allowing the professor to implement the certification into Civil Engineering Materials.

“When Dr. Durham approached the association with this initiative, our Board was extremely supportive,” says GRMCA Executive Director Jimmy Cotty. “Improper field testing has historically been an issue that plagues our industry. With construction on the rise, it is critical that those who are tasked with project management understand the issues occurring out in the field. I would urge other schools to implement this certification into their programs in an effort to raise awareness with future engineers.”

The ACI Georgia Chapter also plays a key role by hosting and proctoring certification exams. Members clearly see the value in this program and presented it an Outstanding University Award within its first year. Notes ACI Georgia Vice President and Certification Chair Wayne Wilson, “I was very excited to help Dr. Durham expose his engineering students to ACI Certification, even though many of [them] may never actually need the certification to perform their future jobs. The value I see is in the knowledge of concrete that [students] gain, and by completing the certification program they become uniquely aware of the importance and value of ACI certification in our industry.”

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PHOTOS: Georgia Ready Mixed Concrete Association
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MAKING THE GRADE

With GRMCA and ACI Georgia support, Dr. Durham has seen 45 students become ACI certified since 2014. The professor prepares students for the certification through class lectures and laboratories. Students learn about concrete strength, properties, testing, and mix designs, and are able to practice batching and testing through their assignments. “I want to help train the next generation of engineers to be informed,” Dr. Durham affirms, acknowledging that of 20-30 students who go through his classroom, maybe only one will physically use Field Testing certification. Nevertheless, he adds, “I want them to see the importance of proper concrete quality, placement, and testing. I want them to see the value.”

“At UGA, we are taught the importance of life-long learning, and this test gave me a jumpstart on that. I realized how vital certifications like this are to obtain a job,” says Molly Schenck. As a construction management intern, she worked for The Industrial Company in Savannah last summer utilizing her certification. “I was extremely familiar with the [testing] process and easily able to interpret the results to ensure the quality of the concrete we received was acceptable,” notes Schenck, who graduated in 2016.

UGA Civil Engineering graduate Scotty Smith has conducted academic, industry and nationally-funded research the past four years. He applied his certification within weeks of receiving his ID card as an intern for Atlanta-based Argos USA, where he assisted in designing and testing experimental concrete. “Any student that graduates from the program has the opportunity to receive a certification that will allow for them to take part more fully on sites that they might be designing in the future as an engineer in training or eventually a P.E.,” says Smith. “To this day, that process has helped tremendous[ly] in internships and undergraduate research. I am confident that trend will continue as I progress into my career.”

Such hands-on experiential opportunity sets these engineers apart from their peers. They leave the Civil Engineering Materials course knowing they have passed a rigorous test that brings value to their marketability in the field. “I know that UGA turns out technically sound engineers who can solve for x and y, but I think that practice is the most important,” observes Dr. Dunham, whose program is ushering a new wave of accountable and informed engineers. Given their role in the industry’s future, it is critical that they are competent and can be relied upon to accurately evaluate the materials at the foundation of the country’s infrastructure. — prepared by Georgia Ready Mixed Concrete Association