July 25, 2016

One of the pillars of DPR’s community initiatives is to share our passion for construction with under-resourced youth through career and education guidance. During two DPR School of Construction events, scores of DPR volunteers turned out to help teach dozens of eager youth about much more than just the basics of what goes into a construction project. They also helped enlighten the students about the many different career options available in the construction industry, and how they all contribute to creating a built project.

DPR’s Richmond, VA office held its first School of Construction, while the Phoenix, AZ office held its third annual event. Each two-hour event featured breakout sessions that focused on designing, planning, and building the unique projects – a “little free library” in Richmond, and a finished wall segment in Phoenix.

The Richmond, VA School of Construction students pose with their "Little Free Libraries." The neighborhood book-lending displays will be installed in areas where the students live. Photo courtesy Diane Rossini.

During the sessions, students peppered the volunteers with questions about their jobs, the tools they use, safety issues and a host of other aspects relating to the hands-on experience of building projects.

“DPR’s School of Construction event opened the eyes of our youth to the world of construction, which they found out is a lot more than digging a ditch,” commented Darricka Carter, Director of Corporate & Foundation Relations with the Boys & Girls Clubs of Metro Richmond, VA. “They were exposed to the design and planning phase that happens in the office before the actual “construction” begins.”

Engaging Richmond Area Teens

Extensive hours of preparation went into ensuring that both School of Construction events were a resounding success. In its first year hosting the event, the Richmond office drew 25 mostly 13-17-year-old youth to the office for the structured two-hour program. Altogether 18 DPR volunteers donated a total of 152 hours planning and running the event. The four “Little Free Libraries” that were built will be donated to hosts in the communities in which the club members live, according to DPR event organizer Diane Rossini.

Photo courtesy Diane Rossini.

“Seeing the need for engagement with the (Boys & Girls Club) teen group, and knowing what we can provide in real world mentoring and experience was really an inspiration for this event,” said Rossini. While the DPR Foundation supported the organization with a $25,000 grant this year, the office was looking for a way for employees to be able to volunteer their time and talent working one-on-one with the youth.

Photo courtesy Diane Rossini.

The event started out focused on design of the project. Students had the opportunity for hands-on work with google SketchUp, technology that many had never experienced before. During the second session, they worked with DPR volunteers to schedule various project items and had a chance to see a 4D Synchro model. A DPR superintendent led a safety demo during the third session while the kids enjoyed dinner. The fourth session involved actually building the structures.

“The kids engaging the staff throughout was one of the big highlights for me,” Rossini commented. “They asked some very pointed questions that I think taught them a lot about the industry. When our BIM coordinator was sharing the synchro models, he explained that modeling is part of the construction process and how you can work within construction but be a modeler, a BIM coordinator, an accountant or other roles. I think it was very eye opening for them.”

Boys & Girls Club Director Carter said that most of the kids are familiar with the construction industry “only from the perspective of seeing big machinery and men in hard hats working on site.” During the School of Construction, employees of DPR “exposed our kids to another side of the industry, teaching them that the construction they’re familiar with is just a part of the entire process,” Carter added. “Our kids were able to learn and practice skills and tools used during that process, like brainstorming and digital design using Google SketchUp, all while having lots of fun.”

Multiple Return Participants for Phoenix Event

Fun and learning also went hand in hand in the third annual School of Construction event in the Phoenix office. Fifty students from ICAN and Future for Kids – including about a dozen who had participated in at least one prior year’s event – spent two hours working with 32 DPR volunteers and others.

This year’s emphasis was self-perform work, a major driver in the Phoenix office which does extensive framing and drywall work in-house. Eight to 10 self-perform crafts workers were among those who showed up to teach the kids how to design, plan and build four 4-by-4-ft. model walls. The craftsmen contributed 48 hours of the total 238 total volunteer hours that went into putting the event on this year.

DPR craftsmen answer questions about framing, drywalling and mudding walls. Photo courtesy Tim Hyde.

Craftsman Richard Cruz kicked of the day with a Q&A led by DPR project manager Tim Hyde. “He was fantastic, the kids were very interested and asked him so many questions,” Hyde said of Cruz. “It just ended up being a huge success.”

During the sessions kids learned the ins and outs of framing, drywalling and applying mud to the walls. Volunteers used premade mockup walls as a teaching tool. The models (two with doors and two with windows) were painted and fully finished on one side with the other side left exposed and covered with Plexiglas to allow a look inside. “We kept the kids engaged throughout the whole process, teaching them different terminology, why we use metal vs. wood studs, the different framing members, all about drywall and mud, etc.,” Hyde said.

Students learn to use tools safely. Photo courtesy Tim Hyde.

Following the wall construction, the kids broke off into another hands-on session led by DPR superintendent Chad Drake. After discussing tool safety, he and other volunteers showed the kids how to work with tools to drill, hammer and screw preset nails and screws into precut plywood boards that sported a DPR log. The kids also decorated their take-home boards.

The students used hammers, nails, drills, screwdrivers and screws to decorate take-home souvenirs. Photo courtesy Tim Hyde.

“It was a chance to actually put a tool in their hands, and they seemed to really enjoy it,” said Drake. “We also encouraged them to look into the future, and if they enjoyed what they were doing, consider eventually getting into the trades, since there is definitely a shortage of workers going into the trades.”

Following the event, Future for Kids Community Relations Manager Nicole Pepper commented, “We are in awe of the time and work you all put in to making this event happen. Our kids had such a great time and learned so much.”