How one university is fueling diversity in construction management

Roger Williams University in Rhode Island has entered into a partnership on scholarships for underserved students.
By: | March 15, 2021
Photo courtesy of Roger Williams University

Only 18% of the nation’s construction management professionals combined are Black and Hispanic. Less than 10% are women. And those numbers haven’t fluctuated much in the past decade.

So, one institution of higher education, which has been a campus leader in the field, is aiming to address the lack of diversity and inclusion.

Roger Williams University in Bristol, RI, on Monday announced it is entering into a partnership with Boston-based Shawmut Design and Construction on a scholarship and opportunities program to further serve underrepresented students.

The Shawmut Scholars Program will give three students $15,000 four-year scholarships plus paid internships at the company, including housing and transportation, as well as professional development training. Those students will be chosen from this fall’s class who are majoring in construction management or engineering.

“This program is a representation of our core values and commitment to removing barriers to education for historically minoritized communities,” said Ioannis Miaoulis, President of Roger Williams, which had the No. 10-rated construction management program in the nation in 2020, according to GradReports. “For years, Shawmut has been a leading employer of our graduates, recognizing the real-world training that makes them ready to hit the ground running as construction professionals when they enter the workplace.”

The RWU School of Engineering, Computing and Construction Management (SECCM) and Shawmut are hopeful that their program can help open pathways for students and employees of color. Blacks comprise only 6% of those working in the construction industry … and yet many studies have shown that the more diverse a construction workplace, the more revenues increase. Many experts point to a lack of training and other opportunities along with pervasive racism for preventing them from pursuing CM paths.

“Future generations of builders and leaders are depending on us to break the cycle and provide meaningful opportunities for success in the industry,” said Marianne Monte, Chief People Officer at Shawmut, which also partnered with Roger Williams to open a lab on campus in 2020 to foster experiential learning. “We are thrilled to launch Shawmut Scholars with RWU to further drive diversity in the industry, starting at the ground floor when students are beginning to shape their careers.”

Colleges trying to reverse trends

The push for diversity and inclusion has been top priority nationwide among college leaders, especially in areas where minority students and women have been underrepresented, such as construction management. Only 2% of Asian-Americans are represented in the construction field. And though Hispanics comprise more than 30% of workers, that number drops precipitously when it comes to management.

Among the nation’s top construction management programs is Arizona State University, which offers bachelor’s, master’s and doctorate in construction management. Nearly 40% of students pursuing CM are non-White, including 23% Hispanic. Nearly 22% of those seeking master’s degrees are women.

But like almost all colleges and universities, very few Black or Asian students have decided to enter the program. Roger Williams and Shawmut stress initiatives that start sooner, reaching kids when they are in high school to help them recognize the opportunities, as well as colleges marketing both construction and professional tracks and available financial aid, might help prospective students to consider those pathways. With many institutions touting education as a lifelong experience, there also may be opportunities to reach adult students.

Here are a few construction management initiatives that are happening at colleges and universities that reach students in house and others that help promote diversity within the industry:

Colorado State University has underscored its commitment to diversity, inclusion and gender equity in construction management in recent years. Nearly 23% of its undergrads identify as diverse and nearly the same amount are first-generation students. CSU hosts a summer institute for high school girls in construction management, now virtual, for those interested in the field. In addition, it has a CM Cares program that helps in construction projects for those with special needs or those from underserved communities.

At Florida International University, some 40% of its students pursuing construction management in the Moss Department on campus are women. Like Colorado State, FIU has reached out to younger students to help through a “She Builds” summer camp. It also offers many courses online, including a 100% master’s degree program in CM, whose flexibility and convenience can be key to attracting more women and minority students.

The University of Chicago has had an Inclusive Construction Initiative between its Office of Civic Engagement, Facilities Services and UChicago Medicine since 2017 that presents construction and business opportunities to minorities, women and local firms. Some of the goals include: having contractors that are 35% minorities and hourly laborers who are 40% minorities.

Columbia University launched its CU Grow program five years ago and a Construction Diversity Initiative two years ago to enhance research and training for minority, women and locally owned development businesses throughout New York City. Firms work with Columbia and experts on a three-year strategic plan that can help them become vendors of Columbia in the future.