Jeff Wilkes, senior instructor in Colorado State University’s Department of Construction Management, was named the Patterson/Beavers Heavy Construction Faculty Fellow for a five-year appointment. The fellowship was created in 2022 as part of the Patterson Family and Beavers Charitable Trust Heavy Construction Initiative Endowment that was established in 2016. The fellowship supports faculty whose primary focus is on student development in research and/or academic activities, curriculum development within the discipline of heavy construction management, and support of construction management competition teams.
Industry and scholastic experience
During his industry career, Wilkes was involved in numerous heavy construction-focused highway and earthwork projects, ranging from highway paving jobs in west Texas, levee reconstruction in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina, a $1.5B design-build toll road joint venture in Austin, and several large diameter utility tunnel projects. Wilkes continues to work in a consulting role focusing on estimating, scheduling, and 3D modeling.
When asked about his time in industry, Wilkes responded, “This project experience, particularly in the heavy construction sector of the industry, gives me insight into the design and construction of infrastructure systems that allows me to make connections between classroom topics and real-world examples. This connection helps to drive home the learning objectives and gives the students meaningful insight into the responsibilities and challenges that they will likely face when they enter the industry in the near future.”
Now entering his 10th year as a faculty member in the Construction Management Program, Wilkes has been recognized with numerous teaching awards including the CHHS Outstanding Teacher Award, two-time CM Faculty of the Year, Associated Schools of Construction Regional Teaching Award, and the CM Outstanding Graduate Teaching Award.
Regarding his teaching philosophy, Wilkes said, “During my academic career, I have focused on the intersection of student success and course improvement. I really pride myself in looking for meaningful ways to convey technical concepts to the students. I have redeveloped numerous courses in our program (Introduction to Construction Management, Introduction to Road Construction, Survey and Construction Layout, Equipment Means and Methods, and Soils for Construction Managers), all with the goal of updating the content to align with current industry practice, while making the concepts clear for the students to digest and understand.”
Wilkes consistently receives positive feedback from the students, which speaks to the success of this approach. Students recognize that he cares about their success and is willing to help them inside and outside the classroom. “I communicate clearly and set high, but reasonable expectations,” said Wilkes, “and work hard to make challenging topics easier to understand and apply.”
Goals of the position
Asked how he planned to use the Patterson/Beavers Heavy Construction Fellow position to benefit CM’s teaching, research, and service, Wilkes said, “I will seek ways to advance heavy construction education on a variety of fronts. In the classroom, I will look for opportunities to create heavy construction-focused content for our current course offerings like estimating, scheduling, and capstone. Offering an estimating or scheduling assignment that utilizes a road and bridge project will make these courses more engaging for students interested in heavy construction.
“Outside the classroom, I will continue to expose students to heavy construction opportunities through clubs and competitions, specifically the Colorado Contractor’s Association student chapter and the heavy civil competition team. Outside the university, I will support opportunities to deliver construction curriculum to underserved populations, focusing on students who may not have the means to attend a traditional university. These efforts will maintain a focus on student-centered learning while also serving the needs of our construction industry partners.”
Highlighting some specific plans to support his goals, Wilkes stated that he would love to develop an emphasis in heavy construction where students would take a series of dedicated heavy construction sections of core courses and focused electives to be recognized upon graduation.
Facilitating partnerships between students and industry
Wilkes serves as the faculty sponsor for the Colorado Contractor’s Association student chapter; it’s an organization that aims to bring awareness to Colorado’s infrastructure projects and contractors. He recently led the CM department in joining CCA and the Associated General Contractors student chapters, which has resulted in far greater exposure to heavy construction opportunities for the students.
To prepare students for regional competition the heavy civil competition team and industry sponsors formed a partnership, facilitated by Wilkes. The industry sponsors provide a project for the team to use as practice. This student and industry alliance allows for the students to engage with industry mentors and gain insight into project management that they would not get from working alone.
Wilkes is also serving a supporting instructor for the CCA’s Civil Construction Academy, a program whose mission is to train the next generation of the construction workforce to be hired into entry-level jobs with Colorado-based construction firms. In addition to the curriculum, the Civil Construction Academy also trains program participants in interviewing and resume skills to start careers in the construction industry.
The Department of Construction Management is part of CSU’s College of Health and Human Sciences.