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June 22, 2000

WSU offers design-build management degree

Journal Staff Reporter

As a self-described "Jill of many trades," Leandra Thompson covers a lot of ground on the job.

A project coordinator for the Architecture and Engineering Department of Spokane School District No. 81, Thompson does space planning, construction project management and handles asbestos and ADA issues.

Instructors with WSU's design-build management program will use a closed-circuit TV similar to this to teach students at the university's Vancouver campus.

But Thompson hopes to further her career in construction management by enrolling in a new program at Washington State University that will yield her an executive master's of science degree in architecture with a design-build management emphasis.

The program, launching this fall, is for practicing design and construction professionals seeking an advanced, specialized degree in design-build management. The post-professional degree is not to be confused with a master's in architecture, which is part of the process of becoming a licensed architect.

Known as an "executive track" program, it allows professionals to pursue a master's degree while keeping their job -- with courses being offered in the mornings, weekends and by other independent arrangements. WSU begins the program with two courses: "Design & Construction Law" and "Design-Build Business Management." Both will originate on the Spokane campus and be simulcast to students at WSU's Vancouver campus, using the Washington Higher Education Telecommunication System.


Darlene Septelka, an assistant professor at WSU's Spokane campus and Construction Management Program coordinator, said the two- to three-year program would lead to professional advancement and give graduates the ability to head design or construction projects.

Those most likely to enroll in the program would be facility managers, consultants, architects, contractors and engineers. The design-build program integrates course work between fields such as architecture, interior design, engineering and construction management -- giving degree holders an advantage in the real world.

"A benefit for a design or construction firm would be that they have employees with advanced specialization in design-build management," said Septelka. "With many owners pre-qualifying architects and contractors, an employee's qualifications can help a firm win a project."

Septelka said the design-build management program is based on a holistic project management approach. Courses are designed to foster a collaborative learning experience between design and construction professionals. "The interdisciplinary nature of the program allows students to develop skills and knowledge that will enable them to work more effectively with allied professionals," she said.

Based at WSU's Interdisciplinary Design Institute in Spokane, the design-build program responds to an industry trend toward alternative delivery methods such as design-build and general contractor/construction manager, Septelka said. The methods require a collaborative effort between design professionals and construction contractors, as well as early involvement of the contractor during design development.

"These methods are moving away from the traditional model of linear design-bid-build project management -- where design is completed and then 'thrown over the fence' to a contractor to build -- to a model that has a more parallel process and fast-tracked approach," she said. "Owners are rapidly finding that they receive more value from a design and construction team approach."

The design-build approach can also save the owner time and money, while delivering a quality product, Septelka added.

For Thompson, who received a bachelor's degree in fine arts with an emphasis on interior architecture from Cornish College of the Arts, the new degree should improve her marketability. The design-build program allows those without design, engineering, architecture or construction degrees to enroll if they have worked in the design or construction industry.

"With this degree, I would be eligible for more of a management type of position than the field position I currently have," Thompson said. "I firmly believe that once I finish this the right door will open."

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