The 5th Degree: Spring 2014 Update

by Just Juan
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Back in late January, I started the pursuit of my 5th and final collegiate degree: a Master of Science in Facility Management from the Rochester Institute of Technology. A couple of weeks ago, I submitted my final assignments and took final exams. Last week, I received my final grades. I took a career semester low 2 classes but I got As in both classes, nonetheless. While I’m proud that I got through the semester with straight As and will enter the 2014-2015 school year in prime position to make a run at summa cum laude honors with the 4.0 GPA, I left something on the table in the Spring 2014 semester: perfection. As to not take away from the nature of this post, I’ll detail my thoughts on that in a forthcoming contribution to The Book of Juan.

As I mentioned at the outset, I took 2 classes this semester: Project Management and EHS in Facility Management. My academic advisor recommended I start with these 2 classes based on 3 factors: (1) the fact that I spent the entirety of my Air Force career as a civil engineering operations manager with an expertise in facilities management, (2) the contributions I made to high-profile, high-ticket projects in the year I spent in South Korea on special assignment, and (3) the thoroughness I showed for developing and enforcing EHS policy through my writing of the 2011 Facility Managers Handbook during my assignment at Joint Base Andrews. Though I was very much familiar with the general concepts of both classes, I still found myself being challenged as the academic side of things, which I was learning, was completely different from the technical aspect of things, which I’ve seemingly mastered over my 11 years in the industry.

Project Management—ESHS 750 in the RIT course catalog—was one of the most challenging yet thrilling courses I’ve ever taken at the collegiate level. Designed to give the student an overview of the fundamental concepts of modern project management, the course focused on 4 key areas: the project life cycle (PLC), the project management body of knowledge (PMBOK), program evaluation and review technique (PERT), and critical path method (CPM). We also covered various budgeting and resource allocation techniques. Working from the 11th edition of Harold Kerzner’s Project Management: A Systems Approach to Planning, Scheduling & Controlling, we spent a vast majority of the semester breaking down the ins and outs, the pros and cons of various project management methods and examples. We enjoyed very informative discussions and lectures about project management organizations as well as key components to the process such as negotiation, conflict resolution, and project termination. I especially enjoyed the major assignments we worked on during the class: the individual wood shed and garden fence project and the team project, which consisted of managing the construction of an on-campus multipurpose arena. Of course, these were paper projects only but I was able to showcase my field experience in an academic setting and it worked to perfection for me. At the end of the 15-week course, I gained a complete understanding of the Project Management Institute’s purpose and a familiarity with Microsoft Project and Gantt charts. Through this course, I was able to do all of the following:

  • Identify and apply key factors that contribute to success in project management
  • Evaluate and interpret project performance relative to budget, schedule, functionality, and stakeholder satisfaction
  • Identify and assess risks and risk responses
  • Adopt a strategy and style to manage my own future projects

Course Grade: 99.4 (A)

EHS in Facility Management—FCMG 720 in the RIT course catalog—was perhaps the least stressful college course I’ve taken since Computers & Society, an easy A I pretty much breezed to during my junior year of undergrad. Designed to provide students with a solid foundation in environmental, health and safety (EHS) management, the course aimed to enhance my ability to develop and implement practices that promote and protect health, safety, security, quality of work life, the environment, and organizational effectiveness as it pertains to facilities. We examined your typical EHS issues that are prevalent in today’s workplaces. We used Brian Gallant’s The Facility Manager’s Guide to Environmental Health & Safety as the text for the course but a majority of our learning came from the discussions of OSHA and EPA regulations as well as different scenarios the professor presented. Given that all of my classmates were full-time employees in the facilities and engineering industry like myself, a great deal of the course was spent using real world situations to demonstrate our understanding of the fundamental concepts. As far as assignments, I had to do a couple of papers and several examples of fact sheets. Aside from that, the majority of the grades in the course came from discussion participation, quizzes, and the final. The highlight of the course was the discussion in how to renovate a 1920s era savings bank using today’s modern regulations. Everything I learned as a member of various Air Force civil engineering squadrons came out in that discussion. At the end of the 15-week course, I was able to do all of the following:

  • Explain the EHS moral, legal, and economic issues
  • Understand the intent of EHS-related laws and regulations
  • Understand the principles of accident causation and prevention
  • Address current occupational health and safety management issues
  • Address current environmental management issues
  • Understand the elements of EHS management systems

Course Grade: 100.0 (A)

Overall, it was a great semester for me. The average course grade is the highest I’ve ever had for a single semester with a minimum of 2 classes taken. I learned a lot about what I do professionally from an academic standpoint. Coupling that with my technical expertise, I feel as if I’m that much better as a facilities manager. My professors were highly knowledgeable and their teaching styles made it both easy and encouraging for me to learn. I had some great classmates, too. Everybody had a business-like approach to what we set out to accomplish in these courses. While I just barely missed out on going wire-to-wire through a college semester with a 100.0 cumulative course grade average for the first time, I did manage to accomplish something else for the first time: finish an opening semester with a 4.0 GPA. That’s something I missed out by making Bs in my opening semesters as a freshman in Fall 2003 and in my first graduate semester in Fall 2007.

In rare form, I’m taking the summer off from school. I want to actually enjoy some vacation time in addition to spending some time with my niece and goddaughters while they are still in that wobble walk and broken English phase. I’ll be ready in late August, when the Fall 2014 semester kicks off. I’ll be taking on a full load (3 classes per semester) and I’m hoping for even better results.

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