Case Studies

Farzad Shahbodaghlou – California State University – East Bay

Professor builds on Cal State East Bay construction management program

Every spring, it’s common for college athletic coaches and their assistants to hit the road in search of athletes to recruit.

Dr. Farzad Shahbodaghlou, a professor and the founding director of the construction management program at California State University, East Bay, took a recruiting trip in April, too.

Only he went to India to recruit students for the university’s new civil engineering program he’s helping create.

Farzad Shahbodaghlou | Professor and Founding Director of Construction Management Program | California State University - East Bay

Farzad Shahbodaghlou | Professor and Founding Director of Construction Management Program | California State University – East Bay

Courses begin in the fall, and Shahbodaghlou says he had 250 applicants for the program and 140 accepted before he went to India—a substantially higher number than the six people who enrolled in the first year of the undergraduate construction management program he launched in 2010. He hopes to have 40 students enrolled in the program by the time it starts.

The undergrad and graduate construction management programs have gained popularity—there are about 175 students studying for bachelor’s degrees and 110 more in the graduate program. The popularity is due in no small part to Shahbodaghlou’s vow that students will get jobs in the industry with their degrees.

He’d like the undergraduate civil engineering program to be a feeder for the university’s graduate construction management program. The studies are all the more important because the $1.2 trillion federal Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act passed in 2022 will fund new projects in California and beyond.

“When we began the construction management program, I was the only one here,” Shahbodaghlou recalls. “I had to find people to teach part-time. Now we’ve had to double up on our graduate courses to meet demand and we’re providing talented people to fill in-demand positions.”

Time for an added major

Shahbodaghlou says the university’s civil engineering program was first proposed before 2016 in a joint effort as he worked with Dr. Saeid Motavalli, the chair of engineering, and Dr. Cristian Gaedicke.

Though Shahbodaghlou says they requested a minimal budget it was not approved initially. When Cal State East Bay President Cathy Sandeen took office in 2021, she put the plan back on track.

While he’s been pleased by the number of student applications so far, he knew he could attract a global student body. Hence the trip to India, where he and Dr. Thomas Tyner, the executive director of the university’s international programs, visited four cities, 20 high schools and 10 universities in 11 days.

“This is a very good time to be a civil engineering major,” Shahbodaghlou says. “The infrastructure bill means there will be a variety of new complex projects using new technologies. Civil engineers are needed more than ever.”

Constructing the program

Shahbodaghlou was a consultant in construction and an adjunct professor at San Jose State University in 2009 when he learned Cal State East Bay was planned to start a construction management program.

With his master’s and Ph.D. in construction management as well as two decades of academic and industry experience, Shahbodaghlou was ready to take on the challenge. He also had former students and friends who were eager to teach courses. That includes Abdul Acheckzai, who’s now vice president of real estate and facilities at Oracle and remains a part-time lecturer.

Shahbodaghlou says Cal State East Bay’s construction management program doesn’t teach vocational trades such as installing drywall, bricklaying, plumbing or electrical work. However, the program provides an opportunity for tradespeople to learn construction management principles. He says one student enrolled because he worried about the toll a plumbing career would have on his body.

In the program’s lower division core of 48 units, undergraduate students need to complete courses such as financial accounting, surveying and blueprint reading, calculus I and two courses in construction methods and materials.

The 72 units of upper division core courses include electrical and mechanical systems in construction, building codes, construction scheduling, and environmental issues and green building. Elective courses include cash management, real estate finance and investment, and global supply chain management.

Shahbodaghlou helped build the curriculum for the undergraduate and graduate programs, but helping build careers in construction management is as important to him—and he’s had great success through a job fair program he started in 2011.

He admits the job fair had a modest start—only one company took part in the first year and Shahbodaghlou helped select 14 students for the company’s internship program. But he kept working the phones and emails so that the fall 2022 job fair had 55 companies from throughout the construction industry take part—with opportunities for 120 students.

Award-winning efforts

Shahbodaghlou first came to the U.S. from his native Iran to study civil engineering at Ohio Northern University in 1978. He earned his bachelor’s degree in 1982 but was unable to return to Iran for years because of the 1979 revolution that brought Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini to power.

He continued his studies, earning a master’s degree and Ph.D. in civil engineering from Purdue University. From August 1987 to November 1998, he was an associate professor of civil engineering and construction at Bradley University in Peoria, Illinois. Then Shahbodaghlou went to California to direct process improvement at DPR Construction.

In October 2022, Shahbodaghlou was awarded the 2022 Construction Management Association of America Mark Hasso Educator of the Year and the CMAA Norcal Presidents Award in June 2022. In January, he received the Albert Nelson Marquis Lifetime Achievement Award for career longevity and continued excellence.

Shahbodaghlou recently got married after being reunited with the woman he met and fell in love with at Ohio Northern more than 40 years ago.

The awards and being a newlywed, as well as launching the civil engineering program, have made the past year eventful.

“My biggest satisfaction is that I see it with my own eyes,” Shahbodaghlou says. “Seventy percent of our student body are the first college students and graduates in their families. We’re making an impact in the industry and helping people find highly-skilled jobs.”

View this feature in the Blueprint Vol. V 2023 Edition here.

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