Constructive contributions to building profession earn industry honors

Construction site silhouetted against a sunset.

Three new members of the National Academy of Construction, or NAC, have had active, longtime ties to the Del E. Webb School of Construction at Arizona State University.

The construction school is part of the School of Sustainable Engineering and the Built Environment, one of the seven Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering at ASU.

Jeffrey Ehret and Janaka Ruwanpura earned degrees from ASU through their studies in the Del E. Webb School of Construction, and like fellow new NAC member Robert “Bo” Calbert, they have been involved in many construction industry education, outreach and business endeavors.

They joined 35 other construction professionals inducted into the NAC during the organization’s annual meeting in Colorado Springs, Colorado, from Oct. 21–23

NAC membership recognizes exceptional leaders in the construction industry who have records of outstanding accomplishments in the profession and have made significant contributions in a range of areas, including management, technology, contracting, project delivery, workforce development and higher education.

Jeffrey Ehret, a founding partner of The PENTA Building Group, wearing a hard hat at a construction site as he signs a large beam.

Jeffrey Ehret, a founder of The PENTA Building Group, has for many years generously supported the Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering, both financially and as a trusted adviser to the Del E. Webb School of Construction. Photo courtesy of Jeffrey Ehret

Ehret, chairman and CEO of The PENTA Building Group, earned a construction degree at ASU in 1976 and a master’s degree in business administration at ASU three years later. His success in construction earned him the Del E. Webb School Distinguished Alumni award in 2007.

He is currently an ASU trustee, a member of the Fulton Schools Industry Engagement Catalyst and on the executive boards of the Del E. Webb School’s Industry Advisory Council and Construction in Indian Country program.

Ehret and his company established four-year scholarships focused primarily on helping women and individuals of color pursue construction degrees, as well as an endowment to fund students involved in regional and national competitions.

Other significant donations from Ehret or his company have helped fund an endowed PENTA Building Group Professorship position and construction of College Avenue Commons, the ASU Tempe campus building that houses administrative and education facilities for construction management and engineering programs.

In nominating Ehret for NAC membership, Fulton Schools Professor and Sunstate Chair of Construction Management and Engineering Edd Gibson noted that Ehret “has been proactive in promoting construction management and construction engineering as exciting and viable professions.”

Ehret led efforts in 2006 to establish a full-time student recruiting position for the construction school and has funded it continually since then. The construction programs have “experienced significant growth as a result,” Gibson said.

Gibson also references several Contractor of the Year awards won by PENTA, along with multiple awards for safety in construction practices and community service.

Ehret credits his education at ASU for giving him the background and motivation that have fueled his career pursuits.

“I was immediately struck by how strong the construction management program was and by the quality of the professors, who all had real-life experience. I don’t think there was a single class I didn’t enjoy,” he said. “The whole undergrad experience exceeded my expectations. By the time I graduated, I really felt like I was prepared to go out and accomplish things in this business.”

A man stands at a construction site with a construction hat and tool belt

In more than three decades in construction, Robert “Bo” Calbert helped make McCarthy Building Companies one of the most successful building contractors in the Southwestern United States while also becoming an industry and community leader, as well as a strong supporter of construction and engineering education. Photo courtesy of Bo Calbert

Robert “Bo” Calbert, now retired, worked in the construction industry for more than 35 years, rising to president of the Southwest division of McCarthy Building Companies and overseeing major building projects for multiple industries throughout Arizona, Nevada, New Mexico, Colorado and Utah.

Calbert also had leadership roles with professional, educational and public service organizations. Those included the Arizona chapter of the Alliance for Construction Excellence, Maricopa Community Colleges, the Arizona Chamber of Commerce and Industry, Greater Phoenix Leadership and the Juvenile Diabetes Foundation.

In 2018, Calbert was inducted into the Hall of Fame of the Del E. Webb School of Construction and the School of Sustainable Engineering and the Built Environment.

In nominating Calbert, Gibson emphasized his efforts and the financial support from his company over several years, which has helped provide more classrooms and other facilities for construction and engineering at ASU.

Calbert’s other contributions and honors include serving as an Arizona Builders Alliance board member and his work for the Association for Career and Technical Education of Arizona. He was also recognized as a Mentor of the Year by the Phoenix Business Journal and received a career Legacy Award from the Engineering News-Record, a leading construction industry publication.

Calbert says the graduates of ASU construction programs he has known and worked with over the years have helped drive his decisions to support the Del E. Webb School of Construction.

“Every construction school graduate learns technical skills,” he said. “But the other thing I see ASU focusing on is leadership skills, which we have found to be more important than anything in this business.”

Ruwanpura, a former U.S. Fulbright scholar, earned a master’s degree in construction management from the Del E. Webb School of Construction, followed by a doctoral degree in construction engineering and management from the University of Alberta. He then joined the faculty of the University of Calgary, where he is now a professor and a senior leadership team member.

Ruwanpura has also received numerous accolades and awards in his field, including the University of Calgary’s International Achievement Award in 2006. In 2013, he was appointed to a vice provost position that put him in charge of the university’s internationalization efforts. Since 2020, he has also been serving as the associate vice president for research.

He was named a distinguished alumnus of the Del E. Webb School in 2019.

Ruwanpura was nominated for NAC membership by Fulton Schools Professor and Beavers-Ames Chair in Heavy Construction Samuel Ariaratnam, who prior to joining ASU was on the faculty of the University of Alberta and brought Ruwanpura there for his doctoral studies.

Ariaratnam called attention to Ruwanpura’s success in bringing together academic and industry leaders for research collaborations that have yielded productive advances in construction engineering and management.

University of Calgary Professor Janaka Ruwanpura wearing a suit and leaning against a railing in front of a window overlooking a lab space.

University of Calgary Professor Janaka Ruwanpura’s growing list of efforts to improve construction education and industry practices has been widely recognized by colleagues and professional organizations. Ruwanpura earned a master’s degree in construction management in Arizona State University’s Del E. Webb School of Construction. Photo courtesy of Janaka Ruwanpura

Ruwanpura, who was also appointed as a Canada research chair in project management systems, led and implemented a large construction research program called Top Ten Targets for improving Construction Productivity for 10 years. It was supported by many construction companies and Canadian federal government research funds, and it produced many best industry practices, models and tools, including commercialized products.

He developed a construction project management training program that has been utilized by more than 300 industry professionals as well as offered a master's of engineering in project management to 135 engineers and constructors for a Middle Eastern oil company. These programs evolved into the Centre for Project Management Excellence, and Ruwanpura was appointed its founding director.

He has also earned widespread recognition for his work to help Canada’s construction industry develop a more productive and efficient workforce and take important steps to compete in the global marketplace, earning him the Walter Shanly Career in Construction Engineering Award from the Canadian Society for Civil Engineering and the Industry Partnership Award from Calgary Construction Association, among others.

Ariaratnam notes that Ruwanpura’s leadership efforts led to transformative growth and industry impact, as confirmed by six excellence and innovation awards for global engagement for the University of Calgary from organizations like the Canadian Bureau for International Education, or CBIE.

The impacts of his leadership also won the University of Calgary an Institutional Award for Global Learning, Research and Engagement from the Association of Public and Land-Grant Universities, and in 2020 he received leadership awards for internationalization from the city of Calgary and CBIE.

Ruwanpura says his education at ASU gave him a North American perspective on the construction profession and helped broaden the international perspective he gained in his university years by learning from professors from Sri Lanka, Australia, England, Canada and the United States.

“That has been very valuable. You learn to appreciate diversity and different cultures, and it enriches you professionally,” he said. “You learn how to work and collaborate with different kinds of people. Those are hugely important experiences I was blessed to get.”

Calbert, Ehret and Ruwanpura now join Gibson, Ariaratnam and Emeritus Professors William Badger and Cliff Schexnayder, along with Ira A. Fulton, William “Wink” Ames, Doug Pruitt, David Crawford, Tom Sorley, Ronald M. Fedrick, Thomas R. Warne and William G. Dorey among the NAC members with ASU affiliations.

In addition to recognition of new inductees at the recent NAC event, ASU construction management undergraduate Shalee Allison was recognized for being awarded an NAC 2021 national scholarship.

The scholarship program provides financial support for outstanding students who are on track to earn construction or construction-related degrees, have high grade-point averages, are demonstrating leadership and participating in extracurricular activities.

Ariaratnam nominated Allison for the scholarship. An NAC committee selected Allison and four others from among 30 nominees from across North America.

Top photo courtesy of Pixabay

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