Building skills through real-life experience


Portraits of ASU faculty associates Jessie Pruitt (left) and James Murphy on a yellow, construction-themed background.

Throughout their years of academic studies in the Del E. Webb School of Construction, students benefit from what they’re taught by faculty associates with extensive industry experience. Pictured: Jesse Pruitt (left) and James Murphy.

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The Del E. Webb School of Construction at Arizona State University has seen tremendous growth in the past five years, both in the number of students seeking a career in the construction industry and in the number of professors and instructors who are teaching the next generation of builders and construction professionals.

“We’ve continued to be able to hire a really great group of faculty members,” says Anthony Lamanna, the construction programs chair and Sundt Professor of Alternative Delivery Methods and Sustainable Development. “Part of why we can do that is because of industry involvement.”

In addition to feedback from industry partners on the skills new graduates need to succeed in the construction field, the school — a part of the School of Sustainable Engineering and the Built Environment, one of seven schools in the Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering at ASU — has created connections with working professionals. Recognized as faculty associates, they bring tremendous real-world experience to classes in the construction management and construction engineering programs.

We spoke to two current faculty associates — Jesse Pruitt and James Murphy — and asked them to share their experiences working with students.

Pruitt is a Del E. Webb School of Construction alumnus. He graduated summa cum laude with a construction management degree in 2014 and had the distinction of being selected as the outstanding graduate of his construction management class. He works as a project manager with McCarthy Building Companies. Over his career, Pruitt has had the opportunity to work on 17 different projects, totaling $650 million.

Murphy started his career with Willmeng Construction in 1999 after gaining experience with a heavy civil general contractor and a mid-sized commercial contractor. He eventually worked his way up before purchasing the company in 2006. To aid in the management of his company, Murphy earned a master’s degree in construction management with the Del E. Webb School of Construction. He now leads a team of more than 300 employees and has guided the firm to tremendous growth through strategic decision-making and a focus on best-in-class culture.

Here is what they had to say about their roles as faculty associates.

Question: What led you to become interested in teaching for the Del E. Webb School of Construction?

Pruitt: I started to really understand my passion for teaching by helping students competing in the Associated Schools of Construction, or ASC, student competition in Reno (Nevada). Additionally, I am currently involved in a committee that is responsible for the training and development of all of McCarthy’s project engineers in the Southwest region, which includes recent graduates. When I was asked if I would be interested in teaching a course based on an idea presented to the faculty, I knew there was no way I could pass up the opportunity. I had the honor of instructing my first class in the fall of 2020, and it has been one of the most rewarding experiences of my career.

Murphy: As an employer, I have always looked to the Del E. Webb School of Construction for top talent. Their education has delivered excellent results for Willmeng year over year. The result of this has built a heavy ASU alumni base at Willmeng, with more than 40 graduates and interns now employed with us. It was through my experience and staying close to the students upon graduation, as well as being a presenter in classes, that prompted me to approach the school with a concept for a class. As the course offerings continue to evolve and innovate at the Del E. Webb School of Construction, the need for field instruction became apparent. At the core of this need is leadership acumen, one of many characteristics and attributes that make people successful as a business leader. The course I developed — field leadership for undergraduate and graduate students — covers strategic decision-making, personality assessments, preconstruction involvement, subcontractor management, communication and much more.

Q: What has been your most rewarding teaching experience?

Pruitt: On multiple occasions, I have had students, current and former, reach out to me and thank me for what they learned in the course. Many have indicated they felt they had a much better understanding of certain practices due to the initial exposure they experienced in the course. It was such an amazing feeling knowing they stepped out into the industry better prepared for their work.

Murphy: Apart from giving back to my alma mater, the most rewarding part of teaching the course this semester was developing the curriculum and learning outcomes in preparation for the course and then actually seeing these play out in the classroom as the students understand a learning concept. Additionally, as I watch these students grow in their career and witness how the fruits of the concepts they learn in my class play out in the field over time, that will be highly rewarding.

RELATED: Core values of collaboration, partnership and entrepreneurship drive success of construction school

Q: What has been your experience working with students?

Pruitt: Every semester, I am truly amazed at how hungry the students are to learn, and how passionate they are about the construction industry. In my class, they are given exposure to real-world activities they typically do not see until three to five years after graduation. I am truly amazed every semester how they dive headfirst into the challenging activities and grow from the experience.

Murphy: The students are terrific. They ask thoughtful questions, show curiosity and demonstrate the ability to apply the concepts they learn. We created the opportunity for the students to go out to the field and witness the application of the areas of instruction we covered in class and then were given the format to discuss what they experienced. Their feedback on that session was very positive, which showed me that the hands-on, practical instruction was well received, appreciated and beneficial.

Q: What would you say to other industry professionals who are considering teaching at some point in their career?

Murphy: Teaching is one of the most rewarding ways to extend your own growth while giving back to others starting their careers. Teaching in an academic format is quite different from that of the business environment, and yet similar enough that it actually makes you better at both as you adjust your style to be successful with each class in a unique way. Every semester is different, and I believe it is important to adjust your style to reach the students most effectively.

Pruitt: You should absolutely do it. We have a unique opportunity to expose students and help shape the future of our industry, and to do our part to help the Del E. Webb School of Construction continue to produce the best leaders in the industry.

Q: Any last thoughts as you reflect on your time with the Del E. Webb School of Construction?

Murphy: With ASU’s outstanding reputation for top students, being No. 1 in innovation nationally and the surrounding opportunities within construction in their own backyard, I feel very fortunate to have been selected to teach these fine students in a school I am very proud to have attended.

Pruitt: Words can never truly express my gratitude to the Del E. Webb School of Construction for the opportunity to teach and to the students who have allowed me the opportunity to be involved in their education. I was already a very proud Sun Devil, but being able to come back and actively participate in the university takes it to a whole new level. Go Devils!

If you are close to ASU’s Tempe campus and are interested in giving back to the next generation of construction leaders as a faculty associate, please contact Chloe Fagg at Chloe.Fagg@asu.edu. The minimum requirements are experience in construction and related industries, a college degree (master’s degree or higher preferred) and a genuine interest in helping students.

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