ASU think tank aims to aid construction industry recovery

August 8, 2011

Historically, the United States has never recovered from an economic downturn without a corresponding resurgence of the construction industry.

Today 10 percent of American jobs are dependent on the construction and related design industries, so it’s critical that effective strategies be implemented to spark their recovery. Construction Crane Download Full Image

The Alliance for Construction Excellence (ACE) at Arizona State University has been studying the impact of the extended economic recession on the construction industry with the goal of helping it chart a path toward renewed prosperity.

To expand that effort, ACE is organizing and guiding a series of think tank sessions, bringing together industry leaders from around the country to address questions pertinent to that goal:

•  Can the industry return to what it was before the recession, or will recovery require fundamental structural changes in the way construction and design companies do business?

•  If the down-market period persists, how fast and extensively can the industry transform itself to ensure a healthy survival?

•  How does the industry need to reshape itself in the next decade to protect against future downward cycles in the economy?

Answers are crucial if the construction industry is to help the country with an economic rebound, says Gary Aller, director of ACE, the outreach arm of the Del E. Webb School of Construction Programs, a part of the School of Sustainable Engineering and the Built Environment in ASU’s Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering.

“The recession has altered our industry’s methods of delivering its services, changed business owners’ attitudes and reduced profit margins,” Aller says. “The balance of power has shifted into a buyer’s market in which owners are driving contracting methods and influencing the construction process.”

“When the construction industry is expanding, the market provides the opportunity for practitioners to influence and shape the industry,” he says. “In a growing market the industry enjoys advances, such as improving delivery methods, advocating payment legislation, enhancing the industry image and attaining recognition for professionalism. In a slower market the industry loses momentum and has less potential for gains and improvements.”

ACE research professor Thomas Schleifer says the failure of decision making and business planning that is slowing recovery “is not due to bad historical data or poor planning processes, it is erroneous assumptions about the external business environment in which the industry is operating today. We want to take the uncertainty out of the process of devising strategies to dig out from the market downturn.”

Along with Aller and Schleifer, participants in the inaugural session of the think tank series, conducted last spring, included;

•    Doug Pruitt, chairman and chief executive of Sundt Construction and past president of the national Association of General Contractors
•    Hugh Rice, chairman of  FMI Corporation
•    Mike Medici, managing director of the Smith Group
•    Charles B Thomsen, retired chairman of 3D/International
•    Terry Gray, former global head of Construction Industry Practice, Zurich – General Insurance
•    Emerson Johns, retired global finance leader for DuPont and former director of the Construction Industry Institute
•    Edd Gibson, director of ASU’s School of Sustainable Engineering and the Built Environment

At the session, Aller stressed that the lack of a unified industry voice, along with fragmentation among various sectors of the construction and design industries, is diminishing the ability to solve major industry problems.

Aller, Schleifer and other think tank participants identified numerous areas in which the industry’s business models need to be reformulated if recovery is to proceed.  

The major challenges include the impact of technological advances, diminishing workers’ skill levels, labor shortages, credit and financing uncertainty and reduction of union influence.

Equally critical issues are intensifying international competition, the increasing impacts of the global economy, decreasing profit margins, reduced government funding and fewer public-private partnerships, lack of productivity, and industry consolidation trends.

ACE plans to address each issue at future think tank sessions. The next session, scheduled for September 1, will explore alternative construction project delivery methods.

“We want to provide the industry the data and the guidance it needs to develop informed strategies to deal with what appears to be an uncertain future,” Aller says.

For more information contact Thomas C. Schleifer, at 480-945-7680, or

Joe Kullman

Science writer, Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering


School of Nutrition's interdisciplinary PhD program second to none

August 8, 2011

ASU's interdisciplinary Ph.D. program in Physical Activity, Nutrition and Wellness (PANW) is one of only a handful of programs in the U.S. that fully integrates both exercise and nutrition research with health promotion research. In contrast to similar programs, the ASU School of Nutrition and Health Promotion’s Ph.D. blends research and disciplinary/concentration courses in Nutrition and Physical Activity to prepare research scholars who contribute to public health through the delivery of effective health promotion, physical activity and nutrition programs to all segments of society.
According to Pamela Swan, associate professor and director of the PANW Program, ASU is the only university in the nation that offers a doctoral degree emphasizing health promotion and combining core courses in physical activity (i.e., exercise and wellness) and nutrition. “Baylor University offers the only program similar to ASU.” Swan also pointed out that the PANW program is classroom based while Baylor’s program is mostly online.

Ahead of the Times Researcher reviewing samples in a lab Download Full Image

The integration of wellcare and healthcare was not as prevalent when ASU’s interdisciplinary Ph.D. in PANW was launched in 2005. Today, the healthcare reform act calls for more preventive health education and holistic care to lessen the incidence and expense of obesity, type II diabetes, and cardiovascular diseases. The doctoral program in PANW is well positioned to educate health professionals to address these and other disease risks. The PANW program is designed to foster research and promote healthy lifestyles in order to reduce the physical, social and economic costs of unhealthy living for Americans.
Director of the School of Nutrition and Health Promotion, Linda Vaughan, feels the school has the right PhD program at the right time for the right need. “Our commitment to the PANW doctoral program was strengthened by a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention survey that ranked Arizona 50th in the proportion of adults who were living sedentary lifestyles,” Vaughan said.

Purpose and Mission

The Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.) degree in Physical Activity, Nutrition and Wellness is an interdisciplinary program designed to prepare research scholars, academic faculty and professionals who study physical activity promotion, nutrition science, healthy eating and lifestyles and exercise sciences. The program integrates graduate courses from several academic units to provide a sound foundation for research leading to a dissertation. The program focuses on issues that contribute to healthy living through the reduction of disease risk, quality of life promotion, enhancement of well being, and understanding mechanisms that underlie disease processes. Additionally, the program emphasizes community or clinical practices that promote physically active living, sound nutrition, and disease and injury risk reduction/prevention.

Graduates are prepared for research careers in higher education, governmental agencies, and health-related positions in private industry. Students may tailor a course of study that focuses on active living and wellness, nutrition science, or exercise science.

Research Intense

Students are actively involved in research at all stages of their doctoral study through their participation in research courses, independent research projects, research technical and skill building experiences, seminars and colloquia. Each student is expected to complete first and second year skill building research experiences, or mini-theses, and research projects leading to the dissertation.

Final Assessment

Professor Emeritus Charles Corbin, the architect of the original interdisciplinary program on which PANW is based, is in a unique position to assess the current degree program. He has maintained close contact with the program and its faculty since retiring in 2004.

“It is very satisfying to witness the refinements and growth of the Physical Activity, Nutrition and Wellness PhD program,” Corbin observed. “It is testimony to the vision and efforts of Pam Swan, Carol Johnston, and other PANW faculty that the program meets the ever growing health promotion research needs of these times.”