Campuses benefit from construction school alum's creative spirit

September 22, 2011

This article first appeared in Full Circle, the online alumni magazine of the Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering.

Emerson Ward is intricately more knowledgeable about Arizona State University’s campuses today than he ever was during his years as an ASU student. ASU Construction School Alum Emerson Ward Download Full Image

The reason: Since graduating in 2006 with a bachelor’s degree in construction management from the Del E. Webb School of Construction Programs, Ward has been helping to build many of the university’s newer facilities and renovate older ones.

He’s now in his sixth year with CORE Construction Services of Arizona, Inc. – a company that does more than $700 million a year in business in seven states – where he rose to a project manager position in just two years.

Ward has managed more than a dozen projects at ASU – large and small jobs adding up to more than $60 million in construction work – including a new and extensively modernized university police department facility on the Tempe campus and renovations of Sun Devil Stadium and the Memorial Union student center.

That list also includes renovations of the Psychology Main Building and labs for the Department of Psychology’s Behavioral Neuroscience Program. In addition he’s worked on projects to fortify seven buildings with new roofing systems, enabling them to support arrays of photovoltaic panels as part of the university’s efforts to use solar energy to power more of its facilities.

Elsewhere in the community he’s been involved in construction for the Deer Valley Unified School District, Gilbert School District and the city of Apache Junction. He also recently helped complete a new police and courts center in Tolleson.

Current ASU projects include reroofing of the Wells Fargo Arena, the Student Services building and Interdisciplinary Building B on the Tempe campus, plus construction of a student housing facility and dining hall on the university’s Polytechnic Campus.

“For me, it’s great to be part of making the campuses better places,” Ward says. “I’m very passionate about it, because the quality of what we’re building will contribute to the aesthetics of the campuses and create environments conducive to students’ success, and it will all have an impact on the character and progress of ASU far into the future.”

He also finds his labors fulfilling because the Ward family “is a Sun Devil family through and through.”

His father, Paul Ward, an attorney, was the university’s chief legal counsel for almost two decades. His sister, Meredyth, graduated from ASU with a degree in nursing.

His wife, Kari Ward, is in her third year as assistant coach of ASU’s women’s gymnastic team. She was an Academic All-American gymnast at ASU while earning a degree in finance, which she received in 2005. She later completed work for a degree in nutrition. The couple now has a one-year-old son, Paul Kingston Ward, and they are expecting a second child in January.

Ward was a four-year letterman on the ASU men’s swim team and captain of the team in his senior year. He held an ASU school record in 100-yard breaststroke event for several years.  He earned the PAC-10 Conference Leadership Award in his senior-year swim season.

Being an athlete in a physically demanding sport and a student in a rigorous academic program prepared him for the challenges of the construction profession.

“It forced me to develop time management skills and to physically and mentally survive long days of classes, swim practice and weight training,” he says.

Along with those skills, he’s found success in the industry requires far more than knowledge of construction techniques.

As a project manager, he is often involved in every aspect of job – from managing the construction team, estimating budgets, controlling costs and hiring subcontractors to collaborating on design and dealing with regulatory requirements.  He’s also often the person ultimately responsible for meeting each of a project’s various deadlines.

All of that responsibility means “you have to be thick-skinned and also be a people person,” Ward says. “You have to develop a repertoire of ways to communicate effectively with different kinds of people.”

He stresses that message when he mentors current ASU construction management students, as well as the interns CORE hires from the Del E. Webb School of Construction Programs. He has participated on panels judging ASU students assigned to present proposals for mock construction projects.

“All the technical knowledge is important, but in today’s economy you have sell yourself and your company,” Ward says.

“Students need to learn how to work in a team environment,” he says, “and how to present themselves and their work professionally in ways that earn people’s confidence that you know what you’re talking about, that you can provide clients exactly what they need, whether they are a property owner, an architect or a subcontractor. My job is about all that and more.”

Ward had a different major when he started college, but it wasn’t holding his interest. His father then introduced him to longtime engineer, ASU construction management professor and National Academy of Construction member William Badger.

“I can’t remember all the details of what we talked about,” Ward recalls. “I just remember that what he said made me see construction as something that could be creative and rewarding. The passion he expressed made me decide to change majors.”

That perspective on construction as a career also helped him choose among job offers after he graduated.

“There was no doubt in my mind that I wanted to work for CORE,” Ward recalls. “The company’s leadership combined with a commitment to excellence in client relations and service, and the competitive style CORE has in winning projects, made me clear about my choice.”

That decision has paid off.

“The work environment has enabled me to excel, to better myself and my trade,” he says. “I was given opportunities to earn the trust of my employer and our clients. And by doing that, I was able to become a project manager a lot sooner than I might have somewhere else.”

Joe Kullman

Science writer, Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering


President's Community Enrichment Program showcases ASU

September 22, 2011

It’s every student’s dream – taking a class where there are no exams, no homework, no final grades. You just get to sit and learn from ASU faculty and other “classmates” and, possibly, find your passion at ASU.
That’s the idea behind the President’s Community Enrichment Program, except that the “students” are community members, and the class objective is to shrink the gap between town and gown.
PCEP is one of three engagement programs at the ASU Foundation, along with the President’s Club and Women & Philanthropy. The Engagement Programs provide opportunities to engage new ASU supporters as well as provide additional opportunities to ongoing ASU supporters.

The ASU President’s Club is a group of passionate men and women committed to transforming public higher education through their support of the ASU president, Michael M. Crow. By providing intellectual and financial resources, members assist the president to further ASU as it sets a new model of public higher education … a New American University. Download Full Image

The annual investments are used by the president as seed money for promising initiatives, to attract research funding, and to build strategic alliances and partnerships.

Women & Philanthropy is an inspiring example of the world-changing power of female philanthropy by providing an opportunity for women, through collaboration and the pooling of resources, to significantly impact the educational, research and public outreach missions of Arizona State University. Since its inception in 2002, Women & Philanthropy has provided more than $1.7 million in funding support to 56 ASU programs.

This year, PCEP participants (open to the public) will learn about the role the desert played in the formation of world religions; how campaign election coverage is evolving, from social media to changing demographics; what foreign journalists are experiencing around the globe; and how science intersects with society; and much more.
The first of this year’s 17 Phoenix-area programs is scheduled from 6:30-8:30 p.m., Oct. 6, in the Global Room of SkySong, 1475 N. Scottsdale Road, Scottsdale. Michelle Jordan, an assistant professor in the Mary Lou Fulton Teachers College, will discuss “Uncertainty, Innovation and Conversation: Learning to Manage the Unknown and the Unknowable in a Changing World.” The cost for the casual reception and lecture is $20.
PCEP programs were held only in the greater Phoenix area until two years ago when the Prescott community hosted a PCEP event on the economy. Plans are under way to offer events to the communities of Payson, Sedona and Flagstaff.
PCEP started 14 years ago when then-ASU President Lattie Coor asked his wife, Elva, shortly after their marriage, to “find ways to bring the community and university together, more deeply than it had been,” said Elva.
“He asked me to do that because I am a native Arizonan and I have been involved in Phoenix for more than 50 years.”
Though Elva knew a lot about the Phoenix area, she didn’t know much about ASU, so her first task was to educate herself. “I asked the deans if they would each give me a tour of each college. I invited influential people from the community to join me on these tours.
“People were amazed at what they saw. They had no idea of the research ASU was doing, for instance, for the computer industry.”
Tour participants also began to realize they were missing intellectual stimuli in their lives, Elva said, “so we began exploring ways to provide intellectual enrichment while showcasing the quality of academic life at ASU.”
The first two topics, suggested by Ted Humphrey, then dean of the Honors College, and Gary S. Krahenbuhl, who was dean of the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, were “great books” and “origins” – the origins of the universe, solar system, man and civilization.
ASU supporter Florence Nelson volunteered to host four of the “origins” events at her Pinnacle Peak home, and, said, Elva, “We expected 20-30 people to accept, but more than 90 showed up. Foundation staff, deans and others from the University attended the events and began to form meaningful relationships.”
At the end of the four-session series, people were saying, “I went to Harvard and never had professors like this,” Elva recalled.
She asked each of the deans if they would assign someone to meet with the PCEP committee once a year to help plan programs, and to her surprise, “every dean said, ‘I’ll do it myself.’ And they did.
“Soon the Deans were planning interdisciplinary programs in colleges that had never worked together. It was an interesting journey, and we were thrilled. The deans enjoyed PCEP as much as the community.”
When Michael Crow became ASU president, PCEP continued. “He and Sybil did a brilliant job of taking it to another level and taking advantage of what we had put together,” Elva said, “and significantly expanded the President’s Club. Sybil joined the effort to form Women & Philanthropy, and even today many of the members are among those that helped found the PCEP programs.”

Sybil Francis currently serves as Honorary Chair of the President’s Community Enrichment Programs.
Though Elva Coor set the pace and guided the process of establishing the PCEP, she doesn’t take credit for the now-successful program as “more than 50 community members came together to plan the programs, host events and ensure their success. We discovered a need and, together, filled it.”
Today, Sally Moore, director of PCEP, describes PCEP as “an avenue for the community to learn about ASU and one that leads to cultivating friends, advocates and investors for ASU; PCEP supports the visions and reputation of the New American University through custom campus tours, lectures and multi-week courses.”
Moore, from Kentucky, came to ASU after working as director of community services support for the Desert Mission Programs at John C. Lincoln Health Network for eight years.
Her work there was a good lead-in to PCEP. “My job was to connect the community (businesses, organizations and individuals) with the Desert Mission community service programs,” she said.

At ASU, Moore officially begins planning the PCEP events and courses at the end of January when she sends a message to all PCEP participants, development officers, deans and chairs, asking for suggestions on leading-edge projects and research ideas for program topics and faculty recommendations.
Unofficially, however, Moore has been working all year long to mine ASU’s intellectual wealth for leads. “Every day as I read ASU News and Insight, I realize there are so many great topics and presenters to consider,” she said. “Throughout the year, I gather ideas by talking with PCEP participants at events as to their interests, attending various events on the four ASU campuses and listening to what is in the news, locally, nationally and globally.”
She also consults her list of past programs so there are few repeats. “And I also try to feature a wide variety of program topics and to spotlight all four campuses. The difficult part is narrowing the choices down to a reasonable number of events each season because of the number of “all-star faculty” we have at ASU!”

To plan each year’s events, Moore works with a 15-member volunteer committee consisting of PCEP participants, some of whom are also members of the President’s Club and Women & Philanthropy. After compiling all the ideas and suggestions, the committee and Moore meet to prioritize and make initial recommendations.
Moore then contacts presenters to see if they are available for the upcoming year. When she has firm commitments, with names and titles, she works on a schedule. The whole process takes about two-three months, she said, and her deadline is the end of June each year for the following season.
Moore said she truly enjoys both planning the programs, and participating in them. “By attending the events, I get to know such wonderful, interesting people from all walks of life. Many PCEP participants are excited about being involved to support ASU and its programs/research. Helping guide and connect our PCEP guests’ interests and passions with ASU needs is most rewarding.”
Many of the PCEP participants have been coming for years, such as Regina Bidstrup of Paradise Valley and Victoria, B.C.
“I love the programs because of the interaction between the professors and ‘students,’” Bidstrup said. “The information gained from each program fills a gap in my life now that I am no longer a college student. I enjoy the opportunity to gain more knowledge on a topic from a professor who has devoted her or his working life to disseminating information.”

Bidstrup, who earned a BS degree from Eastern Michigan University and has taken additional credit courses from other colleges and universities, including ASU, said she learned about PCEP at the beginning from Elva Coor, and she was first part of the committee running “Great Conversations,” then its chair.
Since then, she has participated in a short course each year, and attended other PCEP programs, and she and her husband, Peter, support ASU through their membership in the President’s Club.

“Every year I look forward to receiving the new schedule of classes and picking out programs to attend,” Bidstrup said. “Elva Coor came up with a great program to bring the university and the community together. I knew little about ASU prior to PCEP and now I feel more affinity toward the institution.”

Lynne Sonntag, who lives in the Arcadia neighborhood of Phoenix, said she has participated in PCEP for many years. “I enjoy continuing to enrich my life and it makes interesting conversation with all age groups,” she said. “It has helped me relate to college students by sharing my college experience.”
She has particularly enjoyed programs with the deans from Barrett, The Honors College, and programs on such topics as infant brain development and the desert environment.
Since beginning to attend PCEP, she has gained “incredible respect for the faculty at ASU and the community service that ASU is providing.”
She marvels at the opportunity for learning that she has found in PCEP. “To be able to sit with the dean of a college who is teaching me is remarkable,” she said.
The Sonntags are also ASU supporters; she is a member of Women & Philanthropy, and she and her husband, Volker, are also President’s Club members.
Melissa and Ted Lagreid, whose daughter is an ASU graduate, began attending PCEP events when they moved to Phoenix five years ago. Then, they both joined the President’s Club, and Melissa joined Women & Philanthropy.
“We go to as many of the PCEP events as we can. We’ve been impressed by quality and breadth of the subjects,” Melissa Lagreid said. “It’s a great idea. There are so many innovating things going on at ASU, and PCEP is a great way to get the word out.”
She added that participation in PCEP has given her “a better sense of how unusually innovative the faculty and programs at ASU are.”
“I’ve worked at several universities and I’m so impressed with all the partnerships that are going on within the community. Dr. Crow has done a great job in getting people to work across the silos.”

“The most rewarding thing for me as director of PCEP is to hear PCEP guests say, ‘I had no idea ASU was doing all these exciting, relevant things – how fortunate for the students and for our future.  How may I help?’”

“PCEP continues to stay true to its legacy of connecting the community with ASU.  PCEP provides an open door to ASU to be enlightened, inspired, and involved, Moore said.  Our goal is to connect community members with the many ways to become involved and support ASU through their time, talents and/or treasures.  In that way it differs from traditional life-long learning programs; but PCEP provides an even greater impact by offering a way to keep learning – for life and a way to make an impact on the future of education – for life.

For more information about the President’s Community Enrichment Program, call (480) 965-4814, or go to