front facade of Miller Gorrie Center

The history of the Building Science program at Auburn University dates back to the 1930s. During the early 1940s, the Johns-Manville Company was instrumental in getting a number of universities in the United States to add a curriculum known as “Light Construction.” The Light Construction option in the Department of Civil Engineering was first offered at Auburn in 1942. In 1945 the program was transferred to the Department of Architecture and strengthened to a four-year curriculum leading to the degree of Bachelor of Building Construction. The first graduate with a degree in Building Construction was John Edward Wilborn in August 1945 and his portrait can be seen in the lobby of the Gorrie Center. Thirty students were enrolled in the program in May 1946. By the following Fall, the program had grown to 134 students. In June 1957 the program became independent from the Department of Architecture and was named the Department of Building Technology. The new department was headed by Frank Marion Orr and had three professors.

In 1968 Paul Brandt was appointed Department Head. In the years that followed, the heavy emphasis on structures was eased and more courses specific to the construction industry were added. The faculty increased to seven professors, including the Department Head, and the enrollment increased to 160. The name was changed to the Department of Building Science in 1975. In 1980 the Department of Building Science became fully accredited by ACCE.

After 23 years as Department Head, Professor Brandt stepped down in 1991. He was replaced by John Mouton. Under Professor Mouton’s leadership, BSCI made significant gains in the quality of faculty, facilities, instruction, outreach, and research. The students were increasingly exposed to the latest innovations in construction science and information technology. This emphasis continues today.

In 1993 a Master of Building Construction degree was approved and added to the department. The first two students were admitted to the program in the Fall of 1993. The program has grown to the current enrollment of 15 – 20 students and 93 students have graduated with the degree.

In the fall of 2000, Auburn University changed to the semester system. The Building Science Curriculum went from 205 quarter hours to the current 120 semester hours. The transition to the semester system went relatively smoothly due to extensive planning by the faculty and staff.

Also, in the Fall of 2000, Professor Mouton stepped down as Department Head and was replaced by Dr. John Murphy. Dr. Murphy succeeded in strengthening the department’s outreach and research involvement while maintaining high-quality instruction. He encouraged and participated in the Summer Abroad Program which has become an annual option for the best Building Science graduating seniors. He also oversaw the fundraising, design, and construction of a new building, the Miller Gorrie Center adjacent to Dudley Hall, the Architecture building. The building was completed in the fall of 2006 and brought into full use Spring Semester 2007. In response to industry requests, three faculty positions were funded by the University beginning Fall 2006 to enable the Building Science Department to increase enrollment in the professional program beginning in Spring 2007 and increase the number of graduates by 30 students per year beginning Fall 2008. By Fall 2007 the total enrollment in the Building Science Program was approximately 600. At the same time, the Industry Advisory Council funded, for a two-year period, the creation of a Visiting Industry Professional position so that a professor with current industry experience would be available to students to broaden their exposure to current industry practices.

In the Fall of 2008, Dr. Murphy stepped down as School Head and was replaced by Dr. Richard Burt. Dr. Burt built on the fine work done by Dr. Murphy and the faculty and staff. He broadened the study abroad program to allow greater participation by encouraging faculty to offer programs outside the traditional summer model. Since the fall of 2008, the program has offered study abroad programs every summer to either Europe or China; Fall semester programs in Italy; a spring semester program in Australia and New Zealand, and a service-learning program during spring and fall breaks in Ecuador. The school also has student and faculty exchange programs with Birmingham City University in the United Kingdom and a memorandum of understanding with Beijing University of Civil Engineering & Architecture. The School has also partnered with an Alabama based international contractor to provide an international coop experience. Dr. Burt also encouraged the faculty to build Auburn’s global footprint by participating in international conferences and organizations.

Auburn faculty have a strong history of involvement in the leadership of construction organizations in the United States. Dr. Burt has strongly encouraged and supported Auburn faculty seeking leadership positions in professional service organizations and he himself serves in leadership roles in the ACCE, AGC Education & Research Foundation, National Roofing Contractors Association and CIB. Auburn faculty also serve in leadership positions in the Associated Schools of Construction.

Following an ACCE accreditation visit in Spring 2008 the School Head oversaw a comprehensive curriculum review conducted from Fall 2008 to Fall 2009. The methodology and the results of the curriculum review were presented to the Baccalaureate Degree Caucus at the annual ACCE meeting and a paper was also presented at the 2010 ASC annual conference. Building Science students began taking classes in the new curriculum in the Summer of 2012. Minor changes to the curriculum were submitted to the university in Spring 2013 and became effective in Fall 2013. Following the introduction of the ACCE student learning outcomes-based standards, a further curriculum review was conducted which became effective in August 2017 with the first students graduating under the new curriculum in May 2019.

In the Spring of 2009, the school worked with the US Army Corps of Engineers to develop a custom Executive Master of Building Construction program for engineering professionals at Fort Benning, Ga. This program has since developed into a fully online program and is now open to Army Corps personnel in the whole US. In Spring 2013 a 4-course graduate certificate program was set up for Administrative Army Corps personnel.

As part of the comprehensive curriculum review of the BSCI program from 2008 to 2010, the faculty conducted a series of focus groups with students. The findings from these focus groups led the school to expand “hands-on” opportunities by increasing the number of laboratory opportunities. It became obvious in preparing for the introduction of the new curriculum that the increase in the laboratory requirements for the structures and MEP classes would overload the demonstration lab in the Gorrie Center. The school worked with AU Facilities to identify and procure a 2-acre site where we could simulate a construction site and carry out larger “hands-on” activities. The school took occupation of the Building Science Field Laboratory during the spring of 2012. At this time AU facilities kindly provided a job trailer to use as offices and an instructional area.

The initial use of the facility focused on lab exercises for our three structures classes in the professional program, and research studies on pavement thermal pollution. In the Fall of 2013, Mike Hosey was hired as the manager of the Field Lab with a 50% teaching appointment. From 2013 onward, Professor Hosey has run the lab sessions for our structures classes. As part of these sessions, students have built several buildings and structures within the field lab, these include concrete storage bins for sand and aggregate storage, a wooden storage shelter for timber storage, foundations for a wall forming exercise for our estimating class. Several storage containers for tools, equipment, and materials were also added.

The McWhorter School of Building Science has long had a strategic priority to provide enriching educational experiences through the provision of High Impact Educational Practices (HIEP). One of our signature HIEP’s is student engagement in Service/Community Service-Learning projects. This is consistent with AU Strategic Priority #4: Enhance Public Engagement. During our last curriculum review in 2017, a dedicated class was added—BSCI 4360 Construction Field lab to ensure that all our graduates participate in at least one construction based service project while they at Auburn. The Field Lab is the operational base for the school’s service-learning projects.

With the introduction of BSCI 4360 in the Fall 2018 semester, BSCI students conduct six separate service-learning projects in the local area each semester. The Field Lab is utilized to conduct site-specific safety training, prefabrication work and project administration. All BSCI students are required to take this class and all students taking this class are required to have an OSHA 30-hour safety card (received in BSCI 3700). The Field Lab is also used as a base for providing 10 hours of OSHA Certified safety training for all Freshman Honors students involved in the “Week of Service” every August. BSCI has been providing this service to the Honors Students since 2016. The lab also supports student organizations such as the Associated General Contractors Student Chapter and the Design-Build Institute of America Student Chapter in the execution of their service projects. The Field Lab went through a major renovation during 2019 thanks to a major gift from Robins & Morton. The lab is now officially called the Robins & Morton Construction Field Lab.

In 2018 the school also renovated its former demonstration area to provide space for a construction visualization lab with a 27 screen video wall and 3 competition team rooms. At the same time, a traditional classroom was converted into an Engaged Active Student Learning (EASL) Classroom.