Pre-College Program Blurs the Lines Between High School, College, and Industry
Building Construction Technology CityLab is a new summer program at Mount Ida
Using the Boston Metro area as a real-world classroom, the College of Natural Sciences (CNS) launched a new immersive pre-college program, BCT Citylab, during Summer 2022.
Pre-College Programs at UMass Amherst, offered both in Amherst and on the Mount Ida Campus in Newton, are uniquely designed to prepare high school students for the next step in their academic journey. BCT CityLab was offered on the Mount Ida Campus to high school juniors and seniors interested in exploring building construction, sustainability, engineering, architecture, and technology-related learning and career pathways.
The inaugural program attracted students from five states (MA, NJ, CT, UT, IL) and three countries (Honduras, Switzerland, USA). Each participant learned about college life and earned college credits while engaging in construction site tours, hands-on fabrication projects and skills trainings. The innovative program was designed to make learning fun, and to build tangible learning pathways to access Boston's innovation economy.
In the Building Physics Module, students conducted experiments in a controlled lab setting to learn how heat transfer and thermodynamics occurs within a building and how construction, control, and maintenance affect the related thermal processes. Students then applied what they learned in a real-world context – the 66-acre Mount Ida Campus in Newton, Massachusetts. Using high powered, focus-free cameras to capture infrared images of campus buildings, students were able to see heat flow in real time, allowing them to learn quickly from visualizations that deliver complex information.
In the Mass Timber Module, students learned about glue-laminated beams, laminated veneer lumber, cross-laminated timber, and the concept of the bio-based economy. Students fabricated mini structural beams, selecting pre-cut boards of different qualities, adhering them with glue and testing the strength of their beams with special equipment. The BCT CityLab toured ‘live’ construction sites, including a seven-story, 34-unit multifamily project in Roxbury that is the first building in Boston to be built from the ground up with cross laminated timber and to be Passive House certified (designed to use 40-60% less energy than a conventional building).
In the Building Science Module, participants learned about air infiltration in buildings - the exchange of air through cracks and gaps in the outside shell of a building. Students explored construction materials with faculty and recent BCT grads (i.e. Zip R sheathing, Gutex cellulose fiber board insulation, Mento air barrier/vapor retarders). Citylab-ers then applied what they learned. They sealed gaps and cracks found in animal-like structures made from metal (i.e. ‘Duct Dawgs’) with foil tapes and mastics to better understand air sealing in HVAC systems, a critical component of energy efficient, high-performance buildings.
The BCT CityLab also featured hands-on activities with laser scanning, drones, diagnostic tools, and modeling software common in today’s construction management-related fields. Students used the Minecraft software to create a sustainable city, learned how to design buildings using Sketchup – a 3D building design tool that behaves more like a pencil than a piece of complicated software – and played with AutoCAD software – a critical tool used by engineers, architects, and project managers to create blueprints and floor plans.
The new curriculum was the result of an interdisciplinary collaboration between faculty, alumni and external partners, with a clear mission to open access to pathways that increase access to college and high-wage jobs. The unique learning design aspires to empower the next generation with hands-on engagement and with practical, real-world problem-solving skills. High school-aged students explored college life and discovered STEM-based career pathways such as Building Construction and Technology (BCT), an interdisciplinary major offered within CNS that combines elements of architecture, engineering and the applied sciences.
“Boston is experiencing the biggest building construction boom in its history, while new generations are demanding more engagement and flexibility from their college experience and professional careers," said BCT CityLab's Dr. Paul J. Wolff III. "The BCT Citylab program maximizes hands-on learning, while bridging the gaps often found between high school, academics, and industry - illustrating applied learning pathways to Boston’s innovation economy."