Students from Pitt State School of Construction headed to Final Four 

Pittsburg State University students will compete in the Final Four this month in Phoenix, Arizona, but they’ll be competing academically — not with basketballs. 

It’s the Final Four of the Mechanical Contractors Association of America. 

Pittsburg State’s MCAA Student Chapter, part of the School of Construction, was one of 22 chapters to submit a proposal for a national energy project last fall and one of four to qualify to advance to the Final Four. 

The challenge: install three 1000-ton cooling towers, six 6000-mbh boilers, a sewer heat recovery system, heat exchangers, pumps, piping, and supporting infrastructure as part of a new energy facility that would heat and cool several buildings on campus. 

Modeled after an actual facility to be built in Denver, Colorado, it is a huge step forward in de-carbonizing commercial buildings and will be the largest sewer heat recovery system in North America. 

In September, they presented to senior leaders in mechanical contractor companies across the U.S. who then chose the top four proposals to send to the national competition this spring.  

The last week of March, they’ll head to Phoenix, where they’ll have 10 minutes to present their proposal and answer judges’ questions in front of 600 to 800 people. 

They’re up against California Polytechnic State University (“Cal Poly”); Fairleigh Dickinson University, a private university in New Jersey; and McMaster University, a public research university in Ontario, Canada. 

The chapter picked for first place will win a $10,000 prize, second place $5,000, and third and fourth places $2,500.  

No matter how Pittsburg State students finish, Professor Shannon Nicklaus, their advisor, said they’ll come away with job offers. 

“This convention will be attended by presidents, CEOs, CFOs, and others from companies across the U.S.,” he said. “When they get off of the stage, they will be hounded with people trying to recruit them.” 

When Nicklaus’ students made it to the Final Four in 2011, they lost first place by two hundredths of a point. 

“Every single one of my students had two or three job offers that day,” he said. 

Senior Graham Hudelson, project manager, said qualifying for the event was something his team set a goal to do last August. 

“We put in hundreds of hours toward accomplishing this,” he said. 

It took his learning far beyond the classroom and his internships. 

“This project has taught me so much about the mechanical side of the construction industry and all of the unique challenges it provides. All of my internships have been with General Contractors, so to gain experience working with a different side of the industry is valuable. Also, being a part of a team has always meant a lot to me, this one is no exception. Working on this project four times a week with these guys has been a really fun and special experience that I wouldn’t trade for anything, I’m very glad this journey is not over quite yet.” 

Senior Michael Marinakis, superintendent and safety officer for the project, helped to create a site logistics plan, schedule, and safety control program. 

“Being a student in the Construction Management program, a majority of summer internships place the students in a project engineer role, meaning they spend the majority of their time on a job site. This proposal competition allows us to practice a different phase of construction where it is more logistical, numerical, and quantitative in a theoretical aspect,” he said. 

Sophomore Aidan Wolownik, whose role was to help Marinakis with safety, said the project was a valuable learning experience that took his education beyond the classroom. 

“It really helped me understand more about construction,” he said. 

Carver League

Construction Management 

The PSU Student Chapter of the Associated General Contractors of America also fared well this year: it earned the Outstanding Student Chapter Award for Construction Management.  

On March 14, students in the chapter will head to the AGC 2023 Convention in Las Vegas to give a presentation about their winning project, The Carver League House, completed in 2022. 

Students will accept the award during the convention’s closing ceremony on March 16, and the chapter and the Pittsburg State University School of Construction will be featured in the convention’s exhibition hall. 

The Carver League House project was led by Zach Bures, a senior at the time. He was assisted by student chapter members, local contractors, and the project sponsor, Watco Companies. Faculty Chad Crain, Chris Pross, and Jim Otter served as advisors on the project. 

Learn more:

School of Construction