Eminent Scholar brings students real-world view of construction industry

The title of Charles Dickens’ classic novel “Great Expectations” provides a fitting description of the breadth and depth of contributions Timothy Becker is anticipated to make in his new job.

In January, Becker stepped into the position of Eminent Scholar in the Del E. Webb School of Construction within the School of Sustainable Engineering and the Built Environment, part of the Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering at Arizona State University.

Becker’s duties include teaching, research and providing a variety of related professional services to the university community. With more than three decades of management and on-the-ground experience in the construction profession, he now aspires to arm students with the knowledge he has acquired.

This spring, Becker is teaching the Construction Planning and Scheduling course and a first-of-its-kind course focused on human resources management in the construction industry. In the summer sessions, he anticipates again teaching the planning and scheduling course, along with a Sustainable Construction course.

Becker will also carry out a research program he describes as building strategically on his earlier research and industry work to advance integrated project delivery methods and lean construction processes and optimize indirect construction costs practices.

Among related efforts, he will strive to upgrade craft workforce development practices. Craft employees are construction workers typically in hourly wage positions who specialize in trades or crafts such as electrical and concrete work, pipefitting and heating and air-conditioning.

Each of these ventures is part of an endeavor to improve the overall efficiency and impact of investment in public and private capital projects on a national level, he said.

Becker brings a wealth of industry experience and the exuberance to apply it at ASU, said Professor Ram Pendyala, director of the School of Sustainable Engineering and the Built Environment.

“He is passionate about developing an inclusive and well-prepared construction workforce of the future. Our students and faculty are going to benefit significantly from his wisdom and expertise in construction management and technology,” Pendyala said. “His presence in the school’s ecosystem reinforces our commitment to preparing students to be ready to contribute to the industry from day one on the job.”

Putting an array of academic, research projects into motion

Becker is already collaborating with Associate Professor Anthony Lamanna, the Sundt Professor of Alternative Delivery Methods and Sustainable Development and chair of the Del E. Webb School of Construction, on a research paper to be presented at the 2024 Construction Research Conference. The paper reports on the pioneering use of a three-party agreement and an integrated project delivery method for the Waaban Crossing Bridge, a major public infrastructure project in Kingston, Ontario, Canada.

Becker has also proposed an extensive Construction Industry Institute project with Kristen Parrish, Fulton Schools associate professor and Graduate Program Chair for Construction Management and Technology. The goal is to define the expertise and attributes needed to develop the next generation of frontline construction supervisors and provide the industry with a new guidebook for productive workforce development.

“The kinds of skills and competencies needed in construction today have definitely been evolving,” Parrish said. “There’s a growing need for an evolution toward a new set of strategies and tactics for companies to use in identifying, developing, training and retaining people and enabling them to transition effectively into new and innovative construction business and management scenarios.”

For those and related endeavors, Becker will draw on what he has learned in a variety of roles in the construction business.

His job responsibilities have included project planning, scheduling, financial planning and budgeting, subcontracting and procurement of government construction permits and approvals. Becker has also managed real-estate development and engineering processes involving land-use planning, building architecture, landscape architecture, selection and supervision of contractors and coordination of design services.

As vice president of a real-estate development and construction services company, he launched a Phoenix office by establishing client relationships, hiring employees and creating a marketing and branding campaign. In addition, Becker cultivated real-estate development opportunities, sold third-party construction projects and provided development consulting.

Solid foundations in teaching and education leadership

The academic side of Becker’s career has included positions as a civil, construction and environmental engineering lecturer and graduate student instructor and research assistant at Iowa State University, as well as a research assistant in these fields at North Carolina State University.

He taught engineering economics, engineering law, construction estimating and construction project management at Iowa State, where he earned his bachelor’s degree in construction engineering. Becker also earned a doctoral degree in the field from North Carolina State. He also has a master’s degree in business administration from ASU.

For the past decade, Becker worked for Kiewit Corporation, one of the largest construction and engineering companies in North America, as director of craft and technical development.

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Timothy Becker

He also developed a corporate strategy for craft employee training and employee engagement, prepared and supported more than 500 in-house instructors, worked on curriculum improvement, and led the execution and improvement of professional and technical education programs.

Becker brought the company his deep technical knowledge and fieldwork experience, along with strong professional education capabilities, said Alicia Edsen, Kiewit’s vice president of safety.

“Tim’s combination of skills was a great fit for a leadership role in our Kiewit University and talent development team,” Edsen says. “We have operational employees rotate into our education programs to bring field perspectives to our variety of initiatives and training sessions. Having Tim oversee those efforts gave the team the ability to understand the operational challenges and identify ways to improve and train our future workforce.”

Edsen points also to Becker’s important role in updating the curriculum for both new and improved management and leadership programs established in recent years, and his leadership of an effort to enhance the company’s own in-house craft development programs, which have earned certifications from the National Center for Construction Education and Research.

Kiewit University in Omaha, Nebraska, and the company’s technical school in Denver train more than 3,500 workers each year, Edsen said, noting that Becker’s “contagiously positive attitude was appreciated by all of our learners and employees.”

Industry connections are key for Eminent Scholars

Funding for Becker’s two-year Eminent Scholar position comes from a source established in 1992 when the Del E. Webb School of Construction was first endowed. The position is designed to bring well-established, qualified professionals to the school ranging from several weeks to a semester or longer, and sometimes for an instructor’s full sabbatical year. In one case, current ASU Emeritus Professor Clifford Schexnayder was an Eminent Scholar from 1994 to 2003.

Eminent Scholars have not only helped students but also young assistant professors on their research pursuits, introducing them to research agencies and potential research partners in industry, said Fulton Schools Professor Samuel Ariaratnam, the Sunstate Chair of Construction Management and Engineering, as well as chair of the construction engineering program.

“These visiting scholars have also promoted ASU and the construction school through the narratives they share about their excellent experiences here. Some of them have even provided letters to support our faculty members for promotion and tenure,” he said.

Ariaratnam and other school leaders see a substantial benefit for students in learning from professionals like Becker, who can offer lessons based on a broad scope of industry experience. 

“What Tim brings to the table goes beyond his own educational background and his teaching experience. He also has the kind of long-term industry and corporate background that has so much to offer our students,” Ariaratnam said. “He would be a valuable addition to construction education here. More than his engineering, management and construction knowledge, Tim has learned the life lessons that are so critical to developing new leaders for the profession.”

Becker welcomes the opportunity to continue sharing his insights with students.

“I want to bring more of the practical, boots-on-the-ground engineering outlook into the classroom,” he says. “I see a need for more guidance for students in learning how to handle the transition from the world of engineering in college to engineering out in the everyday workplace. That knowledge is one of the keys to success.”

Joe Kullman