It all started with a lunch-hour commitment.
While Wes Crawford worked for the City of Lafayette Engineering Office in the 1970s, he was recruited to teach a surveying course, over his lunch hour, at Ivy Tech Community College. He took the volunteer position for two terms, and then he was hired to teach full-time the following fall.
Two years later, the day before classes started at Purdue University, he was asked by D. Dorsey Moss to teach in Purdue’s construction program.
“It was all serendipity, pure blind luck. I did something for free, and it turned my life around,” Crawford said.
Now, after 40 years of teaching, Crawford is being honored for his commitment to education and the construction industry. He will receive the Lifetime Achievement Award from the Associated Schools of Construction (ASC) at their annual meeting in April 2017 in Seattle.
A textbook professor
Among his many professional achievements, Crawford ranks his self-published textbook as his most important.
“I originally wrote it for a construction company – they wanted a training manual,” Crawford said. “I continued to write on it, and it was first published by a trade magazine. They made 1,000 copies.”
Since that time, he and his wife started their own company, Creative Construction Publishing, and have distributed 37,000 copies to universities and companies. Titled “Construction Surveying and Layout,” the fourth edition of the 840-page book, including an ePub version, will be printed soon.
The textbook keeps track of technological changes that can affect the construction job site.
“Technology has changed the construction world, like everything else,” Crawford said. Laser scanning, for example, can capture a million points a second. When Crawford began his career, surveying allowed users to capture one point a second, at best.
Even with these advances, he cautions his students to know when to use technology and when to rely on basic methods, such as string lines or the 3/4/5 method (based on the Pythagorean Theorem) to ensure squared corners.
“A couple years ago, when we were working on the Solar Decathlon house, we had 30-plus columns we had to set the house on. We calculated coordinates for each one of those. Realizing we had to build it locally, tear it down, and then build it again in Washington, D.C., we knew modern equipment was going to take a lot of time to lay out the piers,” Crawford said. “So we developed a simple inside baseline method using those basic layout techniques, and it worked great. We show the students the fundamentals as well as the high tech and expect them to select the method that is best for the activity.”
A lifelong learner
Updates to Crawford’s textbook and classroom lectures were kept current by his summer faculty internships. Between 1984 and 2014, he worked with Hensel Phelps in Greeley, Colorado, on projects big and small around the country. He also spent two year-long sabbaticals with the company. He helped plan the field engineering methods and train field engineers for several projects, including: base realignment projects at Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri; productivity studies on the Central Arizona Project, which brings water to Tucson from the Colorado River; the SkyLink terminal system at Dallas-Fort Worth Airport; a renovation of the Pentagon; and a naval pier and wharf in Corpus Christi, Texas.
“It kept my courses relevant. With this constant job site experience, I’ve been able to keep my classes up-to-date with current construction layout practices so our students can hit the ground running as a field engineer,” Crawford said.
A field engineer uses construction plans to measure distance and locate points that the job site craftsmen build from. “Their primary role is the layout,” he said. “The job can’t start until they do their job. You have to know where to build.”
Crawford has influenced the education of future construction managers outside of Purdue as well. He has been active in the Associated Schools of Construction, including a two-year term as the organization’s president. He said the organization has been helpful among construction educators in sharing ideas about undergraduate education and curriculum.
He also has served two, two-year terms as president of Sigma Lambda Chi International Construction Honor Society. Under his leadership, the number of chapters doubled from 19 to 38. He has been the organization’s executive director since 2004, managing the membership and advisors for more than 60 chapter around the world.
In his nomination form, Crawford was asked to supply information about his teaching philosophy. He gives credit to his wife, Bonnie, for teaching him how to teach when he first started. Through his experiences in the classroom, the job site, and in leadership positions, he has formulated this approach: “The burden of responsibility for learning is on the shoulders of the student. My goal is to relieve some of that burden by doing everything I can through my visual teaching, illustrative writing and dedication to remaining relevant and active in my profession.”
For the payoff
He isn’t done teaching, although he has prioritized certain activities after a kidney transplant in 2013.
“I want to help young minds. I like to see the lightbulb turn on,” he said. “When I’ve related what I’m teaching to something they can visualize, and then I see their eyes wide open and bright, all of sudden I know I’ve reached them. … To see how successful some of these students are is fantastic.”
One such student, Thomas Shelby, graduated in 1981 after having Crawford as an advisor and professor. He is executive vice president for Peter Kiewit and Sons’ Inc.
“I have seen firsthand Wes’s impact on students. That impact is not just in ensuring they receive a quality education, but also in shaping their character and preparing them for the workplace,” Shelby wrote in support of Crawford’s nomination.
“His efforts and success in doing this are obvious when you meet the students in his classes and when you visit the Sigma Lambda Chi Construction Honor Society at Purdue.”
Crawford earned an associate degree in surveying technology from Pennsylvania State University, his bachelor’s degree in land surveying engineering from Purdue, and his master’s degree in surveying and mapping from Purdue. He started teaching at Purdue University in 1977 as a graduate instructor. He became an assistant professor in 1980, was promoted to associate professor in 1984, and to full professor in 1989. Crawford is a registered surveyor in Pennsylvania. He has received the D. Dorsey Moss Excellence in Teaching Award and the Outstanding Tenured Faculty Award (twice) from the School of Construction Management Technology. In 1995, he became the first recipient of the National Outstanding Educator Award from the Associated Schools of Construction.