Contractors and owners in the petrochemical and industrial marketplace in Texas and elsewhere may get an early Christmas present this December, when the University of Houston's construction-management department graduates the first students from its new process and industrial (P&I) track.

The focused curriculum, which began in 2010 at the urging of energy-sector firms, is unique among U.S. engineering and construction schools, says department Chairman Neil Eldin.

The P&I track includes engineering, construction and business courses similar to the school's commercial-focused CM track. But the 11-course program, primarily taught by industry experts, focuses on process-oriented project controls and field operations.

Daily interaction with industry "directly enhances the students' maturity and technical abilities," Eldin says. P&I enrollment has grown more than eight-fold, to 250 students, says Eldin.

Supporting firms that also provide course content, internships and scholarships include Chevron, Conoco-Phillips, Fluor, Wood Group Mustang, WorleyParsons, S&B Engineers and Constructors, and Zachry Construction. "Graduates will hit the ground running," says John Dalton, Wood Group Mustang executive vice president. Eldin says, "There are more offers on the table for the grads than the number of students graduating." Adds Dalton, "Even 500 graduates won't make a dent" in market need.


Graduating senior Nicole Rawlins says the P&I track provides focused skills in estimating, scheduling and developing projects.

In her capstone course, she says, "we are working in teams to develop a project execution plan for an actual refinery project recently completed by a major Gulf Coast industrial contractor." Using "real-world projects as foundations for our coursework gives a major leg up to P&I-track students who plan to enter the energy sector," Rawlins explains.

Rawlins, who has interned for Chevron, will become a full-time construction engineer in its unit that plans and oversees global capital projects.

Her academic credentials won't hurt.

Last spring, Rawlins was the highest-scoring student in the U.S. on the eight-hour American Institute of Constructors' national certification exam, which the University of Houston requires for graduation. Only 50% of all students even pass it.