Wayne State construction management students win NECA innovation challenge finals in Nashville

The Wayne State University student chapter of the National Electrical Contractors Association (NECA) took first place in the finals of the 2021 ELECTRI International/NECA Electrical Contracting Innovation Challenge (ECIC). Six seniors in the College of Engineering's construction management (CMT) program represented the 26-member team in Nashville to conclude a yearlong competition in which students use their creativity and ingenuity to design a new electrical system for a proposed residence hall.

Wayne State University was among three teams that presented projects to a panel of judges at the NECA Convention and Trade Show which began Oct. 9. Iowa State University and the University of Toronto finished second and third, respectively.

Zach Ellis, team lead and president, finished in a three-way tie with two Iowa State students for the best presenter award. The team was also recognized as having the best social media presence.

Wayne State students at NECA convention
Left to right: CMT Program Director Joe Vaglica, Zach Ellis, Troy Bowman, Guillermo Suarez, Paul Wiedmaier, Vanessa Pine, Jenny Torrico and SMCNECA Assistant Executive Director Jason Head (photo courtesy of Electrical Contractor Magazine)

The competition, formerly titled the Green Energy Challenge, is integrated annually into Wayne State's senior capstone program by CMT director Joseph Vaglica, Ph.D. According to Vaglica, this is the fifth consecutive year Wayne State has participated but the first time it has qualified as a finalist for the main event.

Students collaborate with local professionals and apply learning from the CMT curriculum into a real-world scenario. They were split into five project teams — controls and security, design, lighting, scheduling and estimating, and technical energy analysis — and met frequently, most of the time virtually, to develop a viable plan.

“Despite the pandemic creating challenges with keeping connected and on the same page for the work that had to be done, we were able to overcome these issues with cooperation among our team leaders and our NECA contractors,” said team secretary Jenny Torrico.

Using Wayne State’s 2020 campus master plan as a guide, the group sought to fulfill the university’s desire to fulfill the growing demand of affordable on-campus housing and provide a sustainable environment, all while being cost effective. According to Torrico, they received one of this year's highest scored written proposals.

The students partnered with representatives from the Southeast Michigan Chapter NECA (SMCNECA), including assistant chapter managers Jim Chase and Jason Head, and benefitted from the mentorship of such industry professionals as Greg Firman and Eric Galbraith from Conti Corporation, as well as Richard Shaffer from JMC Electric.

“In addition to the gratitude for all of the supporters of our student chapter, a special thank you goes out for all of the sponsorship we’ve received from everyone at SMCNECA, the learning opportunities presented by ELECTRI, our partnerships with NECA electrical contractors, the professors and staff from WSU, and our presenters for having represented our senior project class on a national level,” said Torrico.

The NECA Convention and Trade Show is considered the biggest event in the country for electrical professionals, drawing hundreds of attendees and exhibitors from all aspects of the electrical construction and building systems industries. This presented a unique opportunity for Wayne State students to grow their networks and meet potential employers, all while representing the university and collectively sharing the culmination of months of hard work.

Once the competition was over, Torrico and her classmates were able to take in the rest of the convention and all that the city of Nashville, unfamiliar to most of the students, had to offer.

“It was the first time in Nashville for many of us, and everything surrounding the competition was a continuous routine of meeting new people and sightseeing each day during our trip. We had a variety of networking activities as well as events at the Music City Center and downtown,” she said. “The whole experience was memorable for everyone.”

While electrical contracting is just one of many aspects of the construction industry, it has become a unique part of the learning experience for Wayne State construction management program.

“Prior to our senior project and throughout the competition, my teammates and I heard feedback from alumni that the NECA competition would be a life-changing experience,” said Torrico. “We have learned so much about teamwork and project management, and strengthened many of the friendships we’ve made throughout our CMT curriculum.”

Updates from Wayne State and other participating NECA student chapters can be found under the #ECIC and #NECANashville21 hashtags. Follow the WSU team on FacebookLinkedInTwitter and Instagram.

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