When a Construction Site Becomes the Classroom

Students stand outside the science building wearing construction hats
Photo provided by Cathy Summa
January 8, 2020

From the Wellesley Water Challenge, to introducing young women to engineering and construction, the Science Center construction at Wellesley College has been an ongoing site for learning and exploration. Most recently, Amy Banzaert, director of engineering studies at Wellesley, brought students in her ENGR111: Product Creation for All class to the College’s Science Center construction site in late October to witness firsthand how engineers conduct a load test, a critical step in building a new foundation for a building.

Banzaert said watching the load test showed students how engineers in the field must coordinate their efforts on a construction project. “This is beyond the scale of engineering that I can teach in class, so it gave us a glimpse into the construction process, the planning, the equipment involved, and the teamwork required,” she said. 

During a load test, workers bore a pile into the ground using a large drill, then use gauges to measure the degree to which the pile moves once force is applied to it, Banzaert described. Because plans for the new Science Center call for construction of a new building very close to an existing wall that was once a part of Sage Hall, engineers wanted to determine if the system of piles that they plan to install for the building’s foundation, would be strong enough to support its weight, or load, over time.

The class was also able to connect with engineers from Turner Construction, which is overseeing the Science Center project, who answered students’ questions during the site visit and were able to give them additional insight into how construction projects progress, the variety of expertise and roles, and the elements that go into building a new structure. 

Ropah Shava ’23, who had never been to a construction site before, said she also gained insight into the technical aspects of building and the teamwork required. 

“I came away with a greater understanding and appreciation for the work that’s going into the new Science Center,” said Shava. “The equipment and machinery were enormous. Several different construction teams were involved in the process. Each of them was an expert in their areas.”

Click here to follow along with the Science Center construction project updates.