Engineering solutions to improve infrastructure largely depend on the capacity to manage complex construction projects. In this context, construction field managers are responsible for the delivery of quality projects on time and on budget. However, the existing support for field management practice and education falls short of the increasingly complicated needs of the construction industry.
Fernando Mondragon’s research uses cognitive analysis methods to document how field managers perform a complex job. These documentations help provide a comprehensive look into the objectives of construction projects, through a description of the different decisions that need to be made in the field. This makes it possible to understand managers’ work better, and to create or revise the supporting tools necessary to support specific instances of work.
Using applied cognitive work analysis methods, Fernando and Associate Professor William O’Brien have designed tablet PC-based learning modules for construction engineering. These modules aim to improve both education and the design of technologies and work tools, to support the work of field managers. The tablet PCs are used to develop augmented-reality simulations, in order to present students with the same information that is actually used in the field. This way, they can practice decision-making in realistic situations and experience a more hands-on method of learning.
Their work has also been tested in the field with the assistance of CAEE Lecturer Kirby Kuntz and the Hensel Phelps Construction Company. Research results include advances to industry knowledge as the studies found significant differences between IT savvy and less-IT savvy superintendents. The research concludes, however, that technology has not been well-designed to support workface management tasks.
Fernando and O’Brien were recently recognized with a CETI award from the FIATECH Consortium in the Technology- and Knowledge Enabled Workforce category for their innovative research project.
For more information, please visit "Cognitive Analysis of Field Managers"
Fernando was born and raised in Mexico, living mostly in the northeastern side of the country, although he also lived for a while in Mexico City and Tijuana. He earned a B.S. degree in civil engineering at Monterrey Tech and a M.S. in civil engineering at Southern Methodist University.
“The reputation of the Civil, Architectural and Environmental Engineering Department at UT Austin is well known”, he says. “I had to do little research in order to learn about successes and accomplishments of students, professors and alumni. In particular, I was interested in the research projects of several faculty members in the Construction Engineering and Project Management (CEPM) program. The research opportunities offered through different alliances and organizations, such as the Construction Industry Institute (CII), offer advantages that other schools can’t compete with.”
Fernando is also quite sold on living in the city of Austin. “It’s great place to be a grad student,” he says. “It’s a large enough city to have events and venues that suit a range of tastes. Besides, it is so easy to do interesting, affordable things on top of long research hours. Sometimes I can go downtown for a concert and come back in time to finish some work or get enough sleep to start work early.”
“The department has offered me so many opportunities for interaction with other students, faculty, staff and industry members,” says Fernando. He has led two student organizations, the Graduate Student Organization (GSO) at CEPM, and the Construction Management Association of America (CMAA).
He feels that managing these organizations has changed his overall experience here at UT - he has had the opportunity to make industry connections, as well as work side by side with talented graduate and undergraduate students. “Not only has this expanded my future professional network, but it has also provided me with so many experiences during my time at the PhD program,” he says. “Contact with people in such different instances is what builds your character and models your life.”