Annual corporate support from one of the largest custom home builders in the eastern United States is helping lay the foundation for future successes for graduates of Western Carolina University’s Construction Management program.
America’s Home Place, headquartered in Gainesville, Georgia, has contributed more than $50,000 to WCU over the past five years, providing scholarship assistance to construction management students, additional programmatic support for faculty and administrators, and funding for Construction Management Club activities and educational opportunities.
The company, which has 46 custom home building centers across 12 states, also regularly holds faculty and staff events on campus to share real-world insight from its executives and employees about the residential construction industry.
America’s Home Place, with two centers in Western North Carolina at Franklin and Asheville, provides as many as four paid internships annually to WCU construction management students and has hired about a dozen of the program’s graduates over the past five years.
The relationship between the company and WCU began in 2016, when leaders of the Construction Management program invited Stacy Buchanan, regional president of America’s Home Place, to serve on the program’s advisory board. That relationship has developed into one that is symbiotic in nature, Buchanan said.
“Partnerships between universities and the business community offer a clear benefit to both parties. Universities can enhance the learning opportunities they provide to students with additional resources, real-life experiences, improved learning environments and a clear path to employment upon graduation,” he said.
“The business community receives access to a talent pool of highly skilled, highly trained graduates who have a better understanding of, in our case, the residential construction industry and both its challenges and its opportunities. Our goal is for these individual partnerships to turn into long-term relationships,” Buchanan said.
Bruce Gehrig, WCU’s Joe W. and Cynthia Kimmel Distinguished Professor of Construction Management and interim associate dean of the College of Engineering and Technology, said funding and additional support provided by America’s Home Place and other corporate partners is invaluable in the program’s ability to meet its mission of preparing the next generation of construction management professionals.
“Industry support is vital to the Construction Management program as it helps ensure that our program is aligned with current needs, practices and technologies of the profession,” Gehrig said. “The required internship component is a significant high-impact practice that allows students to gain significant insight into actual construction practices, which greatly enhances their educational experience in their remaining classes.”
Approximately 40 scholarships in the amount of $500 each have been awarded over the past five years through funding provided by America’s Home Place, financial support that can make a difference in whether some students are able to continue their studies, Gehrig said.
“Similar to a lot of students on campus, many of our students are first-generation, working-class individuals who have to work to pay for college expenses. Scholarships remove some of that financial burden, and I know it allows some students the opportunity to stay in school and complete their education,” he said. “The long-term impact of these first-generation students entering the profession is going to be significant for them, their families and the regional construction industry.”
Amber Scarboro, a junior from Raleigh, is among the recipients of scholarships funded by America’s Home Place. “Receiving this scholarship is important because the only way I could afford to get a higher education was to apply for loans. This means less money in loans I will accumulate and have to pay back after college,” said Scarboro, a 2019 graduate of Garner Magnet High School.
Megan McIntosh, a sophomore from Mount Holly, expressed her appreciation to America’s Home Place for its support of the construction management program. “Receiving a scholarship from America's Home Place gave me an amazing opportunity to grow and explore within the construction industry,” said McIntosh, a 2020 graduate of Highland School of Technology in Gastonia. “Without this scholarship, I know I would not have the same opportunities I have today.”
For Aidan Peterson, a junior from Nebo, scholarship support is providing a springboard to his goal of working in the construction industry after graduation and improving the state’s infrastructure.
“I was very honored and appreciative that I was selected as a recipient of the America’s Home Place Scholarship. By awarding me this scholarship, my financial burdens were lightened and I was able to focus on my education. Their generosity inspired me to work hard and excel in the field of construction management,” said Peterson, a 2020 graduate of Freedom High School in Morganton and a 2022 graduate of McDowell Technical Community College.
In addition to providing funding for scholarships and other programmatic support, representatives of America’s Home Place have served as class speakers on topics such as corporate estimating and project management; sponsored field trips to several local job sites; provided complete construction plans including drawings and cost estimates for class projects; sponsored a construction management career fair; donated tools, supplies and equipment for program laboratories; and participated in welcome-back picnics and football pre-game tailgates for construction management students.
“We are excited for the program’s continued growth and thankful for the opportunity to be a small part of it,” Buchanan said. “We look forward to many more years of continued support of the WCU Construction Management program. As our America’s Home Place mission statement states: ‘We build people to build houses, for families to build homes.’”