GCA communications intern Haley Sandell (H) sat down with junior Construction Science student Patrick Barton (P) to talk about his experience as a student at GCA and his opportunities as a Construction Science student. Read on for highlights, or click the link below to access the full podcast.

Above: Listen to the full interview on the Gibbs Spotlight podcast.

H: Can you start by telling us a little about yourself?

P: Sure! I’m originally from a really small town in Louisiana, it’s called Stanley. To give you a little bit of context of how small it is, I graduated with only 13 other people. It’s definitely interesting when I come to Oklahoma City and it’s such a big environment, and Norman is huge for me, but it’s pretty awesome! After high school, I realized, pretty quickly, that college wasn’t for me, so I had to figure out a different path in life, so I decided to join the Air Force. I spent almost six years there, all of it here in Oklahoma, at Tinker Air Force Base, minus a few deployments. At what point am I an Oklahoma native, you know?

Fast forward after those six years, I got out, but I had no idea what I wanted to do with my life, so I ended up working in a professional environment for a little while. I worked on the railroad as a signalman’s apprentice for a couple of years before I decided to go back to school. Once I made that decision, I took a job here in Oklahoma City with Bowing where I was a training systems equipment operator on an aircraft simulator. It was a great job; it allowed me to go to school after work and get a lot of my gen-eds out of the way. Besides my history, there’s not a lot about me, I’m an open book, I love to read, mostly fiction. You wouldn’t know by looking at me, but I’m a huge closet nerd. I love anything Lord of the Rings related. My dog Barry is probably the center point of my life. If you ask him, that’s definitely the bark he’ll give you. Overall, I’m an extrovert. I really like people, although I don’t like crowds, which makes this podcast great! That is me in a nutshell!

H: You’ve been all over the place!

P:  I like to say I’ve got a lot of life experience coming into college, so I can definitely see things through a different lens.

H: When you decided that OU was the place for you, what made you want to study Construction Science, specifically? 

P: You know, I like to think I’ve always been fascinated with buildings. My entire career up to this point was technology-oriented, and while I found it very interesting, it wasn’t fulfilling, and it wasn’t something I had a passion for. I grew up around construction; my father was a carpenter by trade, and he worked his way up to be a superintendent and he worked on a lot of multi-family residential projects. So, growing up over the summer I spent a lot of time on construction sites trying to make myself useful, carrying 2x4s. I’m sure some carpenter found me very frustrating at some point but getting to see a building go up around me was amazing. Most kids get to build forts in their backyards; I felt like I got to build castles.

At first, I was a little nervous because it’s a huge commitment deciding on a degree, mainly because of the cost impacts of switching, but over time it’s really become a passion, I even joined the student organization to help promote our degree and inform other students . . . the Construction Students Association.

Patrick Barton

Looking back, I was always a very process-oriented person, and the military taught me very good time management, so when I had to decide which degree to pursue, I found that my strengths really supported this old, buried passion of mine. At first, I was a little nervous because it’s a huge commitment deciding on a degree, mainly because of the cost impacts of switching, but over time it’s really become a passion. I even joined the student organization to help promote our degree and inform other students. A little bit about that student organization, if you don’t mind, the Construction Students Association. We’re a student organization that hosts events such as lunch-and-learns. We bring in industry professionals, and they present on certain topics (resume writing, interview skills, or day in the life, etc). We also host tailgates that are sponsored by local companies. The whole idea of our student organization is to get our students out there, to interface with industry professionals and to build relationships early, that way when they graduate, they have connections in the real world.  

H: It’s all about the connections these days.

P: A lot of people don’t realize it, the construction industry is huge, but it’s a really small world no matter where you work, or who you interface with. It’s more about relationships than it is about how good you are at something. If you can build a good, honest, open relationship with the people around you, you’re going to be successful, no matter what you yourself can achieve individually. 

H: That’s really awesome, and it’s really important to learn those skills early on in college, because then you’re setting yourself up for so much achievement later in life.

P: I agree. A lot of what my program stresses is not only technical knowledge but also soft skills. Construction is all about different people coming together to achieve one goal, therefore, you need to know how to make the most out of group environments, and you’ve got to develop soft skills to be able to do that. If you guys want to know more, feel free to reach out.

Image credit: Patrick Barton, condition space for the Osage Forest of Peace

H: Sweet! So, what’s your favorite part about the Construction Science program here at Gibbs. I know that’s a really broad question, but if you can think of like one or two things: what sets construction apart from other majors? 

P: Coming into this with a little more experience and a little bit of cynicism that I had towards college, I did not have huge expectations when I first enrolled. I thought I was coming to attend class and graduate with my piece of paper. Along the way, I’ve opened my eyes and seen that there is a lot more value in this program, and one of my favorite things I’ve found is interacting with professors and the professional advisory board that have a hand in our curriculum. The professors we deal with are very astounding. They are industry professionals, they’ll go miles out of their way to teach you about construction, and they take an active part in trying to prepare you to become a professional by imparting their knowledge of the industry to you.

Along the way, I’ve opened my eyes and seen that there is a lot more value in this program, and one of my favorite things I’ve found is interacting with professors and the professional advisory board that have a hand in our curriculum. 

Patrick Barton

The professional advisory board is the individuals working in the industry that provide input to steer our curriculum and keep it relevant, making sure our graduates are learning the necessary skills to be prepared to take a job with confidence and develop the skill sets that companies are looking for. They even engage the students on a personal level to get feedback about the program, so I think that’s one of my favorite things about the construction science program itself, not to mention, we are all very close. We’re a tight-knit group of students, so showing up to class every day is pretty enjoyable for me.  

H: And once you build those relationships with your professors, that’s a lifelong relationship, and they can be your mentor through your future career, which I think is really awesome.

P: It really is. I was very fortunate early on to get an internship my freshman year, and that was a direct result of my professors helping me out. I told them I was looking to get more experience, and they were able to put me in touch with people who were willing to give me that opportunity. And I’ve maintained good contact with some people on the advisory board, and they are a great resource to heave. I can’t imagine what I’d do without them.

H: Can you tell us about a project you are currently working on? I know things are a little weird right now with being off campus.

P: Yeah, sure! Well, I think the one project we’re currently finishing up right now is a 200 square-foot condition space for the Osage Forest of Peace, which is on the outskirts of Tulsa. The building itself is going to be used for storage of climate-sensitive objects that the forest uses for all of its guests, and the project, overall, is part of a design-build class taught by professor Bryan Bloom. Anyway, the class is a combination of architecture students, construction science students, and a few engineers, and we collaborate on the design and construction of the project itself. We got the opportunity to go through the design process, which was very interesting for construction students because we don’t usually get a lot of experience in that: the selection of materials, not just your shape, but what type of skin was involved. Constructability analysis: this was a great opportunity for the architects to poke our brains about the project being feasible. We got to go through that whole process, and you really see the different creativity levels of your team by how they approach that specific problem.

We got the opportunity to go through the design process, which was very interesting for construction students because we don’t usually get a lot of experience in that: the selection of materials, not just your shape, but what type of skin was involved. Constructability analysis: this was a great opportunity for the architects to poke our brains about the project being feasible.

Patrick Barton

We went through the buy-out phase of all the materials, trying to figure out where to ship it, when do we want it delivered, storage of those things, and then finally, we went through construction, which we did over Spring Break. We have a couple of minor things we have to finish up, but overall, it’s been an amazing project. One of the big hurdles of that project was the fact that it was located in Tulsa. This is a class, so how do we stay busy for half a semester until we start building things? One of the methods we chose to do was pre-fabrication. We pre-fabbed all the walls, all the roof trusses here in Norman at the Creative_Making Lab. So, we started with exterior cladding, we went through the stud walls, we insulated everything, we put the sheathing on the outside and inside, we assembled and packaged everything, and we hauled it up there over Spring Break to start our build.

Image credit: Patrick Barton, condition space for the Osage Forest of Peace

H: And that’s such a real-world scenario, getting to work with Architects and Engineers and to see those new points of view, and then having to problem-solve, pre-fab, and move everything up to Tulsa. That sounds like an awesome opportunity!

P: It really is. If they offer this class again, which based on the feedback we gave Professor Bloom, we loved it, and I hope they get the opportunity to do it again, and I’d encourage any student to participate because you learn a lot of real-life skills out here and how to deal with varying levels of skill sets. We went from people who were framing carpenters for a portion of their lives, to another person who didn’t even know how to read a tape measure. So, you get to see us bridge that gap, but you also get to see those minute decisions along the way steer the path of your project. You can’t anticipate everything, even in the constructability analysis. It’s these tiny steps along the way that you have to figure out and act and problem-solve as a team that really gets you to your end goal. 

Image credit: Patrick Barton, condition space for the Osage Forest of Peace

H: Yeah, honestly, and that’s a really good resume builder. It’s something you’ve done that you’ve seen through to the end, and that’s awesome.

P: Definitely, the lead architect with us, who is a masters student at the college, it blew his mind the idea that he could walk away from this one class with a design I came up with or collaborated on, and it’s here. It’s going to be here for the next 20-30 years. I can say, I designed and helped build this. So, for him to be able to add that to his portfolio, he was ecstatic about it.    

H: Absolutely! I’m an architecture minor, and I want to take that class now! 

P: Trust me, if you have an opportunity to take any class with Professor Bloom, just know it’s going to be the most informative and most valuable time you can spend in college. He is a great mentor, and he puts it on you to figure out the path that you want to take, and that, to me, is the number one thing I look for in a class. 

H: What are you most looking forward to going into your senior year? 

P: Is it too cliché to say graduation? You know, I’ve been going to school for a long time. During my time in the Air Force, I had to take a lot of continued-education credits, so I feel like I’ve been in school since I graduated high school, but I look forward to graduating for a lot of other reasons. Mainly, to figure out where I’m going to go with my life. Graduation, for construction students, is a hectic time. We get a lot of job offers, the industry is booming (minus the current situation), but that translates to a lot of job offers for students and we really have to evaluate those offers to figure out where we want to go with our professional career.

Graduation, for construction students is a hectic time, we get a lot of job offers, the industry is booming.

Patrick Barton

So, I look forward to seeing which one I’m going to take and how it’s going to impact the rest of my life. It’s a good benefit to our program, I think we’re really close to 100% job placement rate. A lot of that depends on the industry, but also because the professional world views the Gibbs College of Architecture as producing great students, so we’re able to go into the industry with really strong preparation and background that makes us all very valuable to companies on the outside.

Thank you so much, Patrick, for taking the time to speak with us about your experiences at Gibbs!

Editor’s note: This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.