Last October, Pittsburg State students and faculty got the experience of a lifetime when they were tapped to help build seven homes in seven days through the ABC hit Extreme Makeover: Home Edition. Armed with unbeatable preparation – and a lot of caffeine – our students stepped up to the challenge and walked away with unforgettable memories.

A few years ago when professor Justin Honey began thinking about how his students in the Construction Management and Construction Engineering Technology department could get some exciting, real-world experience, he sent a letter to producers at the ABC hit “Extreme Makeover: Home Edition,” offering their services should the show ever come near Southeast Kansas.
Little did he know that when the opportunity would arrive, it would be on a bigger scale than anyone ever imagined.
After the historic May 2011 tornado in Joplin, producers from the show contacted Honey to see if his offer was still good – and if he thought the students were really capable of project management on the level they envisioned: they planned to essentially take over a city street and build seven homes for seven families in one week.

Although he realized the magnitude of the project to which the department was about to commit, Honey never hesitated.
“We had to do a lot of talking to show them our students could handle it,” said Honey, who placed a handful of seniors in charge and quickly had them interviewing other students who flooded the department with requests to volunteer. Faculty members also stepped up. Soon, they had formed robust day and night crews for each home who would work alongside professionals from other construction companies. PSU was also assigned to take the reins in critical areas including materials staging and handling. When the nearly 200 PSU volunteers were accounted for, they constituted the largest single group participating in the build.
Then in October, at the blare of Ty Pennington’s bullhorn, the work began. With foundations already poured, the framework began climbing up. A bare neighborhood stripped by the tornado began to take shape once again.

The students and faculty shuttled back and forth from Pittsburg, working around the clock day after day. Between the construction and special projects (students in PSU’s wood technology program were commissioned by the show to build unique furniture pieces for some of the homes), the stories began to emerge.

There was Mitch Albright, a collegiate baseball player and transfer student to the PSU construction department who had been working at Academy Sports in Joplin the night it was literally blown away. With tears in his eyes, he stood in front of the house he was helping to wrap with Tyvek. His work – like the contributions of countless others – was personal.

It wasn’t just about construction students: PSU’s nursing students arrived to hand out water and drinks to the volunteers, who came from across the country and by the end of the week numbered nearly 13,000. Students from the Family and Consumer Sciences department also joined in, going inside the homes to apply their interior design expertise.

Some PSU construction students traveled ahead of time to complete “House #5,” which was pre-constructed for the build in Pinckneyville, Ill.; even Dr. Bruce Dallman, dean of the College of Technology, pulled 12-hour overnight shifts each day to work on House #7. Honey, who caught a few hours of sleep here and there in his nearby camper, also played host to representatives from the National Association of Home Builders in between his work on the homes.

Aside from their tired bodies and minds, the expressions of gratitude at the end of the week made the work well worth it. When the show – Extreme Makeover’s final taping – aired in January, the students and faculty gathered together to reminisce.

“It was an incredible challenge to bring everything together,” said Honey. “But it was an experience like no other.”

Eight Construction Management and Construction Engineering Technologies seniors were selected to lead the four main crews responsible for getting the homes built. Four took the day shift while four worked throughout the night. “This has been an amazing experience to take into our careers,” said crew leader Rebecca Dallman (pictured with the other leaders). “Talk about a capstone project.”

The building supplies were donated by area lumberyards and supply companies. PSU students led the materials handling crews, which made sure the builders in each home had the supplies they needed.