Civil Engineering Majors Go Behind the Scenes of Lowell High Project with Alum Rex Radloff ’09, ’11
By Ed Brennen
The students, all wearing pearly white hard hats, are touring what will soon be a new five-story wing of the renovated Lowell High School — a six-year project that they’ve studied closely this semester in their Construction Management course with Radloff, who is overseeing the work as a project executive with Suffolk Construction.
“A lot of classes focus on more design and theoretical questions, but this is more tangible. He places us on-site so we see firsthand what we’re actually learning,” says Noor Hallal, a senior civil engineering major from Philadelphia.
This is the first semester that Radloff has taught the course, which covers everything from project estimating and labor costs to construction planning and quality control.
Radloff earned a bachelor’s degree in civil engineering and a master’s in geotechnical engineering at UML, where he was also a member of the men’s track and field team. A Texas native who now lives in Marblehead, Massachusetts, he has been with Suffolk since 2018.
“It was neat coming back to Lowell when this job got started” in 2020, says Radloff, who manages more than a dozen Suffolk staff members — including fellow UML alumni Katrina Walther ’11 and Kerry Weldon ’15 — and upwards of 100 construction workers on site. “Once we were settled in, I realized how much more I could get involved by teaching the course.”
In addition to site visits with his students, Radloff has integrated information on tasks such as material procurement and subcontractor hiring into the course. For their final project, students are providing a cost analysis of the recently completed 36,000-square-foot athletic center, which was the first phase in the four-phase construction project.
“I’ve been able to use current, real-life examples — not from 30 years ago that may be outdated,” says Radloff, who hopes to continue teaching the course at least through the duration of the project, which is scheduled for completion in 2026.
One student who understands the history of the project as well as anyone is Tiffanie Nil, a Lowell native who graduated from the high school in 2019.
“I remember there was always talk about building a new high school, but I didn’t expect there to be work done for years to come. It’s amazing to see that it’s already in this stage,” Nil says before climbing a temporary stairwell to the metal roof of a new three-story addition that provides sweeping views of UML’s East Campus.
Nil, who will begin working for infrastructure design firm HNTB after graduating, says Radloff’s course has helped her to better understand all that goes into a project’s design process.
“This will definitely help me in my career,” says Nil, who will work at HNTB’s Chelmsford, Massachusetts, location and focus on railway design.
For Edgardo Paz, the course confirmed his decision to pursue a career in construction management, a field he learned about during his sophomore year. He recently accepted a position with Whiting-Turner Contracting and will start working for them in his native Washington, D.C., this summer.
“I like how construction management is a combination of being in the office and being in the field,” says Paz, who was a project management intern with Consigli Construction last summer in Washington.
“I enjoyed communicating with laborers and foremen, the majority of whom spoke Spanish. I was able to help them with translation to my supervisors,” says Paz, who earned a full scholarship to UML as a member of the first cohort of the DC-CAP Scholars Program.
Visiting the Lowell High construction site with Radloff’s class has been helpful, Paz says, because “you get to see some things in person that you’ve only seen before on drawings, which helps you understand it a little more.”
Radloff, who would like to begin offering co-op opportunities to UML students through his work with Suffolk, is excited to see his students launching their careers.
“It’s a great class,” says Radloff, who is glad he’s had the opportunity to teach them about construction management.
“It’s different from engineering; we’re learning strategies, not solutions,” he says. “In the construction management world, it’s about picking up on strategies to get you through the day or the week. It requires you to have a certain level of people skills that aren’t really taught, which is something that a lot of folks find attractive.”