Associations Teach

Jenny Stephenson

Iowa State engineering students pose by their finished bricklaying project.

Field Days Expand University Curricula

Masonry Institute of Iowa Gives Three Decades of Architectural Students Hands-On Experience

It was an idea the Masonry Institute of Iowa (MII) Board of Directors had 33 years ago – a hands-on experience to teach and engage architectural students about masonry. Their idea came to fruition with the help of Iowa State University (ISU) lecturer Bruce Bassler. In 1985, MII hosted its first Student Field Day in Masonry.

Since day one, MII has kept essentially the same agenda: tour a masonry building under construction and a finished masonry building, tour a block plant, a brick plant and participate in a bricklaying demonstration. It is an all-day event as part of the Materials and Method (Arch 240) class curriculum for second-year architectural students.

Students are divided into small groups to conceptually design a project. Once on site, students have about an hour and a half to build their designs with brick. Over the years, students have been given various projects, such as walls and benches, but some years were more challenging. Creative animals or a brick outhouse were among past projects. In 2001, students built World Trade Center memorials.

Former ISU Instructor Bruce Bassler was a part of the Student Field Day in Masonry for 29 years before retiring. He noted the creativity of the projects over the years. “One year the project was to design and build backyard grills. I had a group of students bring a grate and charcoal for their grill,” he recalls.

The friendly bricklaying competition emphasizes the thought and effort that goes into each project

Projects are judged by MII members and the course instructor and evaluated on both their creative design and technical bricklaying. Several bricklayers are on hand to demonstrate and instruct students on bricklaying techniques. The winning team receives MII sweatshirts.

Each year, students also have the opportunity to carve an unfired brick prior to the annual trip. Brick are fired during the visit and students keep them as a memento or incorporate them into their bricklaying designs. The friendly bricklaying competition increases the competitive spirit and it emphasizes the thought and effort that goes into each project.

This Past Year

In 2018, 85 architectural and 30 engineering students attended the masonry field day. It was an all-day tour starting before the sun rose. Students loaded onto three charter busses and headed toward the four venues in Des Moines.

ISU architectural students carve unfired (green) brick which are fired at the brick plant

At the construction masonry job site, MII invited the architect, general contractor, masonry suppliers and mason contractor to meet with students and to be available for questions. Over the years, the job site tour has included apartment buildings, grocery stores, commercial space and more. This year, students toured a Bondurant-Farrar Community School District school addition.

At the finished masonry building site, Vintage Cooperatives, a mixed commercial purpose area in Ankeny, the mason contractor, general contractor, architect and owner representatives spoke about their contribution to the construction process and showed students many masonry features on the structure. This hour-long tour allows for masonry structural and aesthetic features to be examined and discussed.

The next stop was the block plant, Rhino Materials, in West Des Moines. Two brick plants take turns hosting from year to year – Sioux City Brick and Glen-Gery Brick – where students tour the brick plant and participate in the bricklaying demonstration.

Students pose by their bricklaying project – a depiction of the college’s CyRide transit system bus.

“This is an invaluable learning experience for students. They will be more interested in using a material they’ve had exposure to. Understanding how masonry is made and installed in a building is great hands-on experience,” said Bassler.

Students benefit from getting out of the classroom and being able to not only see where these materials come from, but how they are installed

Expanding the Reach

About 12 years ago, MII invited the Iowa State University construction engineering program to join the architectural students in this masonry day of learning. Engineering students visit the construction job site as well as the brick and block plants. Each year, students are given 90 minutes to work together in small groups to build campaniles, or bell towers, as a tribute to ISU’s campus campanile. These are judged on structural capacity, design and bricklaying technique.

“Our students benefit from getting out of the classroom, being able to not only see where these materials come from, but how they are installed. They also have the opportunity to speak with industry experts who can answer questions from experience, instead of just reading about them,” said Brad Perkins, instructor for the Construction Engineering 241: Construction Materials and Methods.

This brick hot dog with mustard looks good enough to eat!

Overview of the bricklaying portion of a recent ISU student field day.

We want students to have an appreciation for masonry and the best way to do this is to let them experience it hands-on

MII has taken the success of ISU’s student field day in masonry and applied it to other Iowa universities and community colleges, reaching 300+ students in 2018. University of Northern Iowa’s (UNI) Construction Management and Hawkeye Community College’s Construction Technology programs now participate in their own student field day in masonry. Each fall, students experience masonry job sites, a block plant tour and a bricklaying demonstration. This year, UNI had its third masonry field day.

Exposing as many students as possible to masonry is our goal at MII. We want students to have an appreciation for masonry and the best way to do this is to let them experience it hands-on. It is something they will remember throughout their careers.

The entire industry comes together for the Student Field Day in Masonry. MII is a nonprofit association dedicated to promoting masonry construction throughout Iowa. MII relies on membership, from all aspects of the industry, to support initiatives such as this one. All projects visited are built by MII-member mason contractors. Members donate time, materials and resources each year to make these student field days a success.

The Laborers 144, local laborers union, also brings area high school students, who are part of a high school pre-apprentice program, to help tender for the day.

“MII is passionate about getting the students involved,” added Bassler. “They have taken a proactive role in demonstrating what the industry can do to build better masonry buildings.” Today, ISU lecturer Bo-Suk Hur has taken over Bruce Bassler’s spot in teaching Architectural 240 class. Hur was a part of the MII’s student field day as a second year architecture student in early 2000s. He still remembers the student field day he attended and is excited to pass on this experience to his students.

University of Northern Iowa students appreciate this hands-on experience with a day of masonry

“Iowa State University has a long relationship with the Masonry Institute of Iowa. Students have an excellent opportunity to have practical experience. They can expand their expertise beyond the textbook, lecture notes, and a computer screen. I think this trip has a significant pedagogical opportunity to understand the masonry material, fabrication/construction process, and manufacturer/contractor’s viewpoints in the real world,” said Hur.

MII continues to build its relationships on the UNI and ISU campus by working with the student organizations providing speakers and sponsoring events. Each winter, MII also hosts NCMA’s Unit Design Competition with the third-year architectural students at Iowa State University. The past two years, ISU has taken 2nd place (2018) and 1st place (2017).

Since 1975, MII has worked to forward its mission of promoting masonry throughout the state of Iowa – including the education of young architects and engineers about the sustainability and longevity of masonry.

“It is very rewarding to see the excitement the students have when they get a trowel full of mortar in one hand and a brick in the other, then combine these to create a project of their own design. This hands-on experience stays with them throughout their entire design career and opens their eyes to the skill needed to build with masonry and satisfaction one gets from a job well done,” said MII President Scott Ellingson.

Jenny Stephenson

Jenny Stephenson is the association director of the Masonry Institute of Iowa – the only nonprofit association for promoting masonry within the state. MII is committed to providing masonry education to students, architects and engineering, as well as introducing students to bricklaying as a career. She has worked in association management for more than ten years and at MII since 2016. Stephenson is a graduate of Iowa State University with a Bachelor of Arts in Mass Communications and Drake University with a Master’s in Public Administration. 515.979.8235 |