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Abiola Akanmu receives Large NSF Award

August 30, 2022

Congratulations Abiola Akanmu on the Large Award from the National Science Foundation!

Collaborative Research: Connecting Professional and Educational Communities to Prepare Construction Engineering Students for the Workplace

Abiola Akanmu, PI, (Myers-Lawson School of Construction) and co-PIs Homero  Murzi (Engineering Education), Sheryl  Ball (Economics), and Walid  Saad (Electrical and Computer Engineering) received a collaborative research award in the amount of $2,163,084 from NSF’s EHR Core Research. The research team will develop a tool that connects construction engineering programs with communities of practice thereby providing instructors access to industry practitioners with the appropriate expertise to meet their practical course-support needs.

Abstract: While universities equip students with theoretical knowledge for STEM, there can be challenges in employing those theories to solve real-life problems. This challenge has resulted in an imbalance between the preparation of graduates entering the workforce and the demands of the industry. This disconnection is persistent in the construction industry as construction practitioners continue to highlight skill shortages that have resulted in low performance and low productivity. This research project is designed to connect learners with communities of practice thereby giving them access to expert ways of knowing, thinking, reasoning, and solving real-life problems. The research team will develop a tool that connects construction engineering programs with communities of practice thereby enabling instructors access to industry practitioners with the appropriate expertise to meet their practical course-support needs (e.g., site visits, guest lectures, and mentors for capstone projects). As learners interact with communities of practice, this has the potential to inform the ways learners perceive the profession and the development of their own professional identity. These two phenomena will be examined through a qualitative study.

In addition to the large NSF award above, Akanmu also recently received another NSF award ($180,000) as the sole PI, from the CISE Division of Information and Intelligent Systems (IIS) and the NSF National Robotics Initiative. The goal of the proposed research is to study the challenges posed by wearable exoskeletons for construction workers.

Abstract: A wide range of wearable robots are emerging as solutions to human operation challenges in the construction sector. The aim for such solutions is to reduce work-related physical injuries among workers by providing lift support, weight dispersion, and posture correction. In spite of the potential of these wearable robots in reducing the physical demands of construction workers, the current body of knowledge does not provide an adequate understanding of the risks and challenges of incorporating these robots on construction sites. Given the large number of back-related injuries in the construction industry, this research contributes to supporting the design and widespread use of powered back-support robots in the construction industry. By understanding the potential physical, psychological, and socio-technical risks of these wearable robots at construction sites, this project aims to overcome the challenges of scalable adoption of these wearable robots in the construction industry, thereby improving the safety and productivity of 7.5 million workers in the U.S. construction sector. Furthermore, this research will provide empirical evidence for manufacturers to design more adaptable, accessible, acceptable, and comfortable wearable robots for a wider range of body shapes and sizes to take into account diverse populations of the construction sector.