LDDI at VT helps Hampton Roads companies

Written by Sandra J. Pennecke for the Hampton Roads Business Journal. 

Randy Dymond thought there was a need to do a better job of educating students in land development.

So 10 years ago, the associate professor in civil and environmental engineering at Virginia Tech started a program to do just that.

The Land Development Design Initiative was created in 2006. The multi-faceted course of study combines transportation, utilities, storm water management, planning and zoning and how they interrelate.

“We did research of a number of students in the industry and learned they only had one course in land development design,” Dymond said, noting it was only taught one time a year.

Dymond then took a look at 35 universities across the country to see how many had a course in LDDI. He found only four of them did.

“We said, as a profession, we are not doing a good job in educating our next generation of professionals,” Dymond said. “It turns out that the professionals themselves had to train them on the job; they were not ready for the job.”

But now they are.

Dymond went out and spoke with professional engineers around the state. Together, they worked to create LDDI.

The program, which has five separate courses, has three primary objectives: improving land development design education, increasing interaction between practitioners and undergraduate civil engineering students at Virginia Tech; and enhancing research efforts in the land development area.

There are about 36 sponsoring companies, two social events per year, a student club, an annual report and quarterly newsletters. The program is also in the middle of an endowment campaign.

Dave Parker, a senior civil engineer with Clark Nexsen in Virginia Beach, said when he graduated from Virginia Tech, he basically had no real engineering experience.

“This program gives the students experience with project management and design that lets them hit the ground running when they start their first real job in engineering,” Parker said. “The program is great for the students, but it also gives the engineering firms greater value in the young engineers that they hire.

“Most engineering projects are quite complex, and it takes new graduate engineers months to understand the extent of what is involved. LDDI graduates already have much of that understanding when they start their first job.”

Randy Royal, vice president of Kimley-Horn and Associates in Virginia Beach, jumped at the chance to become involved with the LDDI program.

“I love what I do, I am very good at it and like nothing better than to pass my knowledge on to others,” said Royal, who has taught the advanced land development course at Virginia Tech since the program’s inception, for no pay.

A Chesapeake resident, Royal believes the commute – three weekends each semester – is worth his time and effort especially because the students prove to be dedicated and high achievers.

Royal helped to recruit Erin Burdick, a 2010 Tech graduate with a degree in civil engineering, to Kimley-Horn.

Burdick, who went through the LDDI program, said she got hooked after taking the introductory class on land development.

“The program helped prepare me for my career by introducing me to the overall development process, teaching skills and processes that transfer to the real world,” Burdick said. “All civil engineering programs teach the fundamentals, but LDDI takes those fundamentals and applies them to land development. Also, the interaction between practitioners and the students is great practice. For example, the professionals share personal experiences and wisdom while the students can demonstrate new technology capabilities and learn the importance of presentation of a design.”

Arch Marston, president and senior principal at AES Consulting Engineers and a Virginia Tech alumnus, also became involved with LDDI shortly after it started.

Marston and several of his employees have supported the program, serving as mentors to student groups in the design course and serving on the advisory board.

“The program puts entry-level engineers light years ahead of other graduate engineers who have not been through a program such as LDDI,” Marston said, noting they have four graduates of LDDI on staff and plan to hire several more students from the program this year.

“They stand out because they are exposed to projects and materials focused on the various facets of private land development. They understand land entitlement, survey data collection, site engineering and the public submittal and approval process.”

Burdick is one of thousands of students who have participated in the program, which, according to Dymond, boasts a 100 percent placement rate after graduation.

“LDDI introduced me to the development world and I was able to start day one of my career knowing skills most young engineers learn over the first several months,” Burdick said.