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The University of Wisconsin–Madison Wins the 2023 Electrical Contracting Innovation Challenge with First Majority Female Team
History was made at the NECA 2023 Convention and Trade Show in Philadelphia. In their first year competing in the Electrical Contracting Innovation Challenge (ECIC), the University of Wisconsin-Madison took home first place. Not only did the Badgers win in their first year competing, but they’re also the first majority female team to win the Challenge.
“It’s a huge milestone for this initiative to have a team that is mostly female, win the ECIC,” said Adam Rude, VP of Construction Support Operations at ERMCO, Inc. “It hasn’t happened in the nearly two decades this Challenge has taken place and it’s great to see.” Rude is also the Chair of the ELECTRI Talent Initiative Committee, which oversees the ECIC. He has spent years judging student chapter teams from across the country who gather at the annual NECA Convention and Trade Show to present their final ECIC proposal.
“We didn’t really target women, but it just turned out that way and it’s really great,” said Elyse Miramontes, University of Wisconsin-Madison team member. “In Madison’s Construction Club, we are pretty women dominated in terms of our leadership board which is really great because you don’t see that in many places. I think it really added to the fact that we were setting ourselves apart from the other teams and had a different makeup than everyone else has had in the past.”
As a UW-M senior pursuing her civil engineering undergraduate degree, Miramontes is also the university’s Construction Club President. Miramontes observed the ECIC competition at NECA Austin 2022 as a spectator and she returned to her student chapter with the urge to form a team.
Out of the 12 schools that participated in the 2023 ECIC, Rude remembers the UW-M proposal being the most impressive due to the team’s knowledge, composure and conciseness while presenting. Rude noted other takeaways from UW-M’s presentation: seamless transitions between teammates and fitting a targeted proposal summary into the 15-minute time limit. “We organized it based off the rubric and just went down the line, put it in groups and then we all spoke on what we worked on during the semester,” explained Miramontes. “Our six members that presented are the only members who worked on the proposal. I think it was to our advantage.” The University of Wisconsin-Madison students who participated in the ECIC presentation and impressed the judges are Colin Schiesl, Michael Warntjes, Sophia Wendleburg, Alexa Rademacher, Kristin Heise and Elyse Miramontes.
This annual competition, created by ELECTRI International, is meant to help college students gain first-hand knowledge of and experience in the electrical construction industry. This year, student chapters were tasked with managing a pre-determined electrical construction project. Teams had to organize project materials and fulfill start-to-finish project management tasks such as forming schedules, setting up pay apps, pay applications, purchase orders and two change orders. “A lot of us were going with the general contracting mindset and were sort of closed off to electrical contracting and other sub-contractors,” expressed Miramontes. “I think through the competition, it opened up our thoughts to electrical contracting and how you can relate what you learn through general contracting to a sub-contractor.”
According to Miramontes, this competition is also a great form of networking for future career opportunities. Wisconsin Chapter NECA members Maiken Westphal, John Westphal, Ryan Thinnes, and Gretchen Fredrickson of Westphal Electric served as industry partners for the Badgers as they navigated this project. The relationship formed between the student chapter and the NECA member company garnered internship and potential employment interest.
The UW-M team was guided by Dr. Awad Hanna, faculty advisor and chair of the Construction Engineering & Management program at the university. Student advisor Lauren Welker is a construction engineering & management graduate student at UW-Madison who also aided the team. “She recruited me to this construction club when I was a freshman or sophomore. Women approaching other women to join is really helpful,” said Miramontes.
“Seeing how women can be involved with construction and just seeing women present, it’s sometimes more comforting for other women to join,” exclaimed Miramontes. “It’s a big milestone for the industry in general.”
The jury of industry experts selected the following proposals for the 2023 ECIC awards:
University of Wisconsin- Madison – First Place
Wayne State University – Second Place
Iowa State University – Third Place
There was also a video challenge, and the videos for the top four teams—Illinois Institute of Technology, Wayne State University, Ball State University and University of Wisconsin-Madison—were shown at the ECIC for attendees to vote on. Wayne State University won, University of Wisconsin-Madison came in second, Illinois Institute of Technology was third and Ball State University was fourth. Teams won $1,000, $750, $500 and $250 in this category, respectively.