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Morrisville State College Graduate, Entrepreneur Teaches Students His Trade, Helps Supervise College Building Project

MORRISVILLE, N.Y.—It started with a small project—a tree fort Mike Gridley built in his backyard when he was a kid.

The project fired something in him that led to bigger endeavors—turning an attic into an apartment, building an addition onto the garage of his family’s home, and eventually remodeling, designing and building houses.

The Morrisville State College graduate has made a career out of building and fixing things, taking the tools he learned in the college’s residential construction program to open his own business not long after he graduated in 2004. The 23-year-old entrepreneur is the proprietor of Gridley Construction, in Madison, where he lives.

Swinging a hammer and repairing things have always been in Gridley’s blood, and he can’t seem to get enough. In addition to his full-time business, he returned to Morrisville State College to work part-time teaching others the trade.

Gridley is an instructional support assistant in the Residential Construction Department. He is currently helping to supervise the residential construction program’s annual project, building a house for the Morrisville College Foundation.

He’s not alone. Professors in various departments are also assisting and applying their respective expertise, teaching students the tricks of the trade in the classroom, then taking them on-site where they do the actual work. Students are involved with building the house from the ground up, assisting with everything from site layout to framing, installing the plumbing and landscaping the site.

The project is part of the college’s residential construction program, which teaches students about construction management and provides students with the opportunity to gain hands-on experience in an actual setting.

The house currently under construction is located on Hart Road in the town of Eaton on a parcel of land owned by the Morrisville College Foundation. This is the third home Morrisville State College students have constructed. The other two, also located in the town of Eaton, are now occupied.

The newest house is expected to be completed by May 2007 and will be put up for sale.

The 1,366 square-foot ranch-style home has three bedrooms, two bathrooms, a large foyer, living room, dining room, eat-in kitchen, full basement and two-stall garage.

“Building these homes is an educational tool that provides students with experience and skills to gain a competitive edge in the job market,” Bruce Revette, assistant professor of residential construction, said.

“The hands-on experience is an important aspect of any program,” Gridley said. “You can learn in a classroom, but you also need the field experience. To actually do the work yourself is an entirely different situation than reading about it in a textbook.”

The popularity of the residential construction program’s hands-on study may be one of the reasons the program saw an increase in enrollment this semester.

“What I like about the program is you get to do all phases of the construction,” Bill Lafortez, a second-year residential construction student from Clinton, N.Y., said.

It also offers variety.

“The program offers many career opportunities,” Tom Knapp, a second-year residential construction student from Newburgh, N.Y., said. “I am considering a career in building houses but the program offers other opportunities such as surveying, plumbing and inspection.”

The frame of the new house went up this summer, a project Gridley supervised working with a handful of students. The rest of the house will be completed by students in various labs this semester and in upcoming semesters.

Currently, students in a Plumbing class taught by assistant professor of wood products technology, Wayne Hausknecht, are working on installing everything from the drain and waste to vent systems, to the water supply lines and fixtures.

Meanwhile, students in Revette’s Masonry and Foundation, and Estimating and Assessment labs are also doing their part, and students in a Secondary Wood Processing class, taught by associate professor of wood products technology, Lenno Mbaga, will be installing the cabinetry they designed and built for the kitchen.

The project also involves students in Morrisville State College’s architectural studies and design and landscape architectural studies programs.

Students who participate in the project gain more than technical skills. They also acquire business skills through coursework in business law, employee supervision, accounting and even public speaking—things that helped Gridley start up his business.

Right now, Gridley is the sole employee in his business which keeps him pretty busy working 50- to 70- hour weeks, sometimes 14-hour days on top of his part-time job at Morrisville. Some day, he would like to expand and hire employees to assist him with all of the different jobs he handles which include building and remodeling houses, painting, repairing roofs, replacing windows and doing various house repairs.

Although Gridley works long days, the weather’s not always in his favor, and there is always work that needs to get done on the weekends, he never regrets his career choice.

“It’s all worth it because this is something I enjoy,” he said. “I don’t do it for the money—it’s for the satisfaction and challenge I get when I build something.”

Morrisville State College’s residential construction curriculum is designed to provide graduates with the background, experience and knowledge of materials and techniques for a successful career in any segment of the residential construction industry. Hands-on experience is emphasized through coursework in construction techniques, energy systems, sanitation, masonry systems, foundation concepts and surveying. Students receive an associate in occupational studies (A.O.S.) degree. The program is a ThinkPad curriculum in which the use of laptop computers is integrated into courses.

Morrisville State College offers 13 bachelor degrees and a wide variety of associate degrees and options. Considered to be one of the most technologically advanced colleges in the nation for its ThinkPad University program and wireless technology initiative, the college recently became the first in the nation to comprehensively replace landlines in residence halls with individual cellular phones.

The Norwich Campus recently announced its first standalone degree in early childhood and also offers associate degree programs in business, computer technology, office administration, liberal arts transfer and nursing to Chenango County area residents and employers. Students may also apply coursework to other associate or bachelor degrees at the main campus.