Four Middle Tennessee State University Concrete Industry Management students completed a special NASA program, then learned how a track is prepared for this week’s NTT IndyCar Series race in downtown Nashville, Tenn.
Twins Claire and Carlie Mullins of Fayetteville, Tennessee, Arie Milam of Clarksville, Tennessee, and Ashlyne Roegerof Murfreesboro, Tennessee, successfully made their final presentations Friday, July 21, at NASA’s Minority University Research and Education Project, or MUREP, in Huntsville, Alabama.
Three days later, in a nighttime setting, they met and heard from Tony Cotman, track designer for the Friday-Sunday, Aug. 4-6, Big Machine Music City Grand Prix, MTSU alumnus Charlie Legeman (senior sales director for the grand prix) and spent about two hours observing workers erecting suites and setting barriers along pit road.
“It was a really cool experience, being able to see all the hard work that goes into making an event of this size happen,” said Milam, 21, a rising senior and transfer from Dyersburg State Community College, whose brother, Rush Milam, graduated from MTSU’s highly regarded CIM program and now is a project manager with Turner Construction.
“Who would’ve thought concrete plays such a vital role in the world of racing?” she added. “I’m excited to go back and see the end result.”
The four will reconnect with Cotman Friday, each bringing questions for him as they network with the expert and gain greater insight into the concrete parts of the track.
MTSU instrumental in race’s birth
As Music City Grand Prix CEO, alumnus and former Blue Raider football place-kicker Matt Crews, a Lawrenceburg, Tennessee, native, has molded the nationally televised race into a must-see event, forcing college and pro football to share headlines and radio and TV airtime.
“MTSU has been instrumental in the birth of the Big Machine Music City Grand Prix and continues to be an incredible partner as the event moves into the future,” Crews said. “MTSU’s Concrete Industry Management development of the barricade system has become the gold standard used across motorsports.”
Through a partnership between the university and race organizers signed in fall 2020, more than 15 students in former professor and then-School of Concrete and Construction Management Director Heather Brown’s senior lab class helped research and test an environmentally friendly concrete mixture for both barrier wall and pit lane for the inaugural race in 2021.
MTSU students were asked to review mixes for the barrier wall that would be implemented for the race by Ashland City, Tennessee-based Jarrett Concrete Products — the precast company led by alumni Travis Jarrett and Frank Bowen.
The pit row concrete was produced by Irving Materials Inc., or IMI, and was integrally colored black to blend in with the rest of the asphalt parking lot surrounding Titans Stadium. Brown, who is now IMI’s vice president of quality control, monitored installation and hardened testing to ensure the concrete would withstand race conditions.
Meanwhile, MTSU’s Charlie and Hazel Daniels Veterans and Military Family Center has partnered with the grand prix to have a presence at and participate in the Freedom Friday concert and other race weekend activities.
“The growing relationship with the Daniels Veterans Center certainly is something we are incredibly proud of, and we look forward to growing that relationship even more,” Crews said. “(Retired) General (Keith) Huber and his team do outstanding work and we are very proud of the association. I am incredibly proud to be an MTSU alum and greatly appreciate the university’s ongoing support and promotion of the Big Machine Music City Grand Prix.”
Summarizing their experience
Being young women in a male-dominated world led MTSU concrete Director Jon Huddleston to pursue the NASA Minority University Research and Education Project grant for them the past three years.
“They worked through the minority internship arm of the grant to broaden their horizons of the STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) field that the concrete industry is,” he said.
The students collaborated to produce a summary about their experience for a concrete story Huddleston, an associate professor, is writing.
“We spent time with MTSU faculty and industry professionals to develop skills and knowledge required for successful careers in the concrete industry. … The new School of Concrete and Construction Management Building has made a tremendous impact on our education.
“We have been able to utilize technologies in the new building as well as new testing equipment. Because of this we have been able to better understand how mixes can be utilized to fit the desired needs for the concrete. We have learned how to conduct these tests, which the new building and equipment has allowed us to test more efficiently.
“Our favorite part of the summer was all the job shadowing opportunities. We were able to oversee different positions in the industry at companies like Gate Precast, Stalite, Standard Concrete, Servpro, Accuworks, and Habitat for Humanity. This allowed us to make connections and build relationships with industry professionals. The real-world experience that we took away from those visits was crucial for planning for our futures. … There is so much potential growth for women in the industry. We are extremely thankful for the opportunities that this internship has presented us.”
On the road
For 10 weeks, Huddleston, clinical instructor Kevin Overall and School of Concrete and Construction ManagementDirector Kelly Strong have kept the students busy. Their time has included:
• Traveling with alumna Natalie Martin in June to Salisbury, North Carolina, to visit the Stalite Lightweight Aggregate, and to Atlanta to view Standard Concrete Products business practices.
• Visiting a Tilt-Up jobsite with alumni working at Turner Construction and Jay-Ton Concrete Construction.
• Performing a revamp of the Raider Walk near Walnut Grove and Peck Hall and adding new lightning bolts to Campus Recreation Center outside the workout area.
• Touring Gate Precast Concrete Plant in Ashland City, Tennessee, with alumni.
• Attending a three-week stormwater research program at Auburn University in Alabama.
— Randy Weiler (Randy.Weiler@mtsu.edu)