A Washoe Valley couple has parlayed their experience and knowledge in the construction trade into academic credit at Western Nevada College.
Damon and Jessica Fischer recently passed challenge exams to receive credit for five Construction Management courses. As a result, they are planning to pursue bachelor’s degrees in Construction Management.
“I’ve been in construction for 20 years,” Damon said. “I found out there is a way that I can challenge some of these classes. I don’t have to take classes in something that I’ve been doing 20 years.”
With a diversified background in Geographic Information Systems work in conveyance and real estate surveying, Jessica brings a different set of skills and knowledge that complements Damon’s carpentry and home inspection expertise.
The couple decided after graduating from WNC with an Associate of Science degree in Geosciences and a Certificate of Achievement in GIS last May that their careers would benefit more by pursuing a Construction Management degree. WNC offers a Bachelor of Applied Science degree in Construction Management.
Confronted with two more years of schooling and the prospect of taking classes that seemed redundant to their professional work history, the Fischers queried WNC’s administration about receiving credit for classes based on their work experience.
After receiving administrative approval to challenge Blueprint Reading, Construction Contracts, Surveying, Construction Building Codes and Introduction to Construction Management classes, the couple prepared for oral and written exams proctored by Construction Management Professor Robert Ford. Most of their testing consisted of 500-word essays.
While this was the first time Ford has offered students challenge exams, it is a possibility for other skilled individuals.
“I want the public to know that prior experience has value and just because you are experienced does not mean you cannot improve your career with education,” Ford said.
“There is a process in place where a student can fill out a challenge exam request form for courses they feel their experience will help them pass.”
Ford has created two levels of testing to determine if students can receive credit for classes.
“The first is an oral interview where I ask questions about a course or topic that they want to test out of. Once they satisfy the oral session, they then qualify for the written exams I have developed for the courses,” he said.
Beforehand, the Fischers utilized their different subject strengths to help one another succeed on the tests.
“We did study,” Jessica said. “I’m not as strong in blueprint reading; I’m great with parcel maps and surveying, so we got out some blueprints and Damon went over it with me to make sure my mind was fresh on that.
“We fill in for each other’s weaknesses. I look up all of the Nevada statutes when I do our clauses for bids. He still works off small bids for his handyman business and I know a lot of the contract parts, so when it came to contract documents, I sat down with him and said, ‘Do you remember this?’ Some of the other things he filled in for me.”
Time wasn’t all that they saved by successfully challenging the five classes.
“To be able to get rid of a whole semester saved us a whole lot of money,” said Damon, noting the Fischers paid $25 for each class they challenged.
Now in their 15th year of marriage, the inseparable couple plans to continue taking classes together in pursuit of their Construction Management degrees.
“We’ve always excelled in classes where one knew more than the other or one was better at something, and we always helped each other out,” Damon said. “We always have a study partner. And it saves us a lot of money on books because we can take almost all of the classes together and only have to pay for one book.”
Added Jessica, “It’s hard to keep track of things, not so much with two people.”
It also doesn’t hurt their grades that there is a competitive side to their success in academics.
“There is always competition between us,” Damon said. “It’s been, ‘Who is going to get the better grade in math?’
And Damon sportingly admits that “she’s always ahead of me by a little bit.”
“Not always,” Jessica counters.
Looking back on graduation day last spring, Damon saw proof he was the runner-up.
“She graduated summa cum laude and I graduated cum laude,” Damon said.
Jessica said that their Construction Management degrees will come in handy as they expand their own company, Copious Interests Inc. Damon recently became a certified home inspector so the couple can meet a variety of needs for homeowners.
In the meantime, they are just fine shoehorning in their online classes while rearing their 4- and 12-year-old children and running their family business.
“You appreciate school more as you get older and you work harder at it,” Damon said. “You see people our age or a little bit younger who work really hard and they don’t accept anything less than an ‘A’ from themselves. They want to take the class; they want to get a degree.”
For information about WNC’s construction program, contact the Career & Technical Education Division at 775-445-4272.