Kelly Ward has studied construction management from the time he was big enough to hold his grandfather’s hammer. The 23-year-old Joe T. Robinson High School alum will graduate from UALR on Thursday, Dec. 15, with a degree in construction management and already has a job waiting as an assistant project manager for T.L. Services in Fort Smith.
“I’ve done it all my life, working with my grandpa since I was 12, earlier than that, holding his tools and stuff,” Ward said, referring to his maternal grandfather, master electrician Billy Henson of Mayflower, retired owner of Henson’s Electrical.
“I’ve always wanted to work construction, but I didn’t want to work my butt off all my life like he did.”
So Ward enrolled in the construction management program in the George W. Donaghey College of Engineering and Information Science, learning the skills needed to manage big construction projects, much to his grandfather’s delight.
“I told him, ‘man, there is always going to be a demand for construction engineers,’” said Henson, who still takes on a few projects and often calls on Kelly to help.
What does Ward think of the construction management program? “I loved every minute of it,” he said.
He said the learning was hands-on and faculty offered real-world experiences, taking classes on field trips to construction sites and introducing them to leaders in the industry.
His favorite is Mike Tramel, the associate professor and department chair who in his youth was a union iron-worker helping to build mind, power plants, and other big industrial projects out west.
“He is so laid back and real world about the industry,” Ward said. The professor imparted knowledge and skills to the students, but also handed down stories and traditions of craftsmen and tradesmen of the industry.
He said he appreciated the “boots on the ground” teaching style of all the professors in the program, who bring experience on job sites to the classroom.
Earlier this year, Ward participated in regional construction management competitions where teams of UALR students tested their skills against other teams from Texas A&M, Oklahoma State, Louisiana State University, and other schools with construction management programs.
“If I could go back and do, I’d go to it again,” Ward said about the competition and his four years at UALR.
As Ward dons his cap and gown and marches into the commencement ceremonies on Dec. 15, Billy Henson will be in the stands at the Jack Stephens Center watching his legacy receive his degree.
“Oh, I’ll be there,” the grandfather promised. “We’re all just bustin’ proud of him.”