Patrick Suermann has already explored most of what interests him about construction on Earth—so he’s taking his talents to outer space.
Well, not entirely.
Physically, Suermann plans to remain on Earth indefinitely as an associate professor and head of the construction science department at Texas A&M University’s College of Architecture in College Station, Texas.
But Suermann’s primary area of academic research has him focused on establishing new knowledge and processes that would be needed to build in space, particularly on the Moon and Mars.
“When I first got to A&M in 2017, my dean said, ‘You need to do some research in an area that no one’s doing,’” Suermann said, adding that his space exploration research initiated before the official formation of the United States Space Force in 2019.
Today, Suermann and a colleague are leading a research initiative, Extraterrestrial Engineering and Construction (XTEC), that aims to figure out, among other things, the future of autonomous construction in space.
Suermann is also on the front lines of construction space exploration as a key contributor to the Texas A&M Space Alliance (TAMSA) as well as numerous other interdisciplinary research groups focused on the subject.
“For all the things that you do in order to have standards here on Earth, none of that exists for the Moon or for Mars,” said Suermann, a civil engineer and more than 20-year veteran of the United States Air Force. “So that’s what we’re trying to do—establish the new knowledge and the processes that would be needed in order to build things that are able to resist forces on the Moon.”
“All of those things have to be solved,” Suermann added, “and we’re hoping to be the team that does it.”
The Construction Educator Podcast
In February 2020, Bluebeam’s then Academic Program Manager Emily Heppard and Procore’s Non-Profit Manager Miles Anderson set out at the Regions 6 & 7 Associated Schools of Construction Student Competition and Construction Management Conference in Reno, Nevada, to interview prominent and influential construction-industry educators.
Over the course of three days, Heppard and Anderson completed 11 interviews, which became “The Construction Educator Podcast,” a limited series collaboration between the two construction technology companies to help spotlight the work of impactful industry educators.
In each episode, the two talk with various educators of differing disciplines about teaching methods, technology and how to cultivate new construction-industry leaders. The Bluebeam Blog wraps up its spotlight of four interviews from the limited series this week with Texas A&M’s Patrick Suermann.
Preview The Construction Educator Podcast, with Patrick Suermann:
Preview The Construction Educator Podcast, with Pat Suermann:
Engineering a construction career
Suermann’s fascination with construction and space isn’t surprising. One of his warmest memories as a child is when he lived in Satellite Beach, Florida, near the Kennedy Space Center, while his father, an officer in the Army, was stationed in Korea.
“I was just totally enthralled by the space shuttle,” said Suermann, who was in second grade at the time.
That same year, Suermann received a toolbox and toolbelt for Christmas. “What I would do is go to residential construction sites and take all their scrap lumber and make ramps for my bicycle,” Suermann said.
“I loved nailing nails into wood,” he added. “Even if I wasn’t making something, I would just hammer nails into wood. I love it. I still love it to this day.”
Suermann attended the Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs after high school, with the intention of being a pilot. But, upon his arrival, he found out that he was color blind, which led him in a different direction. Suermann stayed in the Air Force, studied civil engineering and went onto a career building for the military branch on projects that stationed him in far-away places including Greenland and Guam.
“My 20 years in the Air Force, I was always building stuff,” Suermann said.
Near the end of his military career, Suermann saw a posting for a teaching job at Texas A&M, though he thought it was a long shot that he would get it. “Somehow I got the job,” Suermann said. “I’m so incredibly blessed and lucky to be at Texas A&M, a fantastic program with fantastic faculty.”
Here are some other highlights from the interview:
[04:18]: Why Suermann went to the Air Force Academy: In high school I asked my parents, ‘What savings do you have for me to go to college?’ They said, ‘none.’ So, they said, ‘Figure it out.’ I thought, well, an ROTC scholarship could be good. And so, I went and interviewed at Penn State. … I got up there and they said, ‘Oh, we have one of the biggest ROTC detachments in the country.’ And I said, ‘Like 1,000 people?’ Because at that time it was a school of 40,000 people. And they said, ‘No, like 100.’ I said, ‘I don’t want to be one of 100 people wearing a uniform at a campus of 40,000 people.’ I think I’ll go to the Air Force Academy where everybody’s in it together.
[8:53] Why Suermann decided to earn a Ph.D. from the University of Florida: I didn’t think I was going to do that. I really thought after I taught the first time, at the Air Force Academy, I was going to go to Europe. I used to live in Heidelberg, Germany, when I was a kid. And I thought I would get over to Europe then. But we found out that our son had autism. And so, we were kind of limited on bases that we could go. In 2005 was when we had his diagnosis, and at that time it was limited, and they didn’t support a lot of therapies that he needed. We thought, well if we’re going to stay stateside, let’s try and go for advanced academic degrees. That’s what took me on the academic path.
Follow the links below for more information on academic support and partnerships from Bluebeam and Procore:
Procore is a leading provider of construction management software. The company drives social impact through Procore.org, an organization within Procore that connects nonprofit builders, schools, associations, and local organizations with construction education, workforce development and training programs, and free access to the full Procore product suite in order to support building for charity and advancing the construction industry.