Scroll down for Questions About the Occupation.

Are the courses hard?

Although most students do not find the courses difficult (partly because activities are mostly hands-on), difficulty really depends on your basic skills. A basic CAD course is required to enter the 100-level courses. That may be a high school CAD course, our pre-program AEC 81 Basic Cad Drafting course, or office training or experience. Some students find it beneficial to take the ICS 100 basic computer course during the school year or summer before beginning the AEC program in the fall. Otherwise the ease or difficulty you experience will depend a lot on your mental dexterity and willingness to seek help when you need it. Can you follow verbal and written directions? Once you are lead through a few steps, can you repeat them? Can you see the logic or similarities in the ways things work? If things don't work out as expected, do you have a tendency to give up, or do you look for reasons or alternate ways to accomplish the same things? If you draw a rectangle, can you easily picture it being a box with a top, bottom, and sides that extend "into" the picture? Can you picture what it would look like from the back or from a side? But probably most important of all is your interest and determination. You must be willing to put in extra time when needed, seek help when you need it, get to classes regularly, not be easily sidetracked by family, friends, outside employment, etc. Interacting with other students is also helpful.

Is math really important?

Formal math is not as important as probably most people tend to think. It will be much more important of course if you go on to a four- or five-year baccalaureat program to become an architect or engineer. AEC courses typically do require basic math, though. Adding, subtracting, multiplying, dividing, solving simple equations, and completing ratios are all important. Just as important is approximating angles and relative sizes of things. Can you "picture" a 30-degree angle? Or a 120-degree angle? Given an angled line, could you draw a line approximately perpendicular to it without the help of a protractor or other measuring tool? Given a line of random length, could you divide it into three parts of approximately equal length without using a measuring tool? The math involved in the courses is applied math. You will need to solve practical problems without always being told, for example, that first you need to disregard this or that, then add, and then divide, etc. More important than how to do the addition, division, or whatever (which is usually quite easy), is figuring out what information is important, what can be disregarded, and what mathematical operations will enable you to solve a problem. However, we have probably never had a student in the program who simply could not do the math and therefore had a difficult time in the program.

How important are language skills?

Good English language skills are quite a bit more important than math skills in the AEC program. Reading, writing, listening, and speaking skills are all quite important. Every course involves reading, whether it's a textbook, handouts, board instructions and explanations, or whatever. Our AEC 118 first semester course is entirely online -- there is very little to the course that is not reading, except for communicating with other students and the instructor -- which requires writing. Our AEC 135 and 141 courses also require quite a lot of reading. You must also be able to understand as well as hear oral instructions. If you miss half of what is explained, or need information interpreted after it is given, you should probably work on your language skills more before entering the AEC program. Writing is important, too. Computer drawings actually often contain as much writing (text) as they do line drawing. Spelling is particularly important in drawing work, and grammar is important in report writing, employment cover letters and resumes, project evaluations, etc.

What are the classrooms like?

The principal rooms in which classes are held are computer labs. Each of the two labs is equipped with at least 25 computers, a printer, plotter, and other equipment. All computers are networked within the lab and to the internet. Each student station consists of a computer, 17" or 19" monitor, a five-foot table, and an upholstered rollaround chair. Each lab is equipped with a system that allows the instructor to broadcast a demonstration of what he is doing on his computer to all student stations in the lab (no guessing what the instructor is doing during a demonstration, or straining to see a roll-down screen far away at the front of the room). Each lab also has a ceiling-mounted projector for screen projection either instead of or at the same time as display on student monitors. Each instructor's office adjoins his classroom and has a window for two-way viewing. In addition to the two labs and offices, the program also shares a multi-media classroom with the ICS (Information and Computer Science) Department. AEC also has a classroom where blueprint reading classes are taught, another office for adjunct faculty, and a storage/work room (see a computer rendering of our facilities on another page at this web site). All facilities are air conditioned and located on the top floor of one of the newest buildings on the main campus. The school cafeteria is directly across the mall, the library is next door, and the Student Life Center is in the same building.

What is the attendance policy?

Since AEC courses are vocational-technical courses designed to prepare students for employment in related work for which regular attendance is required, classroom attendance is important. At least for most of the first-year AEC courses, credit is earned for each class attended. Partial credit is earned for late attendance. For credit, partial credit, or no credit, no distinction is made between "excused" and "unexcused" absences. Overall, attendance accounts for between 10% and 15% of the course grade, depending on the course and the instructor. In addition to credit earned, there is a six-absence rule. More than six unexcused absences (here "excused" and "unexcused" apply) results in a failing grade in the course. In respect to this rule, excusable absences (as judged solely by the course instructor) require submission of a doctor's note, court appearance slip, or other official document. For AEC 111 and 118, online course where students come to class only to take exams, there are separate online participation requirements, and attendance is based on participation which is typically posting of messages to a discussion forum.

Do I need a computer at home?

A computer at home is not required, but it would certainly be helpful. For it to be very useful, though, you should have internet access (for the AEC 111 and 118 online course, accessing the school and AEC program web sites, checking grades, and registering for classes) and CAD software installed (AutoCAD® and SketchUp® for the first-year courses and Revit® for the second-year courses). However, the CAD labs are open all day so students can spend extra time in the labs as needed. A computer at home might be more important if you work part-time or have family or other obligations that make it difficult to spend extra time in one of the CAD labs during the school day.

Do students drop out of the program?

Yes, some students do, but usually not because the program or a particular course is too difficult. Students receive a lot of help from instructors (especially if they approach an instructor for help) and other students, and both AEC instructors have been teaching the courses for at least 20 years and know hOW the material is best presented and learned. Students who either drop classes or do not continue often do so because of outside employment demands, they find they do not have enough time to devote to school, or unexpected circumstances arise that prevent them from continuing. Many of the dropoffs are the result of students meeting their goals of obtaining employment in architectural or engineering offices and deciding to work full-time rather than completing the program. We encourage students to finish the program, and we encourage employers to not entice students to work more hours than they can without quitting school. But especially for students with family and other financial obligations, money often speaks the loudest. Other reasons for dropoffs are pregnancy, military spouse relocation, neighbor island homesickness, etc.

Is it fun being an AEC student?

Most students think so. Unlike Liberal Arts and other courses where student makeup is very different from class to class, AEC courses are made up of the same students who get to know each other and often develop close friendships. Students go through the AEC courses as a group, and by the second year it seems almost like family. Students work together, often lunch together, and sometimes even commute together. Experiences are shared. We also have a tradition of second-year students welcoming new students with lunch at the beginning of the school year, and first-year students saying goodbye to graduating students with lunch at the end of the school year. Other special events during the school year help make the program fun. And of course the "work" that students do in classes is creative and fun. The software programs, course subjects, and class activities are varied -- challenging and what most students find interesting and rewarding. Skills developed are obvious and satisfying.

Are there evening AEC courses?

Not at this time. Evening courses have been offered in the past primarily to accommodate people who work during the day, but enrollment has dropped off too sharply after a semester or two. Time requirements are difficult for people who work eight hours a day. There are, however, late afternoon and evening non-credit courses that meet between only four and ten times (for these courses, check offerings listed online at As of Fall 2012 we have a 3-year plan that students can follow to attend classes only two days a week. It's designed principally for students who are employed but can come to school two days a week, but anyone can follow the plan.

What kind of degree will I receive?

Upon completion of the AEC program you will receive an Associate of Science degree, which (along with the Associate of Arts degree) is the most respected two-year degree anywhere. It requires at least 100-level general education AEC coursework. All of our regular program AEC courses are numbered over 100, and well-respected English and other general education courses are part of the program. A few years ago when we switched from lower level courses for the Associate of Applied Science degree to the upper level courses for the Associate of Science degree, we thought our then current students might balk at taking "harder" courses, and we were warned that our number of incoming students might shrink. Instead, even students who could have opted to finish their lower level courses for the A.A.S. degree decided to take the higher level courses for the A.S. degree, and in some cases it even meant an additional year in the program. Students were delighted with the upgrade, enrollment shot up, and we never even once heard a grumble about the upgrade. The A.S. degree is a pre-professional degree that serves our students better than any other degree or certificate available at our two-year level of education.

What about the Certificate? What's the difference?

The one-year Certificate includes the basic software (AutoCAD and Revit), basic building construction, and construction materials courses, and an English writing course. At that point, students should be ready to produce AutoCAD drawings in an architectural or engineering office and be familiar enough with Revit to use the software with more on-the-job or other training. The Certificate is a good choice for students who are limited financially to one year of training, who want to get a job just as soon as possible, whose residence in Hawaii is short-term, etc. Two-year A.S. degree students take the same courses, but also others for greater proficiency in Revit, plus training in Autodesk MEP, 3ds Max, and other programs for greater versatility and more emphasis on design and graphic presentation. Additional general education courses, more specialized courses, and a wider range of experiences improves their employment qualifications and leadership potential. Declaring a choice of credential at the time of enrollment is not necessary, however. One-year AEC students simply opt for the Certificate toward the end of the first year, while those who want to continue on to the degree simply do so.

Can I get extra help if I need it?

Yes. AEC instructors have regular office hours, at least one hour each day. Instructors are also usually available on Fridays when AEC classes are not scheduled and throughout most of each weekday, especially between noon and about 4:00 pm outside of class times. The program also sometimes employs a student assistant whose job description includes assisting first-year students during certain open lab periods. However, the greatest extra help that most students find is that from other students in their classes. Unlike math, English, and other general education classes, AEC classes have mostly the same students in the classes. In most cases, AEC students go through the two-year program together with the same students. Even without trying, you will probably get to know all first-year students quite well after spending three or four hours a day for a month or so with them. Students usually enjoy helping other students, and they often learn as much by helping others as do those who they help. The comraderie of others and the dynamics of the AEC classes will be very important in your learning. Since the fall of 2005, students have also been required to perform 40 hours of program-related school or community service. Some of that requirement can be satisfied by second-year students who assisting or tutoring first-year students in the beginning courses.

Is there a lot of homework?

To a certain extent it depends on the course. There is the most homework in AEC 111 Intro to Professional Ethics, and 118 Construction Materials, AEC 135, Intro to the Natural Environment, and AEC 149V, Preparation for Employment in AEC. But overall coursework involves some in-class or in-school computer drawing and design rather than homework in the traditional read-and-write sense. If you consider drawing that cannot be completed during class and open lab time "homework," then there may be substantial homework especially if you are rather slow on the computer. You will need to study for exams outside of class, but most of the courses are designed for at least some of the work to be completed during class times in spite of their "lecture" format. We cannot rely on all students having computers and the necessary software at home (athough most students do, since all of the software used in the AEC courses can be downloded free) to complete computer design projects outside of class, so the AEC labs are open every weekday afternoon provided at least one student is present.

Who are the instructors?

Mike Jennings is a professor and has been teaching at Honolulu Community College since 1993. A graduate of the University of Hawaii, he is an architect registered in both Arizona and Hawaii. He teaches AutoCAD®, Revit®, and Autodesk 3ds Max; to mostly second-year students. He also teaches non-credit AutoCAD and Revit evening courses to mostly in-service people, the budget and supplies, and outreach activities. Doug Madden is a professor and has been teaching at Honolulu Community College since 1985. A graduate of the University of Miami and University of Oklahoma, he teaches AutoCAD®, SketchUp®, and introductory AutoCAD Civil 3D to mostly first-year students. He manages class scheduling, curriculum, the AEC Club, the AEC web site, and program reviews. Additional information, phone numbers, e-mail addresses, etc. are available on the "Faculty" and "Contact Us" pages for which links are provided at the bottom of this page.

Is there a counselor for the program?

Yes. Marilynn Ito-Won in the Counseling Office works closely with the AEC program. In fact, this is her favorite program. She knows probably all students in the program, comes into the labs occasionally to talk to classes, and is readily available. Additional information, phone number, and e-mail address are available on the "Faculty" and "Contact Us" pages for which links are provided at the bottom of this page.

Is it mostly an all-male program?

No. There's often a 50-50 or 40-60 split of women and men enrolled in the program. There are many women interested in careers in the professional trades today, and the ones for which we prepare students are some of the most popular because they do not require great physical strength, dangerous work, or work in unhealthy or rugged environments. The work is more mental than physical.

Do women have a harder time [than men]?

Not at all. Although more men enter the program with experience in building construction and some of the other trade-related fields, we find very little if any difference in how well men and women do in the program. A special advantage for women is that because the AEC field is still classified as "traditionally male-dominated," full tuition scholarships are occasionally available to women in the AEC program.

How do the internet courses work?

We currently offer two internet courses that students "attend" entirely (except for exams in each course) on the computer. AEC 111 is a one-credit first semester course in professional ethics. Among other activities, students complete two written projects and discuss workplace dilemmas. AEC 118, the most popular course in the program, is a course in construction materials. Students are responsible for online reading, completing a small construction project and a couple of other projects, and collaborating with the class online. Both courses are designed to be easy to access and navigate on the computer. Because students go to class on the computer and do not meet with the instructor in a classroom, students need to discipline themselves to keep up with class material, collaborate online as required, etc.

Do I need to purchase drafting equipment?

No. Manual or hand drafting is mostly a thing of the past. Almost nobody drafts manually anymore, we never receive requests from employers for people skilled in manual drafting, and none of our graduates have taken or been offered manual drating jobs in many years. Professional technical drawing is all done on the computer today. There are no drafting tables or other manual drafting equipment in the AEC labs or classrooms.

Do I need to purchase computer supplies?

A few, but they are very minor. A plug-in flash drive or two will probably get you through the entire two-year program. Other supplies such as a foam core board for 3D models, illustration boards for displaying or framing your work, freehand drawing supplies, and minor craft supplies will be needed for different courses. A ream of paper is also required each semester.

Can I be waived from the AutoCAD course?

AEC 110, Basic AutoCAD®, is a 60-hour course. To waive the course, essentially you need to have the equivalent of that. One or two non-credit classes by themselves will seldom meet the requirement. Along with a minimum 30-hour, non-credit Level I AutoCAD® course taken within the past two years, you need to have either six months of full-time exclusively AutoCAD® employment within the past two years, or one full year of similar part-time (minimum 20 hrs/wk) AutoCAD® employment. Those who have either a shade less (but maybe an extensive portfolio) or some possibly acceptable but different background (maybe out-of-date training or no formal training but much more AutoCAD® employment) need to take a department-administered, timed exam and pass it in order to be waived from having to take AEC 110. If a course is waived (rather than substituted by an equivalent course taken elsewhere), another approved course may need to be taken to meet the minimum 60-credit program requirement.

Can I work full-time and be a full-time AEC student?

No. This is a slight exaggeration, because some students can occasionally do it. More often than not, though, students start off thinking they can and then find that they cannot. And by the time they find they cannot, they are so far behind in the courses and so stressed out that they quit school. We strongly recommend either (a) working no more than 20 hrs/wk while enrolled full-time, or (b) following our 3-year plan that takes an extra year but requires school attendance only two days a week. If you start the program with only part-time outside employment, or following the 3-year plan, then find that you do very well in your AEC classes without having to spend a lot of extra time on them outside of class, you can either work more hours, or take more classes. This is a better approach than starting off overloaded and finding out a couple months into the program that you're not the Superman or Superwoman you thought you were. Students spending two years in the program will usually be in class Monday through Thursday from 8:30am to noon.

How soon will I qualify for part-time employment in computer drawing?

If you are fairly fast on the computer, can think ahead as you work, tend to think of what you draw as a real-world object rather than simply lines on a computer screen, can move things around and edit them with relative ease, you might be able to obtain part-time CAD work toward the end of the very first semester. In the fall of 2001, about a third of first semester students did just that, and none of them had come into the program with any prior training or experience in computer drawing. Most students are qualified for part-time CAD employment after one year in the program. Students who are slower on the computer and have more difficulty with class work, completing drawings assigned, and meeting deadlines, or who are frequently absent, need the entire two years to prepare for employment. So it really depends on your ability and how quickly you learn, and of course those are most importantly related to your interest and determination.

Will I be prepared to be an architect or engineer?

Any training in architecture and engineering "helps," but the program is not specifically designed to prepare students to become registered architects or engineers. Instead, we prepare students to do the architectural and engineering production work in architectural, engineering, and similar offices, typically to do computer drawing work according to the specifications of architects and engineers. To become a registered architect or engineer, generally you need to go through a four- or five-year university program to earn a bachelor's degree. However, it is currently possible to become an architect by completing the accredited two-year AEC program and receive the Associate in Science degree, work in the field for eight years, take the exam (reguired of bachelor's degree candidates as well), pass the exam, and become a full-fledged architect. A faculty member in this program did just that a few years ago, and she is now a registered architect. A principal of probably the largest architecturtal firm in Honolulu did the same thing. It's not the most common way to becoming an architect, but it is possible -- and a lot less expensive.

Actually, when you consider the costs and the fact that there is currently no bachelor's degree available in the State of Hawaii, it's a very interesting way of possibly becoming an architect. On the mainland, one year at a university will cost you at least $20,000. Multiply that by 5 (because almost all bachelor degree programs in architecture are five-year programs), and you see that it would cost you at least $100,000, and you'd still need to work as an intern in the field and take the exam. Also, you'd be sacrificing three additional years of paid employment by attending school for five years instead of two years in the AEC program. That's another $60,000 or more -- not that you'd have to pay, but that you would not earn. Now nobody in this AEC program wants to diminish the importance of a bachelor's degree that is still the best way of preparing to become an architect (if you can afford it). The two-year degree way is simply an alternative that might best fit some people, particularly here in Hawaii where we are so far away from a school that offers a bachelor's degree in architecture.

What is the AEC Orientation about?

All new AEC students are required to attend a 1 1/2-hour orientation session during the week preceeding the start of the first semester. At the orientation, students meet the instructors and program counselor, meet the other students, tour the labs, learn about the program, and are introduced to the program-related school and community service requirement.

How does the service requirement work?

AEC students are now required to complete 40 hours of program-related school and community service. At least 10 hours must be completed prior to the end of the second semester (or prior to the completion of 22 hours of AEC coursework), and the remainder must be completed prior to graduation. Service activities can be chosen from a long list compiled by the AEC Department. Typical activities include volunteering with an organization such as Habitat For Humanity or the Building Industry Association of Hawaii, serving as an AEC Club officer, tutoring of first-year students (by second-year students), assisting at career fairs or end-of-year portfolio presentations, participation in local or national architectural or engineering design contests, etc. Most of the requirement is usually fulfilled during the summer between the first and second years of the two-year AEC program. Details, a list of approved activities, documentation slips, etc. are provided to students at an AEC Orientation prior to the first semester. Also check service requirement details at this AEC program web site.


What is AEC, anyway?

AEC is a very well-known (at least inside the industry) acronymn for the architectural, engineering, and construction industry. Architects, engineers, builders, contractors, materials manufacturers, suppliers, and many others are all part of the industry. Since the AEC program at this college (and Hawaii Community College, plus Maui Community College that offers some AEC courses) serves primarily the architectural and engineering fields within the industry, we changed the "C" in AEC to mean "CAD." We also do not train students specifically to become architects or engineers, so the name of the program includes the word "Technologies." Therefore instead of an Architectural, Engineering, and Construction program, ours is the Architectural, Engineering and CAD Technologies program (originally suggested by a Hawaii Community College student in a name-the-program contest).

How much money will I make when I finish the AEC program?

Students currently start at between $12 and $15 per hour ($20,800 to $31,200 per year). If you graduate after regularly being in the top half or two-thirds of your AEC classes, you should start at $15 to $20 an hour. We recommend that current students who take part-time jobs in the field not accept less than $10. Pay is usually increased after three to six months of full-time employment, and after three to five years of employment, you should be earning $18 to $24 per hour ($37,400 to $49,000 per year). You might go up to $25 to $28 per hour, but it's more likely that at this point you would become a CAD manager or principal with responsibilities different from those for which the AEC program has prepared you. You could make still more money in certain places on the mainland, by improving specialized skills, by becoming a registered architect or engineer, by simply being willing to give up a job for a better one whenever an opportunity arises, or by otherwise simply being creative. If you develop your skills and knowledge of the field to the point where you can step into a job cold and be very productive from the first day, you might be able to earn as much as $75 an hour as a consultant or independent contractor who jumps from job to job.

Will jobs be easy to find?

We cannot guarantee that jobs will always be easy to find, but currently we have more job openings than students to fill them. You will always be able to use the HCC job bulletin board, even many years after graduation. Students often worry about maybe losing a job and not being able to find one after they've left the support and security of the AEC program. But each year of successful employment should make you more qualified for employment, should give you more of an edge up on other applicants, and naturally lead to more contacts and connections that should make employment easier. Currently the outlook for CAD employment is very good. The AEC program at Honolulu Community College is also the only two-year program on Oahu from which employers have to draw.

What's the work like?

It can be quite different from office to office, and students take jobs with firms as different as large architectural offices and pool or stage design firms. Some offices are formal, others are more relaxed. Some offices bring in additional staff as needed, and others expect permanent employees to work overtime when work builds up. The semester that this is being written, one employer of two of our current students took the entire office (including these two part-timers) to Las Vegas for a week. Some employers give holiday bonuses to employees, while others do not. In some cases the work extends far beyond computer drawing. Because of their training and its emphasis on communication and other general education as well as computer drawing skills, many of our students move quickly into supervisory, management, and job inspection positions. Almost all of our graduates work in clean, professional environments.

Will a career in this field keep me interested over the long run?

It's difficult to say. If you are the type of person who really needs to be physically active, who might eventually go stark raving mad doing quiet work at a computer over time, it might not hold your attention. If you enroll in the AEC program simply because it's something you can do, the money is OK, and it's better than grocery store or restaurant work, but it may not hold your interest. You have to be genuinely interested in the work itself. What is a great plus here is that with AEC training you will most likely be doing creative work, and for most people this is the most interesting of all. In the AEC program we do not train students to do maintenance, repair, or repetitive types of work. Those types of work, along with simply physically demanding work, often require a lot of skill, and they often pay well when work is available. But creative work is usually what holds people's interest over time and gives them the most satisfaction. Most people also feel satisfaction in doing professional work, working with other people who are intelligent and creative, working with both men and women, and working in a clean, healthy environment.

Will I have to join a union?

No. You will not need to pay union dues, get on a list and wait for your number to come up before getting a job in the field, take a job at a certain level, be paid according to a uniform schedule, or meet certain union requirements before advancing. You can take any job available, hurdle more experienced applicants if you are more qualified, go in at any level you can negotiate, and rise as fast as your skills take you.

Are there any health or other risks connected with this occupation?

Probably the biggest drawback to the occupation is that it is relatively sedentary. Long hours at a computer for months and years is not healthy. You should make a real effort to be active outside of work, or develop a routine of somehow remaining active during work. Still, the work is much safer than it is in most other trade fields. At any time, about 20% to 25% of our students have come to us as a result of on-the-job injuries. They cannot continue to work as carpenters, roofers, etc., so they enroll in the AEC program (often supported by Workmen's Compensation) for retraining in this field where the risk of reinjury is greatly reduced and where the focus of work is somehow related to their years of experience in the building trades. At the time this is being written, we have a few students who suffered back injuries on the job, another couple who suffered leg or knee injuries, and one student who had a sheeet of plywood fall on his head. Last semester we had a student who had fallen off a roof. A few years ago we had a student who had gotten his hand caught in a machine. Career-ending injuries like these are very uncommon in the fields for which we train students. And by comparison, the health risks associated with doing sedentary are very minor.