Andy Larson

When Andy Larson was in high school, his mom signed him up for a summer internship with a homebuilder in Utah.

The teen was hooked, and Larson knew he wanted to make construction a career. Highlands College landed on his radar when the family moved from Utah to Ennis. The hands-on nature of the program at Highlands College was a big selling point for Larson.

Andy Larson

“My favorite part of this program is taking what you learn in class and immediately putting it into practice,” Larson said. “You aren’t sitting in a lecture hall. At Highlands, you don’t learn staring at a computer screen. If you go out and do it, you learn a lot better. You learn about concrete in class, and then we go out and pour the sidewalk in front of the college and finish it. It’s so nice to see what you are learning.”

Andy Larson

Andy has served as a Prospector, Montana Tech’s student ambassador program. He also represents Highlands College as a member of the Associated Students of Montana Tech, Montana Tech’s student government. He is set to graduate in May 2024 with his AAS in Construction Technology–Carpentry. His cohort of students is the first where instructors Rich Miller and Mike Fink have created a 2-year curriculum that revolves around building a 3-bedroom, 2-bath modular home from start to finish, including reading blueprints, site layout, framing, CAD design, and completing interior and exterior finishes. Students also learn how to be savvy businesspeople, with classes in business law, accounting, and estimating costs.

Andy Larson

“We try to tie all of the classwork back to building the house,” Miller said.

The first house will be completed in May 2024, with another also under construction. As the program does more work, the instructors are honing in on the best building techniques for their design. For instance, the first group built a gable, but the second group found it was more cost- and time-effective to order it and install it instead. This spring, Fink and Miller developed criteria for how to offer the homes for sale. The idea was to work with the city–county government or Habitat for Humanity to help alleviate housing shortages in the community. Highlands College wants to sell the home at cost for a good cause.

“We don’t want it to become a vacation rental,” Miller said. “We want to ensure it addresses the issue of limited affordable housing in Butte–Silver Bow.”

The structure is built to be lifted by a crane and shipped to its final homesite. Students get to vote on which finishes they would like to install, and can add their own flair to the project. There are 16 students set to complete the first house, and 28 students, in the second cohort, will finish their modular home in May 2025.

Miller says graduates are highly employable.

“There has been a construction boom in the past few years,” Miller said. “Our students can find work almost anywhere.”

By February, Larson had his summer plans set to intern with Langlas & Associates. Larson has enjoyed multiple summer internships so far, and has participated in projects including a 14,000- square-foot, high-end, multimillion-dollar luxury home, and work at the internationally known Yellowstone Club.

Larson says it’s neat to drive through neighborhoods around southwestern Montana, see his handiwork, and take pride in having been a part of creating something that was built to last.

“It’s nice to do work that will stand for years to come,” Larson said.