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President's Blog

Spring 2017: We can do better, we need to do better!

My article in the winter edition of the Texas Civil Engineer was about the thought of moving forward. Engineers, and maybe most especially civil engineers, are known as conservative-minded. We are careful with the funds appropriated to our projects and we are always mindful of solving the problem at hand. We are not known for thinking outside the box to solve issues on a bigger scale. We can and we need to start now.
At the Friday luncheon at our Texas Civil Engineering Conference in September, I heard one of the best civil engineering leaders in the state, Wayne Klotz PE, speak about how “sustainability” can’t just be a word, out there in the ether, for us to toss around at board meetings, on the website, or when talking to a crowd. It has to be something we start to integrate into our everyday planning and design activities. There needs to be a generational shift. I know we are starting to lay the groundwork in the universities and the grade schools, but somewhere between Northgate (for my Aggie brethren) and the design studios for engineering firms, we have lost that initiative. I get it, my clients have limited funds (always less than what is needed) and the critical outweighs the desired. But we can do better, we need to do better!

I was at lunch with a local colleague, Anthony Gavlik PE and we were discussing all sorts of topics. One topic that was obviously near and dear to his heart was finding a way to encourage re-development in parts of town that have existing infrastructure instead of spreading a city’s resources and infrastructure beyond its capacity to maintain them. Anthony mentioned a couple of grass root campaigns that are advocating development and planning to help our cities grow financially strong and resilient. We were both fully aware of the issues of not planning properly or maintaining infrastructure. Our city, Corpus Christi, according to its infrastructure committee, is dealing with a nearly $1 billion residential street problem, recent water boil notices, Total Maximum Daily Load (TMDL) studies of our coastal shorelines, and a wastewater corrective action mandate from Environmental Protection Agency rivaling the costs of the residential streets. These types of issues aren’t confined to our city, they are pervasive throughout Texas and the United States. A recent grade of D+ for the 2017 Infrastructure Report Card indicates that the entire country can do better, it needs to do better.

If you visit www.ASCE.org , you will find four strategic initiatives that tie into exactly what I am referring to – Infrastructure, Raise the Bar, Sustainability, and ASCE Grand Challenge. The Infrastructure Initiative discussion starts with “Every family and business needs infrastructure to thrive”. The Sustainability Initiative says “ASCE and its members are dedicated to ensuring a sustainable future in which human society has the capacity and opportunity to maintain and improve its quality of life indefinitely, without degrading the quantity, quality or the availability of natural, economic and social resources.” And finally, the ASCE Grand Challenge asks all civil engineers to join in the solution to enhance the performance and value of infrastructure projects and to foster optimization of infrastructure investments. In other words, we can do better, we need to do better!

The good news is that I am seeing the foundation being laid for us, both as a profession and a society, to do better. I was in Austin during our recent Legislative Drive-In where civil engineers from across the state descended on the capitol to implore our legislators to join us in the struggle for improved infrastructure. No doubt they each had their own issue but most completely understood the need for better roads, sewer, water, and stormwater systems. But, maybe more than most, they were also cognizant of the fiscal limitations to fund such needs. This struggle strikes right to the heart of the questions asked by the Grand Challenge. How do we increase the future performance and value of infrastructure without increasing the burden – optimizing the investment? I think it starts by bridging the gap between the lawmakers that fund the projects and the engineers that design and oversee the projects.

I saw more encouraging signs at the 2017 ASCE Texas Student Symposium in early March in El Paso. What an incredible job of organizing and hosting the event by the University of Texas at El Paso Student Chapter, the El Paso Branch, the VP Education and VP Education-Elect, the Student Activities Committee chair, the Student Competitions Coordinator and all the judges and volunteers. We had almost 400 students from throughout Texas and Mexico competing in the concrete canoe and steel bridge competitions, attending soft skill and technical seminars and generally having a good time. But most of all, I was struck by the enthusiasm and character of all the participants. The banner that was hung high over the proceedings said “Building Bridges/Trascendiendo Fronteras”. The words emerged big and small throughout the week. Whether it was the group cheers followed by the tears of joy from the Mexican team members collecting their trophies or stories of canoe teams sharing paddles with their rivals, there were no borders, no walls, just friendships and comradery.

I was inspired by what I saw in El Paso. I am inspired by the people volunteering at all levels in this organization, by the ASCE staff in Austin, by the students that were in El Paso, and by leaders like Wayne and Anthony that ask us to think about what we can do each day to make that small difference. It is a grand challenge and I know I can do better, I need to do better and I challenge you to do the same.

 


Winter 2016: Moving forward

Like children at this time of year, with school in full stride, we move toward the holiday season with wide-eyed wonderment of turkey on the table and presents under the tree.  Before we daydream, longing for simpler times, let’s keep our gaze forward toward the changes that are on the horizon.

I first want to thank one of the best leaders I have had the pleasure to work with, Audra Morse PhD, PE, our immediate Past President; she has guided me into this position with the grace and even-handedness that I can only hope to emulate.  She led us down a path to ask the tough questions about ourselves and required us to step outside the box when asking the simplest of questions. To have been a part of Texas Section leadership under Audra has been a pleasure and an honor!

As we move forward and I begin to understand the responsibilities of my new role, there are other, more important and exciting changes taking place.  Lindsay O’Leary PE, LEED AP, will be taking over as the Executive Director of the Texas Section.  Lindsay comes to us from the consulting world and as a member and passionate volunteer from the Austin Branch.  Lindsay started the first part of November and will be familiarizing herself with the Section and staff.  I am sure she will be making her rounds to the Branches, so please make her feel welcome.  We, as the Texas Section, need to communicate to her and her staff how the Section can better serve you, the members, and your branches.

With Lindsay’s arrival, we say a huge thank you to Cres Guzman PE who is stepping down after six years at the helm.  Cres has been such an incredible advocate of and a guiding light for the Texas Section over the past six years.  He led the charge to partner with agencies and other associations.  He led us through the changes of Texas Section meeting formats and helped develop two very promising events – CECON and the Student Symposium.  The potential that these events have is amazing, and our expectations are even higher.  So, as you can see Lindsay, like myself, has big shoes to fill but with an engaged slate of officers and a fantastic Section staff, we will continue to move forward.

At the Board of Direction Meeting in April, we approved a $15 Section dues increase.  The Section hasn’t increased its dues in more than a decade (2004).  This dues increase has gone into effect for the 2017 dues year.  I too, begrudgingly accepted the increase until I fully understood what all the Section does: webinars, Texas Civil Engineer magazine, state-wide conferences and technical events, publishing an Infrastructure Report Card, Student Symposium and other student events, active involvement in legislation and education of our legislators (locally and statewide), on-line career center and full service website, etc.   After reviewing all the Section does for us it hard to grasp how they did all for so many years on a decade-old budget. Unfortunately, this increase coincides with a dues increase from headquarters as well. Thirteen years between dues increase is not how you sustain and organization and keep up with trends, and we will do a better job in the future.  

There are several exciting events and items on the horizon.  The folks in El Paso are busy planning the Student Symposium in its new format.  The Student Symposium has successfully combined the Concrete Canoe and Steel Bridge competitions into an outstanding three-day event that more than 400 students attended last year.  Intertwined into the competitions are “soft skill” seminars aimed at giving students the tools necessary to prepare a resume, understand the path to licensure, etc.  One of the events at the Student Symposium that I participated in last year was the Job Fair. With over 400 of the absolute, best and brightest students from throughout the region in one location, there isn’t a better opportunity to find the next generation of quality engineers for your firm or organization.
 
As mentioned previously, the Infrastructure Report Card (IRC) update will be finalized and released in the first half of 2017.  This will be a culmination of a lot of hard work and coordination by the IRC Committee.  In the spring, we plan to take the findings from the new Report Card and gather during a Legislative Day at the capitol. Engineers from ASCE can come into Austin and meet with their legislators.  The Section will arrange opportunities to discuss the Report Card and potential legislative bills pertinent to our cause with your local Representatives and Senators.  If you are interested in attending, please feel free to contact the Section for further information.


 

 


 

 

ASCE Texas Section President

Craig B. Thompson PE
President 2016-2017

The Times They Are A Changin'

In the Nobel Prize winning words of Bob Dylan “the times they are a-changin’.” When he wrote that song I am sure he was thinking more about Civil Rights than a professional society for civil engineers but the anthem’s message is clear. The first verse has us recognize that things are moving and growing fast and that we all “better start swimmin’ or you’ll sink like stone.

 

I first noticed this when Past President Curtis Beitel handed me the book Race for Relevance. An eye-opening read for all involved in leading associations. Then, during our Strategic Planning efforts, Past President Audra Morse led us down a path to ask tougher questions during this process than we have before. She had us step outside the box when asking the simplest of questions – What is our vision and what is our mission? To be part of that process makes you appreciate leaders like Curtis and Audra!

 

With the NEW Strategic Plan (big thanks to Vikas K. Verma PE for all his work on it as well) in hand we have decided that this would be the perfect opportunity delve into the Bylaws and Rules of Operation and other guiding documents to identify areas where we can make sure we are swimmin’.

 

Part of this change is something very exciting.The Board of Direction has unanimously agreed to offer Lindsay O’Leary PE the Executive Director’s position. Lindsay comes to us from the consulting world and as member and passionate volunteer from the Austin Branch. Lindsay will be starting the first part of November but already she is familiarizing herself with the Section and staff. I am sure she will be making her rounds to the Branches so please make her feel welcome and let her know how we can better serve you, the members.

 

With Lindsay’s arrival we say a huge thank you to Cres Guzman PE who is stepping down after 6 years at the helm.  Cres has been such an amazing advocate of the Texas Section and a guiding light for the past 6 years. He led the charge to partnering with agencies and other associations. He led us through the changes of Texas Section meeting formats and helped develop two very promising events – CECON and the Student Symposium. The potential that these events have is amazing and our expectations are even higher. So, as you can see Lindsay, like myself, has big shoes to fill but with an exciting slate of officers, and amazing Section staff and a rejuvenated sense of purpose we will be in the swim.

 

I mentioned in the beginning of this blog that Bob Dylan probably wasn’t thinking about a technical society for civil engineers. That may be true, but his last verse ends - ”Your old road is rapidly agin’, please get out of the new one if you can’t lend your hand… for the times they are a changin’.” Intentionally or not, he addressed both a part of our professional field and the challenge for a professional association as it faces the future. Won’t you join us?


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