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Dr. Briaud’s Vision

Dr. Briaud’s Vision

Helping ASCE Members Transition from Students to Professional Members

Alik McCoy PE (Engineer, 5engineering)
ASCE Texas Senior Director At Large, Editorial Committee Chair

Jean-Louis Briaud PhD, PE, G.GE, Dist.M.ASCE is the 2020 President Elect for ASCE Global. Dr. Briaud has served several roles within ASCE over the years including President of the Geo-Institute from 2008 to 2009 and a three-year term on the Board of Direction as a Technical Region Director. Dr. Briaud has also taught at Texas A&M University since 1978, most recently as a Distinguished Professor since 2015. As incoming 2021 ASCE President, Dr. Briaud believes in the family ASCE provides and hopes to strengthen that sense of community during his time as President.

One of Dr. Briaud’s primary goals for the year is to work on significantly increasing the very low transition rate from ASCE Student Member to ASCE Member. As a former Texas A&M Student Member that joined the ASCE Houston Branch shortly after graduating, I know how valuable it is to have a smooth transition from student to professional. The ability to quickly begin building a professional network is just one of the many benefits continued involvement with ASCE at the national, state, and local level has to offer. Younger Members are key to the longevity of any ASCE Branch and I am excited to see that Dr. Briaud is bringing the discussion of helping students transition to professional ASCE members to the forefront.  

Below are Dr. Briaud’s thoughts and ideas on the transition from student to young member professional membership:

The statistics indicate that only 17% of our ASCE Student Members transition to ASCE Member grade. Add to this that not all Civil Engineering students are ASCE student members and the overall transition rate drops even lower. Yet, ASCE Student Members represent an enormous part of overall ASCE membership with about 50,000 out of the 150,000 ASCE members today being students. If you are not a student and were sitting down at a very large ASCE International Congress, you would look to the person sitting on your right and to the person sitting to your left and one of your neighbors would likely be a student. This very large part of our membership is straining the budget because students do not pay ASCE dues and require resources to service them properly. That is a good problem to have, but a different topic for another discussion. If we assume that ASCE student members mostly join during their Junior and Senior year, then that means about 25,000 new students join ASCE every year and that 25,000 rotate off the student membership. Imagine if instead of 17%, 80% of those 25,000 students would transition to ASCE Members. We would grow our membership by leaps and bounds. One might say, Jean-Louis you are just trying to grow numbers. I am pursuing this vision because I know that belonging to ASCE is fundamentally good for any civil engineer: it provides tremendous support for your career and it is a good financial deal. Whatever success I have had in my life I know that I owe a lot to ASCE. The number of times where I needed help and was able to call an ASCE friend or acquaintance to give me guidance is large. As an ASCE member you are on a team of 150,000 members and most of them wish to help you because we are all connected by our professional family.

This dreadful 17% transition rate is not new. It has existed for over a decade. Many bright people have worked on it, so the task is very tough but always worth the extra effort. It will require the help of every ASCE member to make a difference. So, in preparing for this global uprising of the membership, I have worked on two fronts. One, I have created a Student Presidential Group (SPG) and have worked with them over the past 5 months to identify what the students think we should be doing. Two, I have worked with many volunteers and staff members involved with student committees and student activities to develop a student transition strategy. The most common, workable, and impactful ideas are as follows:

  1. Automate the transition from student member to associate member. No questions asked, upon graduation all ASCE students automatically become associate members with congratulations. The first-year membership is free. At the beginning of the second year it become $85 and the new associate members are asked to pay their dues. The dues gradually increase to full dues after 5 years. In other words, they have to say no at the end of one year rather than make the effort to become members in the first place.
  2. Simplify the ASCE student form to join ASCE including a more permanent email address rather than the University email address. We lose track of many graduates because we do not have a reliable long-term email address to reach out to them.
  3. Talk to the students before graduation about the value of ASCE after graduation. Most ASCE students enjoy belonging to the ASCE Chapter for the competitions, the camaraderie, and the connection with potential employers, but do not realize the career value of ASCE post-graduation. We have about 380 student chapters worldwide so everyone of us must make the effort to go talk to the student chapters and explain the value of ASCE post-graduation. Student conferences provide an excellent opportunity to talk to students; there are about 20 of them and they group many students in one place. This is very efficient to reach students and it is important for ASCE members to talk at student conferences about the post-graduation value of ASCE.
  4. Connecting students with the local groups (Branches, Sections, Institute Chapters) before they graduate. Find out what is their preferred interest and let them join a related committee. That way they will be engaged before graduation and will not feel like they drop off an ASCE cliff after they graduate.
  5. Let students vote in ASCE elections. The Board has approved this change and is in the process of preparing the request which will go out to the vote of the general membership in May 2021. I believe that if we wish for the students to be part of our professional family, we must treat them with the same respect we afford other members. They can vote for the President of the United States so why should they not be allowed to vote for the President of ASCE? This change will help them feel part of the team.

These are just some of the ideas that are being discussed. However, these ideas can only succeed if all of us make the effort to pull the cart in the same direction – to go talk to student chapters about ASCE value after graduation, to share some stories where ASCE has made a difference in your life, to discuss the projects you got because of your connections, and to share the pleasure you get from attending a meeting or event where you find long time ASCE friends. George Bush Sr apparently said that a successful life must include service to others, being a member of ASCE provides all of us with this chance.

Thank you, Dr. Briaud. We look forward to your ASCE Global leadership in 2021. As part of his mission to stay transparent and continually receive feedback, Dr. Briaud, will answer members’ questions monthly in a virtual town hall on the first business day of the month. Briaud fielded questions during the first Ask the President Town Hall on Monday, Nov. 2. Look for additional President’s Town Hall information on ASCE Collaborate and in ASCE Global email communications.