Highlights from the Virtual Texas CECON 2020 — THE Conference for Civil Engineers
By Jennifer Bohlander PE (HNTB Corporation), CECON 2020 Planning Committee Co-Chair
In November, more than 280 civil engineers and industry experts from across Texas and beyond gathered in an unprecedented virtual format for the American Society of Civil Engineers’ Texas Section flagship annual conference – the Texas Civil Engineering Conference or CECON 2020 Virtual. This 3-day event, organized by dedicated volunteers, is the place for engineers to engage in professional development, build business relationships, and engage in peer-to-peer technical exchange.
Held in a virtual format, CECON 2020 provided a way for design consultants, contractors, manufacturers, agencies, students, and other professionals to discuss current infrastructure issues and lessons learned from the challenges faced by all engineers. Most notable was the pivot to a virtual format in the final months of planning this traditionally “in-person” event. The ASCE Texas Section Board deemed this shift necessary during this unprecedented time of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“This year’s CECON was an amazing experience with having our conference offered through a sophisticated online platform,” said Susan K. Roth PE, PMP, 2020 President, ASCE Texas Section. “I received positive feedback from a number of attendees about the lineup of keynote speakers and panelists, and they thought the technical content was as good as ever,” she continued. “This new virtual format should be incorporated into future CECONs as an alternative way to experience and attend CECON remotely…to reach more of our membership and the engineering community.”
On behalf of the ASCE Texas CECON Planning Committee, we would like to extend a special Thank You to CECON Partner Sponsor: Texas Concrete Pipe Association (TCPA).
ENVISIONING THE FUTURE
The 2020 theme, ’Envisioning the Future,” is a collective process shared by all levels within all components of civil engineering: planning, design, management, implementation, business, community. This process begins with the evaluation and breakdown of current conditions, continues with the identification and clarification of known issues, and concludes with a plan for overcoming all challenges, including managing change. Development of engineers to reach further by envisioning the future is key and the CECON 2020 program focused on encouraging this mindset in all engineers for the future, today. With this direction in mind, several presentation topics and discussions were generated that focused on the future of the civil engineering industry.
CECON 2020 kicked off its Wednesday opening ceremony with a welcome and challenge to reimagine the future by watching “ASCE Future World Vision,” an interactive presentation featuring the ASCE 2020 President K.N. Gunalan PhD, PE, D.GE, F.ASCE (Senior Vice President, Transportation Alternative Delivery, AECOM) — www.futureworldvision.org. This started the conference in the right mindset with key aspects of accommodation for population increase, history preservation, and sustainability in the future.
Following the opening ceremony, the TxDOT Deputy Executive Director, Marc D. Williams PE, delivered the Day 1 Keynote, “A 2020 View of Transportation and TxDOT,” which was a fascinating insight into how TxDOT overcame the many challenges that 2020 brought with transit fluctuations due to the pandemic, planned projects, and a focus on the critical goal of a fatality free day on Texas roadways with the #EndTheStreakTX campaign and how each of us can play a role in achieving that goal.
UNIQUE CONFERENCE OFFERINGS
CECON 2020 Virtual was unique overall compared to previous years having pivoted to a virtual event platform. Attendees were provided a login prior to the conference for the opportunity of early access to learn more about the program offerings, review the conference schedule, and select must-see sessions to make a personalized agenda. During the conference, they had the opportunity to join virtual keynote and panel presentations directly from the conference platform, join breakout sessions in separate online conference windows, and visit the virtual exhibit hall to interact with exhibitors. Attendees were also able to schedule meetings with other attendees, sponsors, and exhibitors to elevate their networking experience.
Wednesday afternoon culminated in an interactive TxDOT Divisions Town Hall. Panelists included Dan Harmon (Aviation), Graham Bettis, PE (Bridges), Marisabel Ramthun PE (Design), Carlos Swonke PG (Environmental Affairs) and Martin Rodin PE (PEPS Professional Engineering Procurement Services). LeAnne Napolillo PE, F.ASCE (Vice President, HNTB Corporation) served as moderator and delegated questions from the audience to the panelists for an intriguing, multi-faceted and informative discussion about the future of TxDOT.
The afternoon was packed with breakout sessions covering a vast array of topics including a virtual tour of the FHWA Performance Engineered Mixture (PEM) initiative and Mobile Technology Center by Jagan Gudimettla, PE and Mike Praul PE. A networking opportunity on Wednesday night included a virtual Happy Hour with the ASCE Texas Section Leaders. The event was well attended and was a great conclusion to the first day of the virtual conference.
Thursday morning began with an Engineering Ethics presentation, “Proposed Watershed Changes to ASCE Code of Ethics,” featuring Steven Starrett PhD, D.WRE, F.ASCE, F.EWRI (LeTourneau University) and returning presenter Carlos Bertha PhD (Professor of Philosophy, United States Air Force Academy). The presentation highlighted the proposed improvements, changes, and challenges that result in a greatly different Code of Ethics, which was considered by the ASCE Board of Direction during their October 2020 meeting.
Shortly after the ethics session, attendees had the opportunity to watch the Lightning Round competition, evaluate each presentation, and vote for their favorite directly through the conference platform. This year’s Lightning Round winner was Jim O’Brien for his presentation, “Texas Water Management: A Fourfold Solution.”
Following the Thursday morning programming, attendees joined the Day 2 keynote session, “The Role of AI in Tomorrow’s Organizations,” featuring Toby Capello, Vice President for Watson AI Expert & Delivery Services (IBM). This presentation challenged the attendees’ status quo, as Capello shared examples of how organizations, roles, and functions are changing through the use of artificial intelligence (AI).
Thursday’s ASCE Region 6 Assembly was highlighted by “Spaceport America: From Concept to Development to Operation,” featuring William Gutman PhD (Director of Aerospace Operations, Spaceport America). This in-depth discussion covered the many achievements by Spaceport America over the years and the prediction that Spaceport America will join the elite group of spaceports that have hosted human spaceflight.
The afternoon held another set of informative and interactive breakout sessions followed by the Texas Legislative Panel discussion led by the ASCE Texas Section’s Government Affairs Committee. ASCE Texas Section 2020 President Susan Roth PE, PMP, moderated the interactive discussion featuring Texas Representative Dennis Paul PE, along with Texas Senator Bryan Hughes JD and Texas Representative Donna Howard.
AWARDS BANQUET HONORS OUTSTANDING CIVIL ENGINEERING PROJECTS & LEADERS
Thursday concluded with the highly anticipated ASCE Texas Awards Celebration and CECON Gala honoring award recipients for achieving excellence in the field of civil engineering.
ASCE Texas Section Executive Director Lindsay O’Leary PE, CAE, LEED AP and 2020 ASCE Texas Section President Susan Roth PE, PMP presented the following awards in a virtual format:
- Award of Honor: Daniel B. Hartman, PE, F.ASCE
- History and Heritage Award: David L. Collins PE, RPLS, F.ASCE
- Service to People Award: Dallas May, PE ENV SP, M.ASCE
- Professional Service to Students Award: Jessica L. Hilscher PE, M.ASCE
- Government Civil Engineer Award: Clay Forister PE, CFM, M.ASCE
- John A. Focht, Jr. Citizen Engineer Award: Thomas C. Kuykendall, JR. PE, M.ASCE
- President’s Special Recognition Award: 2020 Infrastructure Report Card Committee
- Lifetime Service Award: Garabed (Garo) Ardash Harutunian
- Texas OCEA Award: US 290 Program by TXDOT & HNTB Corporation
- Texas OCEA Award of Merit: State Highway 45 Southwest Tollway Project by Central Texas Regional Mobility Authority
Following the awards ceremony, the second day of CECON 2020 Virtual concluded with a lively evening of Virtual Bingo hosted by the ASCE Texas Section Younger Member Committee.
The third and final day of CECON 2020 Virtual kicked off on a high note with a morning packed full of well attended breakout sessions.
The combined ASCE Texas Section Business Meeting and Keynote, “Building a More Resilient Texas: Flood Mapping, Planning and Mitigation,” featuring Jeff Walker, Executive Administrator and Kathleen Jackson PE, Board Member (Texas Water Development Board) was hosted in the afternoon. The co-presentation focused on the new Flood Infrastructure Fund (FIF) Program regarding financial assistance available for flood control, flood mitigation and drainage projects as a result of the recent legislative session and approved by Texas voters through a constitutional amendment.
A virtual technical tour of the Baylor Scott & White Administration Center in Dallas, Texas concluded the conference, offering a unique experience of exploring the building’s two ‘superfloors.’
Though the late-August pivot from an in-person to virtual format conference presented challenges, CECON 2020 Virtual was a great success and received much positive feedback. Attendees are able to access the recording of sessions they missed or would like to watch again through April 2021 via the online platform, with the exception of the Legislative Panel and social activities, which were only available live.
CECON would not be possible without the countless volunteer hours invested from the dedicated CECON Planning Committee. This year’s tremendous undertaking of planning the in-person event, then shifting to a virtual one, was even more so. We are grateful to everyone who participated, making their planning efforts all worthwhile!
ASCE Texas Section’s CECON Planning Committee strives to make each year better than the last, incorporating lessons learned and best practices discovered the year before. The Committee has already begun planning for CECON 2021: “Laying the Foundations of Sustainability”. We look forward to seeing you face-to-face in San Marcos, Texas, in September!