Making Connections and Keeping Them Through ASCE
by Nancy Straub Cline PE, F.ASCE
Howdy, ASCE Texas Section! I am currently serving as Vice-President of the Dallas Branch of ASCE. It has been a great experience and I hope to share some thoughts on what ASCE has meant to me personally and professionally while having fun CONNECTING with members of ASCE. I know I am leaving out people that are very important to me but there is only so much room!
My ASCE story began at Texas A&M. I was excited to be able to leave home to attend Texas A&M University after graduating from high school. My father worked as a chemical engineer in the oil industry of Port Arthur, TX, so I thought chemical engineering would be a good place to start my studies. After my sophomore year, I found a major I loved when I realized that I preferred something more “concrete” and less abstract and switched to civil engineering! After switching majors, I got involved with ASCE for the first time, and my senior year I served as the Treasurer of the school’s Student Chapter of ASCE. [I often questioned the amount of money needed in the budget for concrete canoes and beer ($4000! – quite a bit, especially in the 1980s!!), but student chapter advisor Dr. Marquis approved the expenditures.] For two summers, I interned for Mr. Bill Potter at the Port Arthur TxDOT office. He assigned me projects to inspect, gave me a truck, and checked on me at least once a week. It was an exciting time of learning to read plans and understand materials and construction quickly.
Due to influence of several professors (Dr. Neil Rowan, Dr. John Mason, Dr. Dan Fambro, and Dr. Virgil Stover), I wound up pursuing a master’s degree at Texas A&M in Transportation Engineering and working for TTI. I worked on several interesting research projects, including a short course on AASHTO Green Book, and completed my masters on Longer and Wider Truck Turning Templates. This was my only effort at being “published” with research, but it taught me a lot. I was influenced by Dr. Don Maxwell, Dr. Bruner, Dr. Dudek, Dr. Don Woods and Dr. Carroll Messer and met many other students while at A&M that I still catch up with often. I met my husband, Jim Cline, while we were both civil engineering students, and we got married following our completion of our master’s degree courses. ASCE helped me connect with other students and professors.
“As a younger member, I was impressed by the other women in ASCE managing to have a career, children, and volunteer.“
After graduation, I worked for the City of Dallas, along with 26 other EITs! I was surrounded by some great, young engineers in addition to the older engineers who were strong, positive influences who embraced the chance to teach us a lot. It was a great group where I made connections that continue to be in my network of friends and colleagues. I rotated through several experiences in Transportation Planning, Private Development review, Public Works Design and Construction as part of the EIT rotation program. One of our mentors, Bill Jessup, would drive any of the young engineers that would go to the monthly ASCE meetings. He encouraged us to get involved with ASCE and/or TSPE and convinced us to volunteer for various positions as newsletter editor, treasurer, MATHCOUNTS volunteer, etc. in the Branch. Some of the EIT’s are Alan Hendrix, Ben Cernosek, Diane Combs (director of Hillcrest High School Engineering Academy), Alberta Blair, Susan Iman White, Diane Morris Combs, Henry Nguyen, Quinn Spann, Gene Gonzalez, Johnny Sudbury, Steve Schell, Steve Parker, and Jill Schneberger to name a few.
My husband and I then decided to move to Beaumont, where we were nearer to my parents. I worked in the private sector focusing on transportation and drainage projects, while my husband worked for the City of Beaumont. My father passed away soon after we moved to Beaumont, but it was great to be close to my mother. We had our three children while in Beaumont—Bob, Greg, and Allison. My involvement in ASCE continued to grow, where I served as the Southeast Texas Branch officer for several years and was ultimately President. ASCE provided both leadership conferences and excellent continuing education opportunities on cutting edge regulations and modeling. I had a supportive employer and was able to car-pool with Ricky Bourque to numerous Texas Section conferences, etc., where I met many other civil engineers from throughout the state.
In addition to my involvement with ASCE, I also began getting more involved in the community. Through the Junior League of Beaumont, I volunteered in classrooms, did overnight camps for children, and gathered food donations. I believe that civil engineers have a great opportunity to serve their community both in and out of the office. I met Kathleen Jackson who is currently with the Texas Water Development Board both through Junior League and she had encroachments in the right-of-way of a creek restoration project right-of-way.
After finishing my term as Southeast Branch President, Dr. Jerry Rogers (Houston Branch) encouraged me to remain active in ASCE, and I served various roles, such as Director-at-large, Vice-President Technical, Honors Committee Chair and ultimately President. As a younger member, I was impressed by the other women in ASCE managing to have a career, children, and volunteer, such as Martha Juch and Julie Kenfield. I made many friends during this time that helped me have a lot of fun! Later in my career, again from Dr. Rogers urging, I was nominated for the ASCE Edmund Friedman Young Engineer Award, which I received in San Diego in 1995. When I met Kwame Agyare, Director from California ASCE Region 9 on the board 20 years later, he told me he remembered meeting at the Awards ceremony! This was just one of the many “small-world” experiences ASCE has brought me.
One of my favorite memories include when, as a younger member Director-at-Large, I wound up being responsible for the concrete canoe races in Beaumont. At that event, I received a brutal understanding of the competitive, take no hostages, approach of several schools as they fought to get others disqualified, ram canoes, etc. I realized I was in way over my head with the decision on some of the rules and looked to Dr. Ken Rainwater for help who seemed to find it entertaining at how much I under-estimated the challenge of running the competition. Other volunteers such as Dr. Jim Williams, Linda Pehacek, Mike Lacy, Ted Cleveland, Dan Pickett, and others helped keep the student activities running smooth. It is heart-warming to see the camaraderie of volunteering for student activities continuing today. I appreciate that volunteers such as Kimberly Cornett, Alexis Clark, Sean Merrell, Jessica Hilscher, Joe Alvarez, and Cynthia Syvarth that I have seen take the reins in recent years!
“ASCE provided both leadership conferences and excellent continuing education opportunities on cutting edge regulations and modeling.”
I was also lucky to serve as Texas Section President during the 95th anniversary year! Meetings were held in Corpus Christi and in Addison where I worked. They were great meetings, and I was also blessed to have Martha Juch as the Executive Director of the ASCE Texas Section while I was President. Martha let the officers visiting for Texas Section Executive Committee meetings bunk in various appropriate guest quarters at her house. We had a lot of fun catching up with Martha both about Texas Section ASCE and life in general. She introduced me to Round Rock Donuts. Martha is also a tremendous positive influence, particularly professionally. Martha was also the first woman President of the Texas Section.
Another memory that means a lot to me was during Ken Rainwater’s year as President. Ken Rainwater and I visited past-President Dan Hartman in the hospital in San Antonio after he was in a terrible automobile accident. The loving support given to Dan’s family while he recovered from the accident by the San Antonio ASCE Branch is another memory I will always cherish.
My ASCE journey then took me to serving as a Region 6 Governor while Martha was Region 6 Director on the Board. Martha had HIGH expectations. ASCE President Greg DiLoreto appointed me to the Committee on Licensure where I also served with Martha Juch and met Norma Jean Mattei. After completing her term as a Region 6 Governor where I served with Dan Hartman, Ken Rainwater, Gary Struzick, and Governors from Oklahoma and New Mexico. I took a couple of years off until the opportunity occurred to serve as Region 6 Director on the Board during Norma Jean Mattei’s ASCE presidency. Norma Jean was a great President and I learned a lot. I was lucky to lead the Region 6 governors and meet Patricia Frayre, Jeremy Stahle, David Calabuig, Jerry Paz, and get to work with Tim Newton, Sanford LaHue, and Sean Merrell. I enjoyed traveling to speak to different ASCE branches and especially serving Region 6 on the Board and working to include a member from Mexico on our Region 6 Board of Governors. I was appointed to the Program and Finance Committee, the Committee on Sustainability and MCC. My favorite opportunity is something any Texas Section member can volunteer for – the annual ASCE Legislative Fly-In and Texas Legislative Drive-In!
I always encourage civil engineers to take part in their community outside of their professional role, whenever possible. My career has allowed me to benefit my communities’ infrastructure quality, but through other avenues, I feel that I have also had the opportunity to make a difference. While busy volunteering with ASCE, I ran for a position on the local school board. I served on the board for 15 years until December 2020 and was President of the Board for four of those years. This role was rewarding and challenging, with the most difficult time periods including selecting new superintendents for the District and, most recently, voting on whether to bring students back to the classroom during the pandemic. I have also been active in various PTA’s, booster clubs, and my church in several different positions. I was also fortunate to be appointed by Bob Pence to the Texas A&M Civil Engineering Advisory Council in the early 2000’s which I enjoyed greatly.
Running for office
I got a wild idea two years ago and ran for State Representative District 65 in Denton County, Texas! While I did not win the primary, I am proud of how it went and the lessons I learned along the way. I am happy to share the inside scoop with anyone contemplating running for office. I am currently pondering my next goals and am happy to be serving as Dallas Branch Vice-President with other amazing Dallas Branch officers in an “Outstanding Large Branch of the Year” from 2016 to 2019.
Our family has always been there for each other. Whether putting up campaign signs, tag teaming on professional society activities, supporting each other during a year-long activation/deployment, and the various ups and down we all face. My husband served in the Texas Army National Guard for 28 years as a combat engineer. His career took him through twenty years of municipal traffic and public works engineering and 8 years as a transit CEO. He is currently a Sr. Research Engineer with Texas A&M Transportation Institute. We have lived in Carrollton for over twenty years and are empty nesters with our two Golden Retrievers, Daisy and Gracie. My daughter, Allison has advised me that I should avoid becoming a “crazy dog lady” and I am trying. Our three children graduated from Texas A&M and, while they do not always heed my advice, we are very proud of them. Both Bob and Allison were even involved in ASCE through the concrete canoe competition!
The technical resources available through ASCE, combined with the long-lasting friendships and mentorships that my involvement in ASCE has brought me, has brightened my life and I would choose this path again.
I believe that civil engineers are some of the best people, and always support their role in local and government positions. I have learned, and am continuing to learn, a lot throughout my career and am always so happy to share my experiences! Please don’t hesitate to reach out if you have any questions about how to be more involved in ASCE. This COVID time of our lives is crazy and I am very much looking forward to “seeing” my ASCE member friends in real life!