ASCE’s Innovation Contest Energizes Great Ideas, Old and New

July 15, 2016
At the New Jersey Institute of Technology, winners in ASCE's Innovation Contest resilience category showed their ideas to leaders from Mott MacDonald and ASCE staff.
At the New Jersey Institute of Technology, winners in ASCE's Innovation Contest resilience category showed their ideas to leaders from Mott MacDonald and ASCE staff.

Pat Natale’s words hit close to home, even more than he knew.

“Innovation is really great, but sometimes it sits on the shelf,” Natale, P.E., Dist.M.ASCE, told the crowd assembled for the ASCE Innovation Contest Resilience Category symposium at the New Jersey Institute of Technology in Newark, July 13.

Mott MacDonald’s vice president of business strategies – ASCE’s executive director from 2002-2014 – was speaking generally about the importance of shining a light on innovative ideas, but to contest winner D. Matthew Stuart, it sounded as if Natale was addressing him directly.

For a concept he developed 25 years ago, Stuart, P.E., S.E., F.SEI, F.ASCE, earned the Most Feasible Award. ASCE’s Innovation Contest allowed Stuart to take his good idea off the shelf and give it new life.

“I was involved pretty heavily in post-tension design and prestress design [of concrete] in the first quarter of my career,” said Stuart, structural division manager for Pennoni Associates. “I had the idea then and really didn’t do much with it until this innovation contest.”

Stuart’s proposal, “Improving the Resilience of Sheathed, Unbonded Monostrand Post-Tensioned Construction,” was the first to be submitted when the ASCE Innovation Contest opened last winter.

“I thought, ‘What the heck? I’ll put it out there and see what happens,’” Stuart said. “It’s been very interesting. It’s certainly not something I really expected.”

Stuart’s experience reflects the exact kind of idea ASCE’s Industry Leaders Council had hoped to unearth when it launched the Innovation Contest last winter as part of the Society’s Grand Challenge strategic initiative to reduce infrastructure life-cycle costs.

Winners are being honored at separate events for each of four categories, and get to present their ideas to industry leaders. Mott MacDonald sponsored and hosted the resilience category event at NJIT.

‘Actuating’ innovations

Innovation Contest winners’ ideas may have a path to reality through the recent agreement ASCE signed with infrastructure “actuator” Smart City Works. Cofounder Greg Sauter,
M.ASCE, attended the event at NJIT to view and gauge winners’ potential.

Bringing ideas like Stuart’s to fruition requires business acumen and of course, funding. That’s where Smart City Works could be a collaborator.

“This is what’s really cool – the innovation contest does a great job of identifying those opportunities,” Sauter said. “So then some of those ideas can flow into the accelerator, we bring them in, and they come out ready to be applied.”

Sparking student innovators

Contest winners at NJIT enjoyed the added advantage of being scrutinized by an audience of nearly 100 eager postgraduate, undergrad, and even some pre-college students.

“It’s great,” said Eduardo Carlin, a civil engineering exchange student from Brazil. “Innovation is knocking down doors every time. It’s everything. Everything that has to be done, everything that’s game-changing, it’s all about innovation.”

Students enjoyed the presentations, especially taking to the submittal from Jason Magalen, P.E., M.ASCE, “Rise of the Drones: How Unmanned Surveying Can Help Make Our Coasts Resilient,” which earned the resilience category’s Best Value Award.

The drone technology caught the eye of Abhijit Bal, an electronic engineering student.
“It was really good,” Bal said. “If we manufactured the drones properly and combined with them, it would be a really fantastic technical application for the world.”

Nick DeNichilo, P.E., F.ASCE, president and CEO of Mott MacDonald North America, enjoyed getting the students to think in terms of innovation.

“To meet today’s challenges and tomorrow’s challenges, if we don’t innovate and create we’re just going to fall behind,” DeNichilo said. “The students, they’ll be the ones who will be there to really make a difference. So what a wonderful opportunity for us to help spark that.”

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