Keynote Speaker’s Diversity Message Inspires ASCE Convention

September 30, 2016
Frans Johansson delivers his opening keynote at the ASCE 2016 Convention, Sept. 29. Photo by  Jim Tkatch for ASCE
Frans Johansson delivers his opening keynote at the ASCE 2016 Convention, Sept. 29. Photo by Jim Tkatch for ASCE

Civil engineering and fashion models?

Believe or not, there is a connection there.

Frans Johansson, the ASCE 2016 Convention opening keynote speaker, challenged attendees Thursday morning during his talk at the opening plenary to combine seemingly disparate concepts and perspectives – including, yes, civil engineering and the world of high fashion, for example – to generate fresh approaches and new ideas.

“Something happens when you introduce an unexpected, diverse element into a conversation – something remarkable,” Johansson told the crowd. “It awakens us. It encourages us to look at things in new and different ways.”

Johansson opened with a quick 90-second autobiography. He’s of African-American, Cherokee, and Swedish descent, and his career path has even more intersections – business, finance, science, and education. Many of the concepts he brought to the ASCE audience Thursday – ways that diversity drives innovation – he first laid out in a bestselling book, The Medici Effect.

That message resonated with many ASCE members.

“We need diversity. It empowers you to look for different solutions in different ways,” said Micki Chung, S.M.ASCE, a student at the Illinois Institute of Technology. “Different minds and different cultures can bring about new creations.”

Cristina Alarcón, a classmate of Chung’s at IIT, agreed: “For me, I am Hispanic, so it’s good to see that diversity is being emphasized. We really do need that. The stereotype is that the engineering field is a lot of older white males. So just this idea that there are people that are open to making sure diversity is included is great. There’s going to be a brighter future for engineering.”

View a slideshow of Convention highlights from Day Two:

ASCE 2016 Convention Day 2

Johansson stressed the importance of not only a diversity of people and ideas but also a commitment to inclusion.

“Sometimes we think we’ve put together a diverse team, and, in reality, maybe they’ve all had the same experiences; they just look different,” said ASCE 2017 President-Elect Kristina Swallow, P.E., ENV SP, F.ASCE. “So we need to make sure that we’re actually being inclusive of different ideas and being inclusive of different people and different experiences. That’s how we’re going to get the best ideas.”

Kristie Dunkin, Ph.D., might be the perfect example of Johansson’s philosophies in practice. She is a managing director for the Chambers Group in Santa Ana, CA. Funny thing for an attendee of a civil engineering convention: she’s not a civil engineer.

“I work in the interface between the stakeholders and the engineers,” said Dunkin, a trained scientist who has done project program management and strategic advising for Chambers. “I’m usually in a room with a diverse group of people and a diverse group of outlooks.

“I’ve always been one of those people that had to cross boundaries to do what I needed to do. And when [Johansson] started talking, he put it together in a way that was eye-opening and absolutely inspiring.”

Distinguished Members and role models

Always a highlight of the Convention schedule, the Celebration of Leaders Luncheon honored the 2016 class of ASCE Distinguished Members while also inspiring younger members to someday reach similar accomplishments.

“There is no more noble thing we can do than serve our communities as engineers, solving problems,” said James Rispoli, P.E., BCEE, NAC, Dist.M.ASCE.

Here is the class of 2016. Click each to read their biography.

M. Hanif Chaudhry, Ph.D., P.E., Dist.M.ASCE
Gary Y.K. Chock, S.E., D.CE, F.SEI, Dist.M.ASCE
Raymond “Paul” Giroux, Dist.M.ASCE
Kenneth C. Hover, Ph.D., P.E., Dist.M.ASCE
Jay R. Lund, Ph.D., F.EWRI, Dist.M.ASCE
Patrick J. Natale, P.E., CAE, Dist.M.ASCE
James A. Rispoli, P.E., BCEE, NAC, Dist.M.ASCE
Heinz G. Stefan, Dr.Ing., Dist.M.ASCE
Kenneth H. Stokoe II, Ph.D., P.E., NAE, Dist.M.ASCE

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