5 Lessons Learned From the COVID-19 Community Calls Series

May 21, 2020

April 2020 is not a month anyone will forget anytime soon, as the coronavirus pandemic emptied city streets and shuttered many businesses.

The ASCE Plot Points podcast’s COVID-19 Community Calls series featured 33 phone calls in 33 days – April 1 through May 3 – talking to 33 different civil engineers about how the pandemic changed their jobs, their communities and their lives.

Taken as a whole, several key themes emerge about the civil engineering industry’s collective experience through this very strange springtime.

Here are five lessons learned from the COVID-19 Community Calls series:

Civil engineering is essential

Truth be told, the civil engineering industry never really stopped. Even amid mass shelter-in-place orders, many construction projects throughout the country continued in April.

Community Call 3 – ASCE Region 1 Director Tony Cioffi talks about the work he’s done on the Kew Gardens Interchange Phase 4 project in New York City.

Community Call 19 – Chad Morrison, president-elect for the Rhode Island Section, discusses the different kinds of projects that have been deemed essential near his home.

Nothing about this is easy

It’s good to try to highlight silver linings – maybe you get to spend more time with your children? – but ultimately, the coronavirus pandemic has made nearly every aspect of life more difficult. In many ways, on many levels.

Community Call 2 – Vivian Chong discusses how odd it is to be a graduating senior in the middle of a pandemic.

Community Call 13 – Mike Howell, founder and president of Arrow Engineering, a structural engineering firm in Morgantown, West Virginia, talks about the challenges facing small businesses.

Community Call 15 – Gabrielle Grompone, a young engineer in New Jersey, talks about the emotional difficulty in simply missing your colleagues on the construction site.

It’s not just New York

New York City quickly became the largest COVID-19 hotspot in the United States. But the pandemic’s ripple effects were felt in every community – big, small, urban, rural. Even in places with few reported cases, life changed dramatically.

Community Call 20 – Marie Stamm takes us to Nebraska, where life has gotten very complicated for her family.

Everyone has their own story

The Community Calls series highlighted two things that on the surface would seem to be contradictory.

One, we are all going through the same thing together at the same time.

But also, everyone’s specific pandemic story is unique.

Community Call 7 – Marsia Geldert-Murphey, former ASCE Region 6 director, tells the story of how her civil engineering connections around the world helped her get her daughter home from a research trip in New Zealand.

Community Call 16 – Region 10 Director Elias Boutros Sayah talks about how he’s dealing with his family being separated across two countries – half in the United Arab Emirates, half in Detroit, Michigan – during pandemic lockdown.

There are – in spite of it all – reasons for optimism

Despite all the adversity and hurt, civil engineers by and large remain optimistic. Much of that probably stems from a resourcefulness inherent to the profession – and the innovations of April point toward a brighter future.

Community Call 5 – Cherylyn Henry, a longtime leader in ASCE’s Structural Engineering Institute, talks about one way she’s tried to keep her colleagues connected and optimistic: a virtual running group.

Community Call 33 – ASCE President K.N. (“Guna”) Gunalan delivers a message of hope for the industry’s post-pandemic landscape.

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