Arrive alone, leave with a hundred friends

October 21, 2011

After all my morning travel I was a bit groggy, but I had made the commitment to participate in the ASCE conference in full. On my way to the opening plenary session I recognized two ASCE staff members standing outside the main ballroom. After some brief catch-up, we launched right into discussion about the upcoming weekend

Audrey was coordinating my session on Social Media. Did we have an internet connection? No. Wendy offered to let us use her wireless network card. Problem recognized; problem solved. The next order of business would be to complete registration. Jane would help me with that, but could I find her…

Clem was standing at the rear of the crowd. We exchanged pleasantries until Kyle stepped up and the two left to prepare for their first session. I was about to return to registration until Anthony walked up. Since connecting online through this blog, we had met in Las Vegas and Chicago for ASCE events. As we were catching up, my phone rang.

It was Marty. He recently joined the SEI Sustainability Committee, and we had arranged to meet over the weekend. As I walked out of the ballroom, I noticed him in the corner. The first thing I asked was how he got a 734 area code for his cell phone. It turns out we are both University of Michigan alumni. But just as we started sharing more background, I noticed Jane in the hallway. I had to get that registration thing taken care of.

At the booth, Jane introduced me to David who would be presenting on sustainability in the reconstruction of New Orleans. I explained that we could use his insight on a Civil Engineering Magazine special edition that was being considered. We exchanged cards and I moved on to find the line for lunch.

On the way, I ran into Greg. We talked briefly about our families. I explained that this was really the first time I had taken a trip without my infant daughter. Then Melissa surprised me with a hug. It was great to see her again. We had been classmates at Michigan, but now she lives in Seattle. Melissa introduced me to the always large group of attendees from her section.

The trend continued through lunch where I noticed Tom, an engineer with a major energy company in North Carolina. I always learn a lot about the challenges faced by energy companies’ efforts to implement alternative energy sources. On this occasion, he explained the challenges in providing transmission from off-shore turbines.

Another new friend, Brad, joined our energy conversation. After a brief introduction, I learned that Brad recently moved to Dearborn, Michigan. My Aunt used to live there, so I told Brad about my childhood experiences at Greenfield Village and the Henry Ford Museum.

Across the table a group of students from the University of Illinois inquired about my background. They were really interested in the structural design that I specialize in. I invited them to my office in Chicago. Meanwhile, I overheard a graduate of the Ohio Northern University describe her experience on the concrete canoe team. I jumped right in and exclaimed that it’s the best preparation for learning design responsibility. If your canoe design fails, your good friends could get soaked in very cold water.

Between 11:00 and 1:00, I had already met with dozens of old friends and new acquaintances. I’ve been coming to the ASCE conference for several years, and each year the thing I enjoy most is talking with the other civil engineers. I usually travel to the conference by myself. It’s not a coincidence that I’ve made so many connections. Civil engineers make for fast friends if you take the initiative to strike up a conversation.

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