Civil engineering has been an aspect of life since the beginnings of human existence. Historians believe that the first documented engineer was Imhotep, who around 2550 BC built a famous stepped pyramid at Saqqara Necropolis. Using simple tools and mathematics he created a monument that stands to this day. Those who followed him carried engineering to remarkable heights using skill and imagination.
Today, the civil engineering profession has grown in scope and size to not only deal with the building of structures like the pyramids but with the planning, design, construction, operation, and maintenance of buildings, dams, bridges, harbors, power facilities, pollution control facilities, water supply, and transportation systems.
Occurring each February during the week of George Washington’s birthday, National Engineers Week (E-Week) has been embraced by students and adults alike as a way to honor and appreciate the work that engineers have accomplished to shape the world that we live in.
With this year’s theme, Celebrate Awesome, nearly every ASCE Section and Branch commemorated E-Week this February 17-23 by holding special events in collaboration with other engineering societies, corporate sponsors, museums, community organizations, and state and local governments. Among this year’s events were everything from luncheons, science fairs, banquets, high school programs and presentations, billboards, Introduce a Girl to Civil Engineering Days, events with state legislators, and toothpick and Popsicle stick bridge contests, to having an E-Week proclamation presented by the state’s governor.
Here is a sampling of what some Sections and Branches have done this year.
Over 350 high school students participated in the 49th Annual Engineers Week High School Program, held February 20, whose overall goal is to more adequately prepare kids for college, particularly those who decide to choose a career path in the engineering profession. The event, organized by the Oregon Section in partnership with the American Council of Engineering Companies Oregon, the Structural Engineers Association of Oregon, the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers, and the Professional Engineers of Oregon, annually reaches out to 90 high schools in the Portland area in Clackamas, Columbia, Multnomah, Washington, and Yamhill Counties in Oregon, and Clark County in Washington State. More than 250 local engineers volunteered to help at the event.
“What we do,” says Tova R. Peltz, P.E., GE, CEG, M.ASCE, event coordinator for the annual high school E-Week program and assistant project manager at the Oregon Department of Transportation-Beaverton Construction Office, “is reach out to high schools in northern Oregon and southwest Washington, and ask high school teachers and counselors to invite up to 10 students from their schools to attend the day-long event.
“And what we want to do is introduce students who have already shown an interest in STEM [science, technology, engineering, and math] to what a career in engineering encompasses.”
Noting that one of the objectives of the event is to promote gender, cultural, and economic diversity, Peltz says the program starts in the morning with a workshop designed specifically for minority and female students to hear from local engineers and talk about what engineering actually is, work together on a design activity, and learn how to apply to and get into a college engineering program.
In the afternoon, the entire contingent of students, teachers, and event volunteers gets on buses and heads out for one of 15 different field trip destinations. The range of tours includes green buildings, bridge construction projects, biomechanical engineering labs, and fabrication facilities.
“One thing we do on these field trips is to make sure the engineers are not just walking through the construction site and just talking about the project, but rather share with students how they came to be on that project, what they do every day at work, and what they studied in school. Because one thing that I have noticed about engineers is that we all have really different stories and everybody found their engineering path a little differently.”
Upon returning from the two and a half-hour field trips, the students head to the exhibit hall set up in the Oregon State Office Building.
“This is a great opportunity for the kids to walk around and talk to people about engineering and engineering options as a career,” says Peltz. Exhibitors range from college engineering programs, engineering organizations like ASCE, and public agencies like the Oregon Department of Transportation and the Portland Water Bureau.
Peltz, who has been organizing the event for the past eight years, raised approximately $30,000 to cover this year’s event expenses.
The day ends with an evening banquet, which this year was attended by over 600 people.
“One of my favorite things about the event is at 4:30 p.m. when the students return from their field trips, they have this expression of amazement on their face because they just saw something that they did not know anything about and now are interested in,” she concluded.
If you happened to be driving around Atlanta, Georgia, during E-Week you may have noticed billboards posing the question, “Did You Have Clean Water Today? Thank a Civil Engineer.” That was one of eight different “Thank an Engineer” designs featured on six rotating electronic billboards at locations in the Atlanta area.
The billboards were part of an E-Week campaign organized by the Georgia Section to make people more aware of what civil engineers do and get kids in school to think about a career in civil engineering.
“Our billboard vendor estimates that we had 9,966 displays of our ‘Thank an Engineer’ message between February 6 and 24,” says Katherine McLeod Gurd, P.E., M.ASCE, president-elect of the Georgia Section, co-organizer of the Section’s E-Week events, and project manager with the Atlanta, Georgia office of AECOM. “But overall, the goal with our E-Week events is to get people throughout the state to recognize the work that civil engineers do in our community.”
Partnering with other engineering organizations through the Georgia Engineering Alliance—the Georgia Society of Professional Engineers, the American Society of Highway Engineers, the Georgia Engineering Foundation, the Georgia Minority Consulting Engineers Association, the Georgia Minority Consulting Engineers Association, the Intelligent Transportation Society, the Structural Engineers Association of Georgia, and the Women’s Transportation Seminar— the Georgia Section participated in a series of E-Week events. Those include Introduce a Girl to Engineering Day, the 2013 Engineers Week Awards Gala, a Legislative Reception at the State Capital, Engineers Day at the Capitol, a toothpick bridge competition, and five educational engineering presentations at middle and high schools.
Finally, the Section uses E-Week to kick off their annual “What Do Civil Engineers Do?” contest for middle school students. To answer the question, the kids are asked to create their own original projects, which could be almost anything they could think of, from building a model of a bridge, to writing a school essay, to producing a video. A certificate and monetary awards of $300 for first place, $100 for second place, and $25 for honorable mention are given for each grade level.
“We ask the students to put together a project of their choice to describe what civil engineers do, and it really allows them to use their creativity,” says McLeod Gurd of the contest, which will be judged by Section members in April. “It could be anything; some kids will write a paper and others will put together a video. [Last year] we had a group of boys who wrote a song about civil engineers, choreographed it, and sent us a video.”
Los Angeles, California
In 1994, the Los Angeles Younger Member Forum decided to celebrate E-Week by holding a free Popsicle stick bridge competition for local high school students as a fun way for kids to learn how to work collaboratively to solve an engineering problem and also explain what a civil engineer is and does.
Now in its 19th year, the Popsicle Stick Bridge Competition has grown from a small local contest into a large, full-day event that is not just confined to building a bridge and testing its strength, but also includes a poster competition, technical reports, student presentations, a tour of Union Station, and impromptu events. And where in the past it just encompassed Los Angeles high schools, the event now includes Orange County and the Inland Empire—Riverside, San Bernardino, and Ontario metropolitan area high schools as well.
“What we tried to do was come up with a full-day engineering activity for the students,” explained Francisco Aragon, P.E., M.ASCE, president of the Los Angeles Younger Member Forum and project engineer with the Los Angeles, California office of HNTB Corporation. “And create an exercise that will not only open up a kid’s eyes to the possibility of being an engineer in the future but also make the public aware that we are here to celebrate Engineers Week.
“We also wanted to try and reach out to a lot of the urban high schools in the Los Angeles area that don’t necessarily have many opportunities for civil engineering projects like this outside of the classroom, where they get a chance to interact with professional engineers.”
The first phase of the project is the bridge design and construction, where students are given a set of rules a couple of months before the E-Week contest, and then bring the completed bridge to the competition, held at the Los Angeles Union Station, to be load tested to discover which is the strongest. Students are encouraged to hold smaller competitions in the classroom to determine the school’s best design and determine which bridge to bring to the competition. For the second and third phases of the competition, the students make a poster of their design and then make a presentation at the competition before a panel of four civil engineer judges.
“Within the five minute timeframe, they will get to tell us what they learned, what worked for them and what did not work, and the challenges that they had to overcome,” says Aragon. “The final phase is we have the students take part in what we call an impromptu competition. This year we had the students build a tower or castle made out of red cups and the competition was to try and design a catapult that would knock the other team’s castle down. The students learn how to use their creative juices by designing something right on the spot.”
The day’s activities this year included a tour of historic Los Angeles Union Station, led by an engineer with the Los Angeles Metropolitan Transportation Authority, who spoke to the students about the engineering challenge of mixing existing historic structures with the development of new high-speed rail system.
This year a total of 75 teams, representing over 170 students, showed up to the competition. To celebrate the Los Angeles Section Centennial, members from Los Angeles, Orange County, and San Bernardino-Riverside Younger Member Forums all contributed to the planning of the event. For their work on this project, the Los Angeles Younger Member Forum has received the Harry Staubs Memorial Award for Community Service and was recognized in 2010 by the Los Angeles Council of Engineers and Scientists.
“There is a lot of work that goes into the competition, and we are very proud of what we have accomplished,” says Aragon, who had over 60 Young Member Forum volunteers help out during the event. “But, in the end, when everybody sees all the kids having so much fun and you see the event coming together, you know the time and effort was well worthwhile, because you may be looking at the civil engineers of tomorrow.”
Listed in the city’s Official Visitors Guide as the most visited museum in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, the Carnegie Science Center includes four floors of interactive experiences, including a coral reef aquarium, the Miniature Railroad & Village, the Buhl Digital Planetarium, a World War II submarine, the Highmark SportsWorks, and the Robot Hall of Fame, which includes the world’s largest permanent robotics exhibit.
In recognition of E-Week, the Carnegie Science Center on February 22-23 presented “Engineer the Future,” a celebration of the science of engineering, which highlighted the Pittsburgh area’s achievements and advancement in architecture, building, and construction. According to a museum’s spokesperson, approximately 4,000 people showed up at the two-day event. Among the four floors of attractions and demonstrations were the American Institute of Chemical Engineers helping kids create their own Super Ball, the University of Pittsburgh School of Engineering building and creating robots using Lego Mindstorm, and Carnegie Mellon University Chemical Engineering showing people how to convert recyclables into new products.
Right there to provide insight into the civil engineering profession to students and the general public were 26 volunteers from the ASCE Pittsburgh Section, who set up a table to illustrate a variety of civil engineering principles using three hands-on displays and models of real-life engineering challenges.
“We were one of the first booths as people enter the Science Center, and what we did, using ASCE’s Career Fair-in-a-Box kit, was set up our table with ASCE handouts such as pencils and bookmarks, three engineering display models, and a civil engineering video, produced by our Younger Member Group, that runs on a continuous loop,” said Matthew Kusic, P.E., M.ASCE, organizer of the ASCE booth display, chair of the Pittsburgh Section’s Education Outreach Committee, and project manager in the Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, office of L.R. Kimball and Associates.
“Our most popular display is what we called ‘Enviroscape,’ which is a plastic, three dimensional model that demonstrates the principles of how pollution gets into stormwater runoff and that ends up in the bodies of water that we are drinking,” Kusic added.
The other two interactive displays, Kusic explained, explored the methodology behind the construction of a suspension bridge and the science behind a landslide and how you can fix it by building a retaining wall.
“It’s an absolutely fun two days for everyone, including our volunteers,” notes Kusic, of the event that the Pittsburgh Section has been involved in for at least the past 15 years. “What we hope to do by taking part in this event is to let kids know what it is that a civil engineer does; not just solely work on roadways or bridges, but there are all these other exciting projects that we work on and things that we do. They now realize that civil engineers work in other areas such as water resources, technical, environmental, etc.”
The Pittsburgh Section’s E-Week activities concluded on February 23, by taking part in the E-Week Annual Awards Banquet, organized by the Engineer’s Society of Western Pennsylvania. Honored at the event was ASCE’s immediate past president, Andrew W. Herrmann, P.E., SECB, F.ASCE, who was named Civil Engineer of the Year; Timothy Brett, who was named Young Civil Engineer of the Year; and Anthony T. Iannacchione, Ph.D., PG, P.E., M.ASCE, who was named Professor of the Year.
Like many other states across the U.S., Ohio was honored this year to have its governor sign an E-Week Proclamation. On February 17, Ohio Governor John R. Kasich declared February 17-23 National Engineers Week and signed a document which concluded: “We are proud to join with all Ohioans in saluting engineers whose splendid efforts have significantly contributed to the economic health and vitality of our Buckeye State.”
“This was a proud moment for many of us engineers in Ohio,” says A.J. Smith, P.E., M.ASCE, secretary of ASCE’s Central Ohio Section and project engineer with the Dublin, Ohio, office of S&ME, Inc. “I think that it is important because it helps bring awareness to our profession, especially to non-engineers.”
The E-Week Proclamation was read as part of the annual Central Ohio Engineers Week Luncheon held on February 21. Organized in partnership with the ASCE Central Ohio Section, the American Public Works Association, the American Society of Highway Engineers, the Engineers Club, the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers, the Institute of Transportation Engineers, the Ohio Society of Professional Engineers (OSPE), the Society of Manufacturing Engineers, and the Women in Transportation Seminar, the event had over 250 people in attendance.
About 40 area junior and senior high school students who are either interested in engineering or part of a math and science club were invited to the Engineers Week Luncheon.
“I think that is great that we bring in the high school students to this event each year,” says Smith. “The luncheon speaker talked about the STEM [science, technology, engineering, and math] courses in high school and how to prepare the prospective engineers. The luncheon gave us the opportunity to mingle with students for about a half hour to 45 minutes. We were able to talk to the students and ask them what they are involved in, and then tell them what we do as engineer professionals.”
OSPE president Dave Kuhn kicked off the luncheon by reading the E-Week Proclamation in full. Among the highlights:
“WHEREAS, Ohio engineers apply their scientific and technical knowledge and skills in creative and innovative ways to support the survival of humanity, improve quality of life, and solve problems …
“WHEREAS, Ohio engineers face the major technological challenges of our time—from rebuilding towns devastated by natural disasters to harnessing fuel sources for the coming generations …
“WHEREAS, Ohio employs numerous engineers whose work is often invisible to the public who directly benefit from it, and are therefore worthy of special recognition …
“WHEREAS, Ohio engineers are encouraging our young math and science students to realize the immense power of their knowledge;
WHEREAS, we will look more than ever to Ohio’s engineers and their knowledge and skills to meet the challenges of the future;
WHEREAS, Ohio engineers make our lives healthier, easier, and more productive;
Now, therefore I, John R. Kasich, governor of the State of Ohio, do hereby proclaim February 17-23, 2013, as National Engineers Week throughout the State of Ohio.”