Doug Simon first got excited about the idea when he was putting together the latest edition of the ASCE Alaska Section’s Anchorage Branch newsletter. A note about the Community Engineering Corps turned up in his news roundup. It sounded intriguing.
Just like that, he decided to make a presentation at a Branch meeting and attracted interest from other members, which led to a Community Engineering Corps project in Anchorage, designing a playground for a local Salvation Army facility.
“There was a very clear need,” said Simon, P.E., M.ASCE, now president of the ASCE Anchorage Branch. “It was easy to see that it was a way for me to give back and contribute to the community in a new way.”
Community Engineering Corps launched in 2014 as an alliance between ASCE, the American Water Works Association, and Engineers Without Borders USA, to connect volunteer engineers with infrastructure projects needing help in underserved U.S. communities.
ASCE members – as individuals, or through their Sections, Branches, or Student Chapters – can contribute to one of the ongoing CE Corps projects around the nation.
Or members can follow Doug Simon and ASCE Anchorage’s lead and form a project team for new work.
“ASCE, as a partner in Community Engineering Corps, has easy access to volunteer in different ways,” said Clare Haas Claveau, P.E., Community Engineering Corps director.
“Deteriorating infrastructure affects us all, but underserved communities experience this even more acutely. CE Corps needs ASCE civil engineers in all areas of infrastructure to lend their skills toward helping to meet basic human needs in underserved communities across the nation,” said Claveau.
Ann-Perry Witmer, P.E., M.ASCE, an engineering professor at the University of Illinois, heads CE Corps’ project review committee. She’s passionate about service work but says one must be careful in selecting and executing a project.
“I used to think, ‘Well, the best thing to do is to do something,’” Witmer said. “That’s not necessarily the best approach. We’re trying to know what the ingredients are that make an engineering project successful.”
It starts, she said, by asking the right questions.
“Usually we ask, ‘What can I do?’” Witmer said. “But No. 1 needs to be, ‘Is this what the community wants?’ Think in context and not in your own experience.”
That’s how Simon approached CE Corps in Alaska. Where does the community need help? What can we do to provide that help?
Civil engineering fundamentally is a community service, so it makes sense that civil engineers are taking the lead in this kind of work.
“Civil engineering is a profession that provides a specialized service to the community and to our country as a whole,” Simon said.
“So we have these specialized skills. And through CE Corps, you get to apply those skills to a problem within the community that might not otherwise be addressed.”
Learn more about how to get involved at communityengineeringcorps.org.