‘Disruptive Thinking’ Sets Tone for ASCE 2015 Convention

October 13, 2015
Luke Williams speaks during the ASCE 2015 Convention opening plenary. PHOTO: David Hathcox for ASCE

The ASCE 2015 Convention began officially Monday with a disruption.

The bestselling author of Disrupt, a book that outlines ways “disruptive thinking” can lead to innovation, shared some of those thoughts and how they apply to civil engineering. Luke Williams, professor of innovation at the New York University Stern School of Business, delivered the keynote speech at the opening plenary session.

“He was a great speaker. Really dynamic. Made you think,” said Jon Zufelt, a member of the Convention Advisory Council. “The way to innovation is not the obvious path. Don’t be incremental. Don’t be afraid to try something that’s totally outside of the box.”

Williams’ background is in the business world, but his disruptive thinking concepts apply to civil engineering. One such example is the ASCE Industry Leaders Council’s Grand Challenge program, which seeks a drastic reduction in infrastructure life-cycle costs over the next 10 years.Convention2015icon

“A lot of people believe – and this can be the engineering mindset – that innovation is about invention,” Williams told ASCE News said after his presentation. “But in order to meet the Grand Challenge, it’s really not about invention; it’s about reworking those resources, those ingredients, that information that you’ve had for a long time and turning it into new models that make things more valuable.”

Williams’ talk set the tone for an exciting day at the Convention. Among the highlights:

Outgoing 2015 ASCE President Bob Stevens shared in a farewell address how much he enjoyed his year representing the Society, traveling across the nation and around the world, learning, listening, and spreading the ASCE message.

“As I pass the gavel to (2016 ASCE President) Mark Woodson, I want to assure you that the ASCE brand is strong and globally recognized,” he said. “Civil engineering is the greatest profession. We all work to make people’s lives better.”

Coline Jenkins and Morgan Jenkins accept ASCE honors from President Bob Stevens in memory of their grandmother Nora Stanton Blatch DeForest Barney. PHOTO: David Hathcox for ASCE

Coline Jenkins and Morgan Jenkins accept ASCE honors from President Bob Stevens in memory of their grandmother Nora Stanton Blatch DeForest Barney. PHOTO: David Hathcox for ASCE

After nearly a century, the first woman to seek full membership in ASCE officially has her due, following a ceremony at the Convention.

In August, ASCE’s Executive Committee approved posthumous Fellow member status for Nora Stanton Blatch DeForest Barney, 99 years after the pioneering female engineer was denied full membership because of her gender.

At the Convention’s plenary session, four of Stanton Blatch DeForest Barney’s descendants were on hand to accept the honors in her memory — granddaughter Coline Jenkins, grandson Morgan Jenkins, great-granddaughter Elizabeth Jenkins-Sahlin, and great-grandson Eric Jenkins-Sahlin.

“I think it’s a validation of Nora’s struggle that it still makes sense to people,” said Eric, who has been researching his great-grandmother as a Fulbright Fellow in China. “To have this honor, it feels wonderful. It’s a real privilege, and I think it’s an opportunity more than anything else to talk about these important issues.”

The Celebration of Leaders Luncheon, rightly described by President Stevens as “one of the Society’s most prestigious events,” honored an impressive group of engineers for their career achievements and contributions to ASCE. In a ballroom shimmering with blue and white light, the 2015 class of Distinguished Members received their medals and shared remarks of gratitude and inspiration with the audience. As of 2015, only 661 ASCE members have attained the honor of Distinguished Member. Members of the Class of 2015 are:


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The first day of concurrent technical sessions at the Convention crowded the hotel escalators and conference rooms.

One, the Leading Self and Others afternoon session, was standing-room-only. Meanwhile, Rossanna D’Antonio, P.E., F.ASCE, of the Los Angeles County Department of Public Works, had a group of members lined up five rows deep waiting to talk with her after her presentation on sustainable design.

“I couldn’t be happier with the speakers,” said Greg Scott, the Convention’s technical program subcommittee chair. “It’s all about who they are and what they’re saying. They’ve been great, and you can see it in how people are responding.”

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