Helping You Navigate Ethical Challenges

July 2, 2015
Tom Smith, Executive Director

ASCE Executive Director Tom Smith

Our thoughts turn this month to the brave colonists who risked their lives and fortunes to stand up to tyranny 239 years ago and declare themselves citizens of “Free and Independent States.” As engineers, we sometimes confront ethical situations that call upon us to risk not our lives, but our “fortunes.” This ethical obligation is one of the distinguishing aspects of our professional commitment, but one that challenges us all, nonetheless.

To help engineers navigate these ethical challenges, ideally while preserving our livelihoods, I want to tell you about a new tool that your Society has created. Recently, we received a United Engineering Foundation grant to create brief videos about the challenges professional engineers face in difficult ethical situations, and I am pleased to announce that they are now available.

Through these videos, I invite you to meet four compelling professionals who were directly involved in milestone events in engineering ethics: an aerospace consultant/chemical engineer involved in the Challenger disaster, a chemical engineer knowledgeable about the Piper Alpha oil and gas platform fire, a civil engineer who worked with engineers involved in the Spiro Agnew corruption improprieties, and an attorney involved in the Kansas City Hyatt Regency walkway collapse investigation. Each faced difficult, trying circumstances and each made brave decisions that really did have life and death implications. Their stories are important, and they will help you think through the tough situations you face or will face in your work.

Each of us takes an oath as a member of the Society to uphold the ASCE Code of Ethics. It is part of what sets us apart: we are serious about our role ensuring public safety, health, and welfare. And we must always be alert to circumstances and decisions that will impact people’s lives – both for good and bad. Investing our time to educate ourselves about ethics is an important part of living up to that oath.

Programs and resources such as the Code of Ethics, the Order of the Engineer, the Ethics Hotline, training manuals and webinars, A Question of Ethics column in Civil Engineering magazine, and videos like the one announced here are all part of your Society’s effort to help you navigate all aspects of ethics and maintain the highest standards. Do take advantage of them and make sure you are ready for the challenges you face.

And [let’s] think about – and thank – those patriots who signed a Declaration of Independence, and the ethical challenges they faced in the hot summer of 1776.

Happy Independence Day!




ASCE: Your Professional Community

The first ASCE Convention in October will draw civil engineers from across the country and around the world to New York City. The successor to our annual conference will explore the state of the industry and profession with a thought-provoking, multidisciplinary program. Technical sessions and tours of significant infrastructure, including work on the new Second Avenue Subway, the replacement Tappan Zee Bridge, a new cable stayed bridge, and more can earn as many as 24 PDHs. The Distinguished Lecture Series is returning with three authors delivering engrossing talks, and opening keynote speaker Luke Williams is an authority on business innovation leadership. Registration has opened; sign up now and save as much as $200. Check out the new ASCE Convention.

Our newest member benefit is the year-long on-demand webinar subscription. Pay one low rate, expand your knowledge base, and gain unlimited access during a 365-day period to your choice of 10 on-demand webinars from ASCE’s complete catalog. This offer is for individual use only, not to be used for groups. Explore the subscription plan.

Like the movie “Groundhog Day,” the federal Highway Trust Fund is again nearing the end of another stopgap funding measure, this one at the end of July. ASCE is continuing its efforts to encourage Congress to find and adopt a long-term solution to the surface transportation funding crisis, and to urge our members to make their voices heard. Our Government Relations team gets the word out on the latest Trust Fund news and activities at, our Report Card for America’s Infrastructure website, and at the hashtag on Twitter #fixthetrustfund. Our ongoing video series on civil engineering issues, ASCE Interchange, features a new interview with U.S. Sen. James Inhofe (R-OK), chair of the U.S. Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, who explains why Congress has a responsibility to find a long-term funding answer. Watch ASCE Interchange, brought to you by Contech Engineered Solutions.

How engineers can anticipate the potential of climate change is the subject of a new ASCE paper. When forecasting what could happen and when remains uncertain, Adapting Infrastructure and Civil Engineering Practice to a Changing Climate assesses the dilemma and provides recommendations. Free for members, the paper by an ASCE member committee has been two years in the making. Download the paper and give it a read.

You can provide expertise to underserved U.S. communities through Community Engineering Corps (CE Corps). Just over a year ago, ASCE, the American Water Works Association and Engineers Without Borders USA formed CE Corps, enabling members of each group to volunteer their engineering services to help underserved communities in the United States meet critical infrastructure needs. Help improve a community’s quality of life while helping to implement sustainable solutions. Learn more about the CE Corps and how to volunteer for projects.

Have you explored ASCE’s free Civil Engineering Vendor Search? Designed to help you search smarter, not harder, ASCE’s Civil Engineering Vendor Search is an online buyer’s guide that will help you easily locate the goods and services needed to work more efficiently. Check it out and discover why is worth bookmarking to return to regularly.

Leave this month’s column by going to enjoy a gallery of beautiful bridge photos and choosing your favorites. The Viewer’s Choice Voting awards in ASCE’s 2015 Bridges Photography Contest is now on.

The winning photo becomes eligible for ASCE 2016 Bridges Calendar, and its photographer gets a cash prize. Go to the Viewer’s Choice Voting button at ASCE on Facebook to view the images and vote. One vote only per photo.

  • Four fine videos. However, to be effective as teaching tools or for effective presentations at meetings all need to be shortened and edited to focus on the specific ethical points being made by the speaker.
    Paul A. Kuhn, Past VP Zone III

  • Avatar DR. N. Krishnamurthy

    I teach ethics at the university level, and am thrilled at the series of videos on ethics of classical cases.
    I enjoyed the Challenger video.
    But how can we download and use them in our teaching?
    If it were in youtube, they could be downloaded to Windows Media and show them in class.
    Best wishes.
    Prof Krishna

  • Congratulations! — That’s a thoughtful and compelling set of interviews on ethical issues. JRR

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