Change is a constant.
That may be one way to sum up the concept that is driving a major transformation of ASCE’s annual meeting.
In a dynamic profession driven by rapid changes in technology, public and client expectations, financing, and policy, the new ASCE Convention format, slated to debut in New York in October, offers civil engineers an integrated, multidisciplinary technical and educational program.
At the same time, when making decisions regarding conference attendance, ASCE members and their employers want to have consistency from year to year. That was one finding from an ASCE Annual Conference Program Survey conducted in 2013. The results of that survey, as well as attendee feedback on elements from highly successful ASCE events like the ASCE conference in Panama City, Panama, are driving the new convention format.
“[Past attendees] were very interested in the [conference] program but they wanted to make sure that they knew what to expect, [and]was it worth a firm sending its employees, or did it sufficiently address a member’s desire to go,” says Andrew W. Herrmann, P.E., SECB, F.SEI, Pres.12.ASCE, chair of the ASCE Convention Advisory Council (ACAC) and the ASCE 2015 Convention taking place in New York City in October.
“In the past, we had some narrow themes that the whole conference converged around,” Herrmann says. “With the ASCE Convention, we instead came up with 7 topical categories of program constancy. People know that there is going to be some part of each of those 7 topics at the ASCE Convention.”
The new convention format explores topics related to the state of the industry and the profession, educational training, cross-discipline technical sessions, ASCE disaster response teams, ASCE’s strategic issues and public policy, significant engineering projects, and civil engineering history and heritage.
According to Herrmann, attendees of the ASCE Convention will experience more significant and productive activity around these topics, presented in a cross-cultural, interdisciplinary format.
Value for Attendees
“Our members really want value,” added Gregory F. Scott, P.E. M.ASCE, technical program subcommittee chair for the ASCE Convention in ACAC. “That is one of the overall driving principles of how we have structured the ASCE Convention—everything from networking time to duration [of the convention] to subject matter. Membership value is one of the underlying themes that drive this change.”
“One of the things we are doing to ensure value is that we are asking for learning objectives as part of the session proposal submissions so that we can measure the benefits and the take-a-ways of each session as we build the program,” Scott says.
“For example, we recognize that many civil engineers are moving into positions of leadership, and are having to oversee a multi-disciplinary project, and they need to develop the skills needed to handle these multi-disciplinary projects and the people involved” says Scott. “We hope those folks see this convention as valuable. As the civil engineer moves away from the day-to-day technical design and becomes a project manager, we believe they’ll feel that this is their best conference for gaining the knowledge and the training that will be a real benefit to them and their career.”
A Broad Mix of Convention Sessions
Herrmann and Scott say the technical sessions for the ASCE Convention will comprise a mix of well-rounded topics to appeal to a broad, diverse group of academic and practicing engineers. Topics will be explored through a variety of presentation styles, including roundtable discussions, traditional lecture-style and interactive sessions, panel discussions, and point/counterpoint debates between individuals with differing points of view.
The 7 convention topics are as follows:
- State of the Industry/Profession, which includes presentations from external thought leaders as well as corporate leaders in engineering and related fields that use or are impacted by civil engineering.
- Training (Leadership, Professional, Technical), which provides programs based on the needs of members and engineering firms.
- Cross-Discipline Technical, including the “best of the best” from previous ASCE conferences, focuses on multi-disciplinary issues, innovation, best practices, hot issues, case studies, and new concepts.
- Causes, Effects, and Mitigation of Natural and Man-Made Catastrophes—includes reports and presentations from ASCE disaster study teams which focus on case studies, lessons learned, and sustainability and resilience design concepts.
- ASCE Strategic Issues/Public Policy presents a forum to discuss the progress and direction of ASCE’s strategic issues and public policies.
- Significant Projects sessions present multi-disciplinary views on the feasibility, planning, design, construction, costs, public process, value, innovation, environmental, sustainability, and resiliency of a project.
- History & Heritage illustrates significant civil engineering achievements— among them historical civil engineering landmarks—within the region of the host city.
“Some of these categories have been offered in some form in previous conferences but they were not constant from year to year, and sometimes they were very narrowly themed,” noted Herrmann.
He also says, “We have a number of specialty conferences that are put on by our institutes. Those are great conferences, but they are limited to a single discipline. So the ASCE Convention is looking for the best of the best of these sessions that have a broader appeal for all civil engineers.”
“This allows us to present issues in a broader perspective, where each discipline is in effect represented, and [they] show how they are all working together,” says Scott.
“This is the members’ convention and so we are looking to have it evolve and [to] continue to improve it with the hope of receiving feedback from attendees,” concluded Scott. “We are hoping that the ASCE Convention matures over time so we’d love to hear from members who feel that there is something missing; that is the information that we want. Ultimately, this convention is a reflection of the entire Society.”