It’s a big week for Kristina Swallow. It’s a big week for ASCE.
With the ASCE 2017 Convention rolling into New Orleans, Swallow is set to be installed as the 2018 ASCE president, joining Norma Jean Mattei (2018 past-president) and Robin Kemper (2018 president-elect) as the first female trio of presidential officers in Society history.
She talked with ASCE News in early September as she looked forward to her presidential year.
ASCE News: What are you anticipating from your presidential year? What are you hoping for?
Kristina Swallow: “A lot of people have asked me about that recently – What exactly am I hoping for? And what do I hope to see at the end of the year?
“And as I reflect on it, I really think that the best thing would be for us to have made progress toward our [Society] Vision. We have a Vision, we have a Mission, and we’re working on our goals. We [the ASCE Board of Direction] are updating our goals to make sure that they’re the best goals to achieve the Vision.
“So, this year I’d like us to get closer to our Vision of being global leaders building a better quality of life. Any progress we make on that I would view as a success.”
ASCE News: Anybody who follows you on social media has seen you traveling all over the map during this President-Elect year. What’s that experience been like?
Swallow: “I just got back on Tuesday [Sept. 12] from Duluth. It was the ASCE Congress on Technical Advancement for all of our technical organizations that aren’t part of an Institute already, which was fascinating. There was the infrastructure resilience division, the aerospace division, the cold regions division – they were engaging on their specific areas but also cross-pollinating with each other and learning from each other.
“The things that our members are doing are fantastic and so incredible. And that’s probably one of the biggest takeaways from this year – getting outside of my practice area and my area of influence at home and learning what all our members are doing across the nation. Seeing how they’re impacting lives in so many different ways and really pushing the envelope on innovation and thinking about the future.
“Another really cool takeaway – again, from the same conference – they were recognizing the centennial of the Duluth Section, and they had a member there, Robert Rhode, who’s 103. He still regularly attends Section meetings and asks questions. He’d served on the Board in the past; he’d been through of course all the chairs of the Duluth Section. We have fantastic members who really care about the organization and care about the communities they serve.
“And the last really cool thing is we got to dedicate a civil engineering historic landmark. And that bridge, the Aerial Lift Bridge in Duluth, is so iconic to that community, you can buy Christmas tree ornaments at the airport of the bridge, which I of course did [laughs]. Because that’s really cool.
“Over the years as engineers we have done some incredible things to meet the needs of our communities. And being able to serve in this role and go to so many communities and meet so many members who are doing just that, it has been an incredible opportunity and really eye-opening and just has created in me a sense of appreciation and a sense of hope as we look at our infrastructure grades and how we’re going to improve them. We have the capability and we have the interest. We just need to find the resources.”
ASCE News: And I ask you this week and it’s Duluth. But if I’d talked to you three weeks ago I’m sure it would’ve been the same enthusiasm for whatever event you’d just been at. You’ve been all over. You must feel really connected the Society, probably more than ever, right?
Swallow: “Definitely. You do feel that stronger connection. And I probably would have that same enthusiasm. It would just be different members that I’d be talking about who were fantastic in the different technical areas they were working in. It’s just been great and people ask me, ‘How do you do it?’ Or, ‘Why do you do it?’
“And I say, ‘Why wouldn’t you?’ This is the best opportunity.
“And yes, over the years my husband and I – Dave, he’s also a civil engineer – we spend our vacations with ASCE. But it’s totally worth it. We’ve met so many incredible people and friends as a result, and really gotten to understand how our profession is impacting our communities.”
ASCE News: So obviously there is some history here, with the Convention coming up we’re going to have for the first time in Society history three women assuming the presidential roles. What’s it like to be in the midst of that? What do you think that says about where ASCE is right now?
Swallow: “Early in my ASCE career I was on the Committee on Diversity and Women in Civil Engineering. I was fortunate to be appointed to that committee, although I honestly will say I wasn’t excited about it. I thought, ‘Wow, I’m a woman, so I have to be on this committee on women.’
“And looking back and even while I was serving on it, I realized how fortunate I was to be on it because I learned so much from the other members on that committee about the challenges we face. And one of the things we talked about was why are we the Committee on Diversity and Women? Like shouldn’t we be the Committee on Diversity and Women and … and … and? And you can’t list everybody.
I think it’s great for our organization, but I think it’s even better for the future of our organization when you have young girls that we meet at the STEM outreach events, and they can see there are women in the organization, leading the organization.
“So today it’s the Committee on Diversity and Inclusion. And I think the work that they’re doing on that committee and the work that so many of our committees are doing to really encourage and create opportunity for our underrepresented groups, we’re starting to see the success in that, right? We’re starting to see the outcomes of that.
“I remember last year when I got elected and I saw the results of the election and a third of our board was going to be female. And for the first time ever we had back-to-back women as president. And this year it’s more than a third will be women. We have the three presidential officers.
“I can’t even tell you, it’s incredible. It gives me goosebumps that we’re at that point in our organization’s history that we went from me being the fourth woman as president to having three, four, and five right in a row. And we have a lot of women leaders behind us who are eligible and able to run for the position in the future.
“I think it’s great for our organization, but I think it’s even better for the future of our organization when you have young girls that we meet at the STEM outreach events, and they can see there are women in the organization, leading the organization.
“They see that via Norma Jean, me, and Robin. But they also see it at the local level, where Student Chapters and our Younger Members and our Section and Branch leaders have so many women engaged. And members of the underrepresented groups can see themselves in our profession and they can see themselves building a better quality of life, changing their communities.
“It is a historic moment and I look forward to seeing how it helps change our industry moving forward.”