When Opportunity Knocks – Open the Door

October 24, 2014
Robert D. Stevens in his inaugural address. Photo Credit: David Hathcox

Robert D. Stevens in his inaugural address. Photo Credit: David Hathcox

All of us come to leadership through a different path, enriched by a variety of life experiences. In my journey to become your new ASCE president, I have been both purposeful and blessed, and I am tremendously grateful for the opportunities that helped me reach this professional highpoint.

At The University of Akron, I was introduced to ASCE and became an active student member. What better forum could I have found to learn public speaking and leadership skills than as a student member of ASCE?  My advisor encouraged me to stay active with ASCE after graduation.  That advice definitely paid off as ASCE continued to be an asset for me throughout my professional life.

I know that those skills I sharpened as an ASCE student chapter member helped me as I pursued further education beyond my bachelor’s degree.  As I earned a Master’s in city planning from Yale University and a Ph.D. in civil engineering from The University of Michigan, I had many opportunities to make presentations in class.

There is also no doubt that those advanced degrees opened doors for me. And the skills I honed further through my ASCE involvement helped give me confidence. They helped me realize that I was capable of taking on new challenges.  At one point in my career, I was asked to go to Taipei to work on Taiwan’s first rapid transit metro system. My family had experience relocating, but moving to Asia was a much bigger decision.  It meant moving half way around the world and doing business with people in a different culture who spoke a different language.  It was a daunting challenge.  I took that challenge and it changed my life. It gave me global experience and a broader perspective on civil engineering.

I’m honored to be President as ASCE continues to pursue a global strategy. This new strategic focus is a reflection of the growing opportunities overseas and a natural extension of our role as a leading provider of technical and engineering information. Globally, there is so much we can learn from each other.

Starting now, I want to ask each of you to think of yourselves as ambassadors for civil engineering in your communities. Increasing public awareness of what civil engineers do is essential to our ability to gain support for the work we need to do to protect the health, safety and welfare of the public.  It is up to us to help the public understand civil engineers’ contributions.  And it’s important to share our stories with those close to us as well.

Where would society be without the roads, bridges, airports, sewers and transit systems that we design and build? And where will we be in the future if developing sustainable infrastructure is not central to all the work we do as civil engineers?  We cannot do that without the public’s support. Whether through social media or in-person interactions, please remember to share your story about the role of civil engineering in society and what you do in your daily work. If we don’t discuss it, who will?

This is a wonderful profession; there is something for everyone within civil engineering. It offers so many opportunities to grow in new directions. Let me encourage you to take advantage of those opportunities – no matter how daunting they may seem at first.  Keep growing as a volunteer within ASCE, and as a professional in your career. Your future and our future will be the better for it.


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