Monday, 3 November 2008

The End of the Road

As you read this I will be in Pittsburgh, attending ASCE's annual meeting.  I hope that I will have the opportunity to meet many of you there.  On Saturday, I will turn the presidency over to Wayne Klotz, an engineer from Houston.  This will be my last blog as president of ASCE.

I have thoroughly enjoyed writing these blogs these past 52 weeks.  It has given me an outlet to express my feelings and share some ideas and issues that I have discovered along the way.  I hope that you have found them stimulating and of value.  I appreciate the comments that you have provided.  I look forward to my continued service to you and ASCE in my role as immediate past president.

Posted by David at 10:30 AM in Planning for Future in Civil Engineering

Monday, 27 October 2008

Good Advice on 'Stuff You Don't Learn in Engineering School'

I recently read a book by Carl Selinger called "Stuff You Don’t Learn in Engineering School: Skills for Success in the Real World." Selinger, an American Society of Civil Engineers member, wrote the book in 2004. In his preface he indicates that he has written the book to "give young engineers a practical down-to-earth guide to the real world they are in, a very different place than the strenuous boot camp engineering school."

Selinger organizes the book well, identifying at the onset some critical skills that engineers need, primarily writing, speaking and listening. He provides some good basic down-to-earth examples of how to be a better writer. These include using clear, simple language, minimizing the use of acronyms, reading more, having peers review your writing, and a device that I sometimes use, just pretend you are talking to someone and write that. Selinger drives home the point by quoting an engineering manager from DMJM Harris: "Writing and public speaking are the two most important soft skills that engineers need to succeed in the field today."

Selinger's other chapters focus on decision making, feedback, priority setting, running effective meetings, teamwork, negotiations, creativity, developing leadership skills, dealing with stress, and one that I find to be very important, ethics in the workplace. He includes as an appendix a survey of various managers on non-technical skills, various concerns with the real world and other issues. The book also includes a list of professional engineering societies, emphasizing the importance of such associations in career development and providing solid reasons for membership.

"Stuff You Don't Learn in Engineering School" is a fairly quick read, one that I recommend to all engineers, both young and old. You can read some excerpts
here at the publisher's Web site.

Posted by David at 10:30 AM in Professional Development

Monday, 20 October 2008

Bus Rapid Transit -- Improving Mobility at Lower Cost

During our recent visit to South Africa, we had the chance to review a host of infrastructure projects in anticipation of the 2010 World Cup soccer championship that will be held there. Much of this work related to improved roadways and intersections. Regarding mass transit, the entire country has embraced bus rapid transit (BRT) as the solution to their transit deficiencies. They anticipate that BRT will have a significant effect on South Africa's urban landscape long after the games have ceased.

But what is bus rapid transit?
The National Bus Rapid Transit Institute at the University of South Florida defines it as an "innovative high capacity lower cost public transit solution that can significantly improve urban mobility."  Twenty years ago, Pittsburgh began planning a bus rapid transit facility, but it has not received widespread use in the United States. Countries in South America and Latin America use bus rapid transit as the major means for their mobility. Other countries such as Australia and Nigeria have implemented BRT systems. China is also launching 13 bus rapid transit systems. Baltimore is considering it as one of the alternatives to their east/west Redline.

In South Africa, the chairman of their parliament's transportation committee recognizes that BRT is not a silver bullet, but does have many advantages. He believes that it shares roughly the same efficiencies as urban rail at a fraction of the cost. Johannesburg and Cape Town in particular are planning extensive systems, 122km and 38km respectively. Other towns such as Port Elizabeth and Durban are planning less ambitious routes.

Hopefully, South Africa's ambitious effort will provide an excellent example of the use of BRT that will inspire its use elsewhere.

Posted by David at 10:30 AM in Transportation

Monday, 13 October 2008

Science-Education Commitment Also Seen in S. Africa

While in South Africa, we visited many construction sites and spoke with many engineers and public officials. The most enjoyable and rewarding visit was to a rural science center in Richards Bay, a new town developed over the past two to three decades to take advantage of the significant mineral deposits in the region and an excellent natural port. It is a site of the world's largest coal export terminal, a major aluminum manufacturer and a number of ore facilities, including Richards Bay Minerals that produce slag and other materials. It has a significant rural population made up of many impoverished families.

Created 10 years ago, the science center has grown from its lone founder to a staff of 20 and has increased their space tenfold. The purpose of the science center, which is entirely privately financed, is to introduce students to science, math and technology. Without this center, these students would not have exposure to these areas. Many of their homes do not have electricity and none have computers. Nor do many of the schools have electricity or computers. As such, this is their first introduction to information technology. The center serves more than 30,000 visitors and reaches another 70,000 students with its own science bus. They conduct a bridge-building contest out of materials similar to balsa wood and have a water distribution challenge. Local engineers from time to time serve as mentors at the facility. They also conduct training for schoolteachers to help them understand the relevancy of science and math.

A particular interesting program that they use is the Technology Research Activity Center, called TRAC South Africa for short. It is a national non-profit program, the objective of which is to support physical science, mathematics, and technology education in South African secondary schools. The program focuses on providing information technology-based equipment, computer and sensory devices supported by curriculum-relevant worksheets to enhance and simplify the execution and understanding of the practical components of the physical science curriculum. 

TRAC programs are running in more than 20 locations throughout South Africa.  In addition to the science- and math-based activities, the program provides information on what an engineer and engineering technicians do, plus offers guidance material for students' secondary education. It focuses on all facets on engineering, from civil to environmental, geology, metallurgy, agricultural, biomedical and many others. It is through these efforts and those of other science centers throughout South Africa that the long process of building a science, technology, engineering and math-literate citizenry has begun.


Posted by David at 10:30 AM in Global Issues

Monday, 6 October 2008

South African Engineers Offer Own 'Report Card'

They say that imitation is the most sincere form of flattery. If that is the case, ASCE has been flattered by the South African Institution of Civil Engineers. On my recent visit to South Africa, they presented a copy of their Infrastructure Report Card for 2006. Clearly, they had sought the advice of our Government Relations staff in the preparation of their Report Card. The small handout follows very closely ASCE's presentation. They identified nine broad areas to be rated. One that they had that ASCE doesn't is hospitals and clinics.

In addition to the small handout, SAICE developed a 16-page 8½" x 11" booklet that explains in depth their Report Card, which deals with the "built environment infrastructure, buildings and engineering infrastructure that are part of the nation's capital stock." They go on to state that the infrastructure is a public asset and that all South Africans have a stake in its upkeep and operation and all share in the expense of its construction and maintenance.

SAICE gave an overall grade of D+ to their built environment infrastructure, primarily because of poor and/or lack of maintenance. They state the government should not changes its focus on new infrastructure, but the challenge is to do this and at the same time maintain both the old and new, and upgrade and replace that which is overloaded or has become obsolete. They further state that a well maintained infrastructure underpins the quality of life and economic development.

Their report's commentary also addresses a severe shortage of engineering skills in South Africa. They point out an interesting statistic about the number of people per engineer. In China, there are 130 people per engineer; in the United Kingdom it's 311; in Germany, 217; in Australia, 455; and in the United States, we have one engineer for every 389 people. However, South Africa has only one engineer for every 3,166 people. Clearly, without the engineering skills and resources, maintaining their infrastructure will continue to pose a major challenge.
Posted by David at 2:30 PM in Global Issues

Monday, 29 September 2008

The Value of Diversity by Design

One of my major initiatives as president was to attempt to address the workforce and diversity issues facing our profession. I am pleased to report that the Committee on Diversity and Women in Civil Engineering has just completed and published "Diversity by Design: Guide to Fostering Diversity in the Civil Engineering Workplace." This groundbreaking document is the first ever collection of best practices for attracting and retaining diverse civil engineers. It has chapters on a roadmap to diversity, the diversity landscape, retaining, recruiting and managing.

One might ask, "Why is a diverse force important?" If civil engineering is to be a "full service profession," then that profession must represent the people it serves. Currently, approximately 18 percent of civil engineering enrollment is comprised of women, and all other underrepresented groups represent 22 percent. This is significantly below the national percentages for these groups. Unfortunately, these percentages are not increasing but decreasing.

You only have to read a few statements from key employers such as CH2MHill, who state "Global companies must have an awareness and appreciation of other cultures, so that we are prepared to deal with issues that arise from doing business with them." Another from Klotz Associates is "Certainly, as the world becomes smaller and the issues become international, the more understanding you have of other cultures and people, the better the firm can perform."

Diversity is not simply sex or race or ethnicity or religion based, but is also affected by age. Clearly, those over 62 and a part of the silent generation have characteristics that are very much different than the Gen Xers or the millennials who were born after 1980. These differences can create conflict within organizations. The guide provides an overview of the working styles of these generations along with some challenges that may be faced within the workplace. It indicates that studies have found that effective workplace programs focus on organizational responsibility through affirmative action plans, diversity staff and diversity task force or diversity committees. Networking and mentoring programs demonstrated positive results. Throughout the guide are best practice examples of engineering firms and other organizations.

This guide is a must for every HR department in every consulting firm, government organization, business or university. I urge all of you to obtain a copy for yourself and your HR department, but like other documents, it is only useful if you embrace is and employ the techniques presented within the book.
Posted by David at 10:00 AM in Planning for Future in Civil Engineering

Monday, 22 September 2008

Five Factors Facing Engineers of Tomorrow

For a recent National Science Foundation workshop on research directions in civil and environmental engineering, Ralph R. Peterson, chairman and CEO of CH2M Hill and 2005 OPAL Award winner, presented a white paper on the global influences that will shape tomorrow’s engineering workforce. Drawing on his 40-plus years of witnessing changes in our profession, Ralph looked ahead to identify five key factors.

The first is changing populations in industrialized/developed countries. We tend to focus on our own demographics in the United States, but in Japan, one out of five people will be 70 years old by 2020. The populations of other western countries are also aging and shrinking. Meanwhile, developing countries’ populations are growing rapidly. This places new demands on infrastructure, goods, and economic growth as well as putting pressure on energy, natural resources and environmental issues. Ralph noted that a few years ago, CH2M Hill was considering offshoring as a means of finding less expensive engineering talent. They now believe that the challenge is not in obtaining lower cost talent, but applying the knowledge and talent resources to a greater advantage and having them become an integral part of the project management and leadership roles that have been traditionally held by American and Western European engineers.

The second force is economic globalization and industrial consolidation. Ralph cited Sam Palmisano, CEO of IBM, who has stated that their firm's strategy is about "putting people in jobs anywhere in the world based on the right costs, the right skills and the right business environment."

The third factor is integrated project delivery and risk management. The stovepipe stages of the typical engineering construction project need to be knocked over, Ralph said. The integration of project delivery through visualization tools and building information management system will accelerate project delivery and will integrate the various stages of the project to create value for project owners.  Ralph also said he expected to see more projects adopt design-build, design-build-operate or design-build-own-operate-transfer (DBOOT) approaches.

The fourth factor is limitations on energy and natural resources as well as climate change. Currently, humans worldwide consume 13 terawatts of power a year. By 2030, global growth will demand another 10 terawatts a year, according to estimates. The problems resulting from this phenomenal energy growth and demand may be the primary concerns the world will face in the coming years. Ralph offered solutions such as clean coal technology, biofuel, nuclear energy, but all of these will take time and investment.

Ralph's final factor is that of stakeholder and social responsibility. More and more decisions can’t be simply made based upon an engineering/economic analysis. The social consequences and involvement of our stakeholders will be critical to the success of future projects. Nations and their citizens will demand that corporations act with a social conscience. Ethical responsibilities and expectations will be paramount. Stakeholder communication collaboration will be as significant as the pure technical aspects of a project.

Many of these points are similar to those that Ralph expressed during our summit on the civil engineer of 2025. Although that was about two years ago, I believe that they are just as valid today and will continue to be major factors influencing our engineering profession.

Posted by David at 10:30 AM in Planning for Future in Civil Engineering

Monday, 15 September 2008

'Changing the Conversation' With the Public on Engineering

Back in 2002, the National Academy of Engineering issued a report, "Raising Public Awareness of Engineering," which demonstrated quite dramatically that the engineering community does not have a coordinated campaign for raising public awareness. Six years later, the academy's new study, "Changing the Conversation," shares the basic premise that the various engineering societies still are not speaking with one voice, even though hundreds of millions of dollars have been spent. This latest effort focused on three objectives:

·  Identifying a small number of messages to improve public understanding.
·  Measuring the effectiveness of the messages.
Publishing the results of the measurement effort.

The academy retained various firms to develop and test messages. The effort focused on youth (9 to 11 years old), teens and adults overall. A committee composed of key members of various societies, universities and the private sector oversaw the effort, including ASCE Executive Director Pat Natale.

Several different messages were created, including "Ideas in action," "Life takes engineering" and "A timeless imagination." These all represented various themes to help key audiences and the overall public better understand the role of engineering.

The focus groups were questioned to determine their awareness and understanding of engineering and to begin testing the message themes. Among students, the majority have a general understanding that civil engineers design and build, but don't understand what they really do. They have a positive impression of the profession, but think that they may not be smart enough for it. Many believe that engineering is sedentary and involves very little contact with other people. Also, salary was a career objective, but "making a difference" was also important.

A number of other messages were tried, including "Engineers shape the future" and "Engineers connect signs to the real world,"  as well as a set of taglines with concepts like "Turning ideas into reality," "Because dreams need doing," "Design to work wonders," "Life takes engineering," "Power to do," and "Bolder by design." One of the messages that tested best was "Engineering makes a world of difference."

The study produced a number of interesting conclusions. One in particular was that the image of engineering is by and large very positive. Another that stood out was that the continued focus on math and science is not necessary and can be a turn-off.

I urge all of you to obtain a copy of this important work, fully titled "Changing the Conversation: Messages for Improving Public Understanding of Engineering." (It is also available for reading online at the National Academies Press' Web site
here.) ASCE is prepared to participate with our sister society in its very vital and important effort. Improving the public understanding, and in particular encouraging more students to pursue engineering degrees, is a key objective of mine and of the Society.

Posted by David at 1:30 PM in Planning for Future in Civil Engineering

Monday, 8 September 2008

World Cup Gives South Africa's Infrastructure a Kick

In 2010, the FIFA World Cup will be held in South Africa. In preparation for the global soccer championship tournament, the nation is spending literally hundreds of millions of dollars to improve its infrastructure. A significant portion is dedicated to new stadiums or reconstructed stadiums in Cape Town, Port Elizabeth, Durban and Johannesburg. Recently, I had the pleasure of visiting a number of these that are under construction. They are clearly technological and architectural achievements.

A significant portion of expenditures is going to airport improvements to handle the anticipated international guests. A new greenfield airport is being built just north of Durban. This project has been in the planning stages since the 1970s. The approaching World Cup has provided the impetus to get the project completed.

Numerous highway, rail and bus improvements are also taking place. Although not a direct result of the 2010 World Cup, South Africa is constructing a new commuter rail line called the Gautrain, from Johannesburg to Pretoria. Conceived in the 1990s, the project has received the funding to move ahead. Nearly 80 kilometers (50 miles) of railway will be built, with 10 stations. Much of the line will be either at or above grade, while underground tunnels will account for 15 kilometers (9.3 miles). To achieve its goals, the project has the world’s largest precast yard, where all of the pieces for the 10.5 kilometers (6.5 miles) in viaduct segments are being constructed. The total cost is in excess of U.S. $6 billion.

The economic impact of this expanded public transit will be significant. Attention is being given to development around the 10 stations. It is hoped that the Gautrain line will provide a major commuter alternative for traffic traveling between Pretoria, South Africa’s capital, and Johannesburg, their major economic center and largest city.

Much of the spending is on projects that will provide transportation, air and other infrastructure benefits long after the World Cup. The question remains, "Will sufficient visitors be attracted to South Africa so that the planned economic stimulus will be realized?" One clue to the answer could be found in a South African Airways magazine article that described the impact on Germany after it hosted the global soccer tournament in 2006. Germany saw its tourist bookings increase by a third, while unemployment was reduced by 20 percent, fostering strong impressions around the rest of the world that Germany reinvented itself, according to the article. Clearly, Germany's World Cup experience has been the model for the South African effort. Hopefully, all of this investment will provide the anticipated dividends.

Posted by David at 10:30 AM in Global Issues

Tuesday, 2 September 2008

'Don't Throw This Away!' Is a Good Read Worth Saving

Recently, I read an Engineering News Record blog entry about a book we've published at ASCE, "Don't Throw This Away! The Civil Engineering Life," by Brian Brenner, P.E. A professor at Tufts University, Brenner teaches structural engineering as well as bridge history and aesthetics. Having spent much of his career with the Parsons Brinckerhoff firm, he received the Boston Society of Civil Engineers Presidents Award in 2000 and ASCE's Thomas R. Torrens Award in 2005.  During his tenure at Parsons Brinckerhoff, he wrote a number of short essays for their technical magazine, PB Network. "Don't Throw This Away" is a collection of many of those short essays plus some others.

I was extremely impressed by the diversity of Brenner's writing. He delves into a number of his civil engineering experiences in ways that are funny as well as thought provoking. Other essays touch on his personal life, one of which was about being called "babysitter-in-law." He recounts that while attending the wedding of a now-adult child for whom his wife used to baby-sit, his wife of course was remembered by the new spouse, family and friends, but everyone else referred to him as the "babysitter-in-law." 

I particularly enjoyed four short essays that inspired the book’s title, "Don’t Throw This Away." We are all pack rats, some of us moreso than others. I remember early in my career visiting the office of Baltimore’s department head for water and sewer. His desk was a series of feet plus high stacks of papers. The stacks covered every square inch of his desk except for a 10-inch opening right in front center of his desk. If you wanted to see his face, you had to sit squarely in front of the center of his desk. Anything to the side, your view was blocked. What was utterly amazing was if you asked him a question about something, he could reach into one of those dozens of stacks and pull out the precise piece of paper that you needed to proceed with the project.

Brenner also shares that uncanny ability to relate the simple aspects of modern life to civil engineering. His stories of hamsters gone wild and how that relates to civil engineers currently "grappling with the difficult set of questions related to sustainability" is fascinating. I would urge everyone to get this book. It is a quick read, and is just the right book for an airplane trip or a relaxing vacation day. As I mentioned, it is available through ASCE Press;
click here if you're interested.

Posted by David at 10:30 AM in Professional Development

Monday, 25 August 2008

Climate Change's Potential Transportation Impact Demands Action

A Transportation Research Board committee chaired by ASCE Past President Henry "Gerry" Schwartz has produced a report, Potential Impacts of Climate Change on U.S. Transportation, which I learned more about recently.

Although engineers have believed that climate change would be a gradual long term process, unfortunately Schwartz's report "suggest[s] that the impacts are going to be more serious and more of a surprise than transportation officials realize." Many of these are exacerbated on days of hot weather and during extended above-normal heat periods. Other problems relate to the potential impact of Arctic temperatures, sea level rise, intense precipitation and possible increases in hurricane intensity. Coastal flooding is another major possibility that could have a significant effect on U.S. transportation infrastructure.

TRB's report presents 14 recommendations. They begin with creating an inventory of critical infrastructure that might be affected by climate change projections. Schwartz presses the need for public and private infrastructure owners to incorporate this analysis in capital and renewal planning. The decision should be based on the current probability of an event, rather than on historic data. The "hundred-year" storm of yesterday may only be today a 50- or 20-year event.

Some examples of rising sea levels combined with storm surges can produce inundated roads, rail lines and runways with significant erosion of road base and bridge supports. The effects of extreme temperature events could include thermal expansion of bridges and paved services and concerns regarding pavement integrity. The report goes on to cite many other examples. You can read TRB's summary of their report here (PDF document.)

ast president Schwartz believes that we may not be 100 percent accurate about the potential threat, but if we wait until we are sure, we may be too late. "Do we want to wait 50 years to find out those guys 50 years ago were dead right?  It is better to do something over 50 years and perhaps they weren’t quite right?" he asked.

What is your state agency doing to prepare for potential impacts from global climatic changes?

I would like to credit the National Society of Professional Engineers' PE Magazine as the source of some of the material for this blog.

Posted by David at 10:30 AM in Environmental Impacts

Monday, 18 August 2008

Texas: Home to Great ASCE Presidents, Past and Future

I recently read the Summer 2008 edition of Texas Civil Engineer, a quarterly magazine published by the Texas Society of Civil Engineers.  It included an article by Melinda Luna entitled, "The Texas Five: Five ASCE Presidents from the Texas Section."  We know that Wayne Klotz, our current president-elect, will be installed in early November as president of ASCE.  Many of you have heard Wayne’s vision regarding his "ABCs of Civil Engineering," which translate to advocate, benefit and change. But were you aware that Wayne is the fifth in a line of ASCE national presidents from the Lone Star State?

The first was Mason G. Lockwood, who served in 1956. One of his goals was to have the Society establish policies to financially help younger members join ASCE as well as student membership at the national level. While an electrical engineering graduate of Rice, he established his own firm, Lockwood, Andrews & Newman, which after more than 50 years is still going strong within the Leo A. Daly Company. Following in his footsteps was one of his partners, Frank H. Newman, who served as Society president in 1969. Before teaming with Lockwood, Newman worked for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the Texas Highway Department.

The third Texan, and member of the Texas Section, was Jim Sims, who served in 1982.  Another Rice graduate, he worked as a consultant to Humble Oil Company and spent the majority of his career at Rice in various positions, including professor and vice president of campus business affairs. As ASCE president, Sims focused on organization, administration and operation of technical activities.

The fourth to serve was John Focht Jr. in 1990. Many of us know John, who is still active within ASCE.  He was a graduate of both the University of Texas and Harvard, and worked with McClelland Engineers.  He also worked at the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Waterways Experiment Station in Vicksburg, Miss. At the national level, he focused on educating the public on how their quality of life was improved by civil engineers.

All of these gentlemen, besides being from the Texas Section, have in common a deep and devout devotion and dedication to service in the civil engineering profession. In their own ways, they all contributed to the advancement of the profession and ASCE. It is also interesting to note that two individuals from the same Texas engineering firm became president, Lockwood in '56 and Newman 13 years later. This is a unique occurrence and shows the dedication that the firm’s founders had to the profession. 

I salute the Texas Section for sending forth these five eminent individuals.  I also wonder if any other Section can lay claim to having five or more ASCE presidents. Let me know in the comments section below.

Posted by David at 10:30 AM in Professional Development