Meet Gregory E. DiLoreto, 2013 ASCE President
The following is a transcript of the inaugural address by 2013 ASCE President Gregory E. DiLoreto, P.E., P.L.S, D.WRE, F. ASCE, delivered Friday, Oct. 19, 2012, during the ASCE Annual Business Meeting at the 142st Annual Civil Engineering Conference.
As Marcus Garvey once said, “A people without the knowledge of their past history, origin and culture is like a tree without roots.”
My fellow civil engineers and guests, a celebration is in order! ASCE is 160 years old this year, and at that ripe old age it’s exciting to see we’re not doddering on a cane but are sprinting with energy and accomplishments. Make no mistake, I intend to keep it that way!
We ASCE presidents are part of that movement forward, a relay race in which I get the baton from Andy Herrmann, he from Kathy Caldwell, and so on back in time. Today, as we pause to celebrate the long life and health of our organization, it’s good to look back as we plan our future.
The establishment of the American Society of Civil Engineers was a long and arduous process. On a late winter day in 1836, efforts began to form a national society of civil engineers. Three years later 40 practioners met in Augusta Georgia to call for a society of civil engineers in the United States.
Now wouldn’t you know it. To get our venerable organization off the ground, past mirrors present—they formed a committee, not unlike this past year when ASCE hit the ultimate peak by forming a committee on committees, [headed by our incoming President-elect Over]. These leaders realized that public works had become part of the very fabric of American progress and that the civil engineers working to build our vast and still-new nation were amassing a wealth of knowledge that was specifically applicable to our circumstances. It was becoming more valuable for U.S. engineers to learn from their own countrymen than to learn from Europe.
Much to the committee’s surprise there was hostility to a national society. In response, local organizations were formed, with the Boston Society of Civil Engineers and the New York City Institute of Civil Engineers, both in 1848. When I visited our members in Boston this past year my good friends there reminded me on more than one occasion that their organization is older than ASCE.
Those calling for a national civil engineering society did not give up. In 1852 they made another attempt, this time shooting for an America Society of Civil Engineers and Architects. They held another planning meeting, sent invitations to civil engineering practitioners in and around New York City, and ended up with 12 attendees, one of whom was an architect. James Laurie, who was also a founding member of the Boston Society of Civil Engineers, was elected as the first president.
Although we started as the American Society of Civil Engineers and Architects, we did not register the name, and in 1857, the American Institute of Architects was formed, with architects everywhere breathing a sigh of relief that they had their own organization. In 1868 the members of the American Society of Civil Engineers and Architects voted to change their name to just the American Society of Civil Engineers. I don’t know if the civil engineers breathed the same sigh of relief.
It’s interesting to note that one of the key goals from the original 1839 get-together in Georgia was the following, and I quote—“to obtain the greatest amount of useful effect at the smallest cost.” Now in the 21st century, 160 years after our founding, we continue that vision of efficiency—to share information with one another at the least cost. And that sharing of knowledge and experience center’s around our Society goals.
Let me remind you of those ASCE goals and how they shape my presidency and our future:
- One, to facilitate the advancement of technology to enhance quality, knowledge, competiveness, sustainability and environmental stewardship.
- Two, to encourage and provide tools for lifelong learning to aid our members continued growth throughout their careers.
- Three, to promote professionalism and the profession throughout society to enhance the stature of civil engineers and influence public policy.
- Four, to develop and support civil engineer leaders to broaden our member’s perspectives, enhance their career growth and promote public interest.
- And finally, to advocate infrastructure and environmental stewardship to protect public health and safety and improve the quality of life.
That’s the great foundation on which we build, a past we need to honor and learn from. But as the late George Burns said, “I look to the future because that's where I'm going to spend the rest of my life” . . .
As I have traveled around the country as president-elect, visiting our sections, branches, and student chapters, and speaking before related organizations and Congress, the message I relayed follows the original thoughts of the people that founded ASCE and the goals we have today. As we meet in Montreal to discuss civil engineering in a global economy, shouldn’t we give thought to applying those goals to the civil engineers and the citizens throughout the world?
I have talked with you about our three strategic initiatives—Raise the Bar, Sustainability, and Infrastructure investment. I have shared with you my own educational experience and how today at the university where I obtained my bachelors degree 37 years ago, the students take 24 fewer quarter hours of classes. How throughout the United States class hours are being reduced from an average of 155 in 1925 to 128 today, with many already at 120 semester hours, with most of that decrease in hours coming at the expense of engineering technical courses, all at a time when engineering practice is becoming ever more complex; all at a time when a master’s degree is already the de facto foundation for professional practice in much of Europe. What knowledge is being lost today? I seriously doubt that less education was the direction our founders had in mind when they formed ASCE 160 years ago.
I have talked with you about the need to incorporate the principles of sustainability in our daily practice and the efforts ASCE is undertaking. I have quoted a Harvard Business Review Article which reports that those companies that fail to embrace sustainability will not survive. I have encouraged you and your companies to join the Institute for Sustainable Infrastructure—ISI—of which ASCE is a founding member. I have spoken to and with our partners in the United Kingdom and Canada about ASCE’s efforts in sustainability. Living the triple bottom line—always considering the environment, the economy, and society—should be a worldwide goal.
Finally, I have spoken about the need for infrastructure funding and the effect the failure to invest will have, and is having, upon the U.S. economy. I have noted the US has fallen sharply in World Economic Forum’s ranking of national infrastructure systems from 7th best in the world in 2007 to 16th in 2011 with South Korea overtaking us during the last year. This is simply unacceptable!
It is fitting that we hold our annual conference here in Montreal, the place where the last international ASCE meeting was held in 1974. Today we have come full circle. We as civil engineers can no longer look inward to our own countries. We need to share knowledge among all nations of the world, and what better way to advance the notion of international efforts than with our partners and neighbors here in Canada.
Thinking globally is certainly not new to ASCE. Back in 2006, we convened a Summit on the Future of Civil Engineering in 2025, which developed Vision 2025 for our profession. It was a global vision for all civil engineers, and many of our organizational colleagues abroad have endorsed it. Others will surely follow.
During this coming year, we will continue making progress on our three strategic initiatives, all of which align closely with Vision 2025. On the Raise the Bar front, success will be one state enacting the model licensure law with the requirement of postgraduate education for entering licensed practice, setting us on our way for other states to follow. Success will mean our local geographic units will become as active in our raise the bar efforts as they are in sustainability and infrastructure.
With respect to our sustainability initiative, we will see success with the number of people who obtain the Institute for Sustainable Infrastructure rating credential and the level to which sustainable design is incorporated into infrastructure projects.
Finally, the road to infrastructure investment is never easy. Last year at his inauguration, President Herrmann spoke to you about the need to invest in our nation’s infrastructure. He experienced a success in this area with the passage of MAP 21, the 2-year transportation bill enacted by Congress and signed by the President. But as Andy will be the first to tell you, so much more is needed. Based on ASCE’s failure to act studies, roads and bridges need an estimated $200 billion per year, twice what we are currently spending, while water and wastewater need a $9 billion per year increase to bring them into a good condition.
As a public works official for the last 30 years, I have experienced the challenges of increasing funding for infrastructure. I have also experienced great success by working with decision makers helping them recognize the need for infrastructure investment. However, many of my colleagues cannot say the same. I have heard their frustration at being unable to increase utility rates, as professionals, knowing what the long term result will be. This is where ASCE can help. All of us must be involved. The work of our Sections and Branches in developing infrastructure report cards provides critical information to our elected leaders. As citizens of our communities and leaders in infrastructure, we must participate in the process. We must show up at city council meetings and town hall meetings, sit down for coffee with elected officials and provide our insights. The world is run by those who show up. If we fail to show up, the world’s infrastructure will be taken care of by those less knowledgeable—or not taken care of at all. That is not a future I want to be a part of.
So a question to ask is, Will we reach our goals? As Peter Drucker said, “the best way to predict the future is to create it.” Work with me to choose a dynamic destiny for civil engineering and not let our destiny be chosen for us.
Work with me to Raise the Bar.
Work with me to enhance sustainability.
Work with me to help rebuild our nation’s infrastructure.
Let’s work together.
We are a strong organization with over 141,000 members. We can do great things together.
With your help, that future starts today, not tomorrow.