Held June 3-5, in White Plains, New York, ASCE’s National Civil Engineering Department Heads Conference helped educators tackle the many challenges they face in the areas of accreditation, budgeting, curriculum, fund-raising, program development, and faculty conflict. In the session dealing with ABET accreditation, Douglas M. Mace, P.E., L.S., M.ASCE, the educational activities committee liaison to ASCE’s Committee on Curricula & Accreditation (CC&A), discussed CC&A’s role on the ABET Board of Directors and how it provides input to ABET accreditation criteria and the training and assigning of ABET program evaluators for visits to institutions. Deion Coward
The 2012 National Civil Engineering Department Heads Conference, the eighth installment in this annual series, was organized with the goal of helping educators from programs both large and small tackle the challenges they face with regard to budgets, curricula, fund-raising, program development, and ABET accreditation. It also provided a unique opportunity for ASCE to share with department heads the resources, tools, and workshops it has developed to help them become better educators and deal with the various complex issues they face. These issues include creating programs focusing on the principles of sustainable development, offering a master’s degree in this area, persuading faculty members to support such programs, and preparing for visits by ABET evaluators.
Held in White Plains, New York, June 3–5, the conference was organized by ASCE’s Departments Heads Council Executive Committee (DHCEC) and hosted by Manhattan College and Columbia University.
“What we hope to accomplish with this conference,” explained George E. Blandford, Ph.D., M.ASCE, the DHCEC’s chair and the chair of the civil engineering department at the University of Kentucky, “is to bring department heads up to date with issues they are facing on the educational side of the profession. But what I really hope [the department heads] take away from the conference is the idea that ASCE is here to help and also to give them a broad range of knowledge in various topics. Because there are a lot of topics that you as a department chair have to face that you never had to deal with as a faculty member, [the DHCEC] is hoping that they get a sense that ‘I am not in this alone’ and that there are a lot of other [department heads] facing these same problems. They can make a large number of contacts with other department heads so that, if they run into a problem, they can get some answers or advice from other [department heads] who have been through their situation before.”
In his welcoming remarks to the department heads, Brennan O’Donnell, Ph.D., the president of Manhattan College, set the tone for the conference: “The work that you are doing is indeed critical work. We all know how much we need the intelligence, skill, and creativity of the next generation to respond to the considerable challenges we face across a wide range of enterprises that your programs serve. We all know how important it is to attract, challenge, and support talented students in the STEM [science, technology, engineering, and mathematics] disciplines if we are going to be competitive economically and if we are to build a world [in which] your own grandchildren—and their children’s children—live happy and healthy lives. Indeed, can there be any more important work than that? You are building the future. I thank you for your good and critical work.”
The conference included both newly appointed and veteran department heads, and the first day was dedicated to training. Al Estes, Ph.D., P.E., M.ASCE, a professor at California Polytechnic State University at San Luis Obispo and the head of the school’s architectural engineering department, offered his views on what department heads should know about ABET and what to expect during an accreditation visit. Carolyn J. Merry, Ph.D., M.ASCE, the incoming chair of the DHCEC, the chair of the civil engineering department at Ohio State University, and the winner of ASCE’s 2012 Surveying and Mapping Award, talked about how to raise money for a department and how to cultivate sponsorships. Attendees then heard from Frederick Pal, with the Office of Faculty Development and Diversity at Columbia University, who discussed various ways of settling faculty conflicts and dealing with uncooperative faculty members.
A panel discussion then explored the valuable experiences that come from mentoring students. The panel comprised Kenneth J. Fridley, Ph.D., F.ASCE, the head of the civil engineering department at the University of Alabama; Keith R. Molenaar, Ph.D., M.ASCE, the K. Stanton Lewis Professor of Construction Engineering and Management at the University of Colorado at Boulder and the chair of the school’s civil engineering department; and Sharon L. Wood, Ph.D., M.ASCE, the Robert L. Parker, Sr. Centennial Professor in Engineering at the University of Texas at Austin and the chair of the school’s civil engineering department.
Next, Ping Wei, A.M.ASCE, ASCE’s director of educational activities, provided an overview of the ASCE educational programs and resources that are available to department heads.
“I am head of a new civil engineering program that is going to start in the fall,” said Anthony Cioffi, P.E., M.ASCE, a professor at the New York City College of Technology, the chairman of the school’s construction management and civil engineering technology department, and a past president of ASCE’s Metropolitan Section. “So I came to this conference to see how I am going to get [ABET] accredited and to try and build a relationship with other department chairs. I thought the ABET section with Al Estes was great. I was able to ask some questions that I was not clear about, and it was nice to hear that [other department heads] feel the same way about ABET accreditation, which is not easy. [It is] stressful and there is a lot of work that has to be done to sustain [accreditation].”
On the second day of the conference, Joseph L. Sussman, Ph.D., ABET’s managing director of accreditation, offered valuable background information about his organization and discussed the changes to accreditation policy and procedures that have been made in the past year. He then provided examples of good educational program objectives, offered tips on how to write and document program objectives, and encouraged department heads and other faculty members to become ABET program evaluators. In view of the frustration and anxiety that come with ABET accreditation, this session was particularly valuable, as it gave department heads an opportunity to discuss accreditation issues with Sussman one-on-one.
“I love coming to these [department head] meetings and sticking my head in the lion’s mouth,” said Sussman, who also attended the conference last year, which was held in Madison, Wisconsin. He noted that department heads “are not interested in any philosophical discussions on how come or why but [rather in] how one makes [ABET accreditation] work. I always enjoy coming to meetings and talking with people who are struggling with [ABET] assessment evaluation.
“My message [to the department heads here] is that ABET is trying to be as transparent as it can be, that ABET is working to upgrade its execution. We are working for their future, we hear their [issues with] particular [ABET] criteria and the difficulty they have in the execution or interpretation, and we understand that there are internal [ABET] processes in many instances that are not as robust as they need to be. People asked me some very difficult questions [about ABET accreditation], but overall there was a valuable exchange between us.”
As part of this session, Douglas M. Mace, P.E., L.S., M.ASCE, the ASCE Educational Activities Committee’s liaison to the Society’s Committee on Curricula and Accreditation, explained the latter group’s role on ABET’s board of directors and how it provides input in formulating ABET accreditation criteria. He also discussed the training that program evaluators receive. John W. Steadman, Ph.D., P.E., the dean of engineering at the University of South Alabama, then explained how the National Council of Examiners for Engineering and Surveying’s FE exam can be used as an assessment tool to help illustrate to ABET evaluators how a civil engineering program achieves its educational goals.
“I was pleased that Joe Sussman and Doug Mace were able to join us at the department heads conference to present and take questions about ABET-related issues,” said James H. Garrett, Jr., Ph.D., P.E., F.ASCE, the Committee on Curricula and Accreditation’s liaison to the DHCEC. The Thomas Lord Professor at Carnegie Mellon University and the head of the school’s civil engineering department, Garrett pointed out that “progress on these two issues was particularly interesting to hear, since we had discussed both at previous department head conferences. Having such open and honest dialogue between ABET and the nation’s [civil engineering] heads about the accreditation process is very important and leads to improvement of that process.”
In a series of sessions relating to ASCE resources and programs, ASCE’s president-elect, Gregory E. DiLoreto, P.E., P.L.S., F.ASCE, outlined the Society’s response to the challenges and issues that will be facing the profession in the 21st century. Then Brian Pallasch, Aff.M.ASCE, ASCE’s managing director for government relations and infrastructure initiatives, discussed how the Society is supporting engineering research and education. He revealed that ASCE will release its final Failure to Act report, which will deal with ports and airports, on September 13 and that later in the fall a separate report comprising all four Fail to Act publications will be released. He also explained that ASCE will release its 2013 Report Card for America’s Infrastructure in March and that the assessment will also highlight some infrastructure success stories.
Blaine D. Leonard, P.E., D.GE, Pres.10.ASCE, then updated the attendees on the Society’s Raise the Bar initiative, which will require those aspiring to licensure to earn a master’s degree or obtain 30 additional credits in graduate or upper-level undergraduate courses. “The problem,” Leonard told the audience, “is that the world is changing very rapidly, and we live in a complex environment and as we move into a more complex world, [society] expects more from engineers in the future than today’s engineers. They will have to know more, and that includes technical things and professional practice issues as well.
“It has been concluded in a number of studies that it is just impossible to provide the training for that expanded body of knowledge inside of a traditional four-year curriculum. So the challenge is to figure out how to prepare future engineers and how to make sure they have the tools to succeed and meet society’s needs to protect health, safety, and welfare. Having looked at a variety of solutions for that potential problem, [ASCE] has concluded that the simplest way—the most direct, the most effective way—to accomplish that is to require education beyond the bachelor’s degree before licensure.”
The final day of the conference considered the future of civil engineering education by examining what the public and private sectors are looking for in students graduating from civil engineering programs. Attention was also given to ways of increasing female enrollment in civil engineering programs and to the most effective ways of mentoring students.
A distinguished panel of civil engineering leaders then discussed how well schools are preparing engineering students for employment in the public and private sectors. The panel members were Raymond Daddazio, P.E., M.ASCE, the president and chief executive officer of Weidlinger Associates, Inc.; Michael Horodniceanu, Ph.D., P.E., M.ASCE, the president of MTA Capital Construction Company, of New York City; Peter M. McGroddy, P.E., M.ASCE, a senior vice president of HDR, Inc.; Milo Riverso, Ph.D., M.ASCE, the president and chief executive officer of STV Group, Inc., headquartered in Douglassville, Pennsylvania, and New York City; Leon Jacobs, P.E., M.ASCE, a project manager at Frontier-Kemper Constructors, Inc., of Evansville, Indiana; Michael Squarzini, a senior principal of Thornton Tomasetti; Peter Zipf, F.ASCE, the chief engineer of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey; Michael McHugh, M.ASCE, a senior vice president of Moretrench, headquartered in Rockaway, New Jersey; and Charles H. Thornton, Ph.D., P.E., Hon.M.ASCE, a founding principal of Thornton Tomasetti.
The panel addressed itself to a number of questions: Should every civil engineering student have an assigned mentor? What is academic preparation like outside the United States? What skills do employers typically find that recent graduates possess? Are students adequately prepared for the type of work they will do? What should an internship require? Are students graduating with a bachelor’s degree sufficiently prepared or do they need a master’s degree? Are students street smart? Do the communication skills of recent graduates need improvement? Are schools training students to think like engineers? At the end of the session, each panelist then described his vision of engineering education in the future.
Richard T. Anderson, the president of the New York Building Congress, moderated the discussion. The panelists, he said, “impressed me with how proud they are of their training in civil engineering, and I would hope that the schools of civil engineering are training the next generation of leaders to be like the ones on this panel.” The audience, he explained, seemed to find the discussion very worthwhile: “I could tell by their faces the department heads in the room were listening very carefully and were taking to heart many of their recommendations.”
Thornton, who is also the founder and chairman of the ACE Mentor Program, described this initiative—one of eight recipients of the 2010 Presidential Award for Excellence in Science, Mathematics, and Engineering Mentoring—and underlined its value to the engineering community. Through this program, professionals in civil, mechanical, structural, electrical, and environmental engineering, as well as architects, construction managers, craftspeople in the skilled trades, and college and university representatives, volunteer to become mentors to high school students in order to introduce them to these technical fields and encourage them to pursue careers in architecture, engineering, or construction. “The program is fabulous,” Thornton told the attendees. “These students become your leaders of tomorrow.”
Beena Sukumaran, Ph.D., M.ASCE, the chair of the civil engineering department at Rowan University, and Neeraj Buch, A.M.ASCE, the interim chair of the civil engineering department at Michigan State University, concluded the conference with presentations on how their institutions have been able to increase female enrollment in engineering.
“It is important that our department heads in civil engineering get together once a year to talk about the issues that they are facing and to learn from one another,” said DiLoreto at the conclusion of the conference. “More importantly, [they] come together with an opportunity . . . to improve their students’ education to benefit the engineering profession in the future.”
“I am real glad that I came,” added J. Torey Nalbone, Ph.D., A.M.ASCE, the newly appointed chair of the civil engineering department at the University of Texas at Tyler. “I think the information has been really good from the standpoint of understanding the accreditation and how to prepare, and the education insights that we have been provided [with here] have been really, really worthwhile.”
The 2013 National Civil Engineering Department Heads Conference will be held April 7–9 in Las Vegas.