I don't know if you have read ASCE's The Vision for Civil Engineering in 2025, but that document resonates with me. A loose quote from Vision 2025 is "Civil engineers are trusted leaders for a modern world: master builders, stewards of the environment, innovators, managers of risk, and leaders in public policy." The word leader pops up over and over. I envision that ASCE will lead the profession to a more sustainable world and enhanced global quality of life. The future that I see is one where civil engineers are the go-to people when it comes to enhanced infrastructure for a growing economy, wise use of our natural resources, well thought out mitigation and recovery from disasters, and public policy that makes sense.
Let's move our focus to ASCE membership. What does ASCE mean to members? Members have many faces: student members striving to win the steel bridge or concrete canoe competition, younger members working to gain leadership skills and networking at branch events, practitioners honing technical skills via work within an Institute, civil engineering educators/researchers pushing the boundaries of knowledge and publishing in ASCE journals, international members looking to interact with likeminded stateside colleagues, and our life members who have a wealth of historical expertise. I envision a future where ASCE will, through members, lead the Society to a future where: the public knows that civil engineering, as a profession, safeguards society's health, safety and welfare; top high school students of all ethnicities, genders, and races choose civil engineering as a career; student members continue on as engaged members once they graduate and begin practice; global membership increases because all members (US and foreign born) see and get value in membership; and the Institutes and ASCE, as the mother-ship, interact regularly and share resources when it is economically beneficial.
We already have the Vision - and as a profession and a Society, we are moving toward those goals - but how do we best get there from here? Before we can aspire to be world leaders, we must make sure that the world will still regard civil engineering as a "profession". I've been an engineering academic for the last twenty years. In that time period, I have seen several other professional occupations move from requiring an undergraduate degree for entry into the profession to requiring a graduate degree. Think physical therapy - becoming a physical therapist today involves earning a graduate degree from an accredited physical therapy program and obtaining a state license, the degree requirement before 1990 was a baccalaureate, and it is now quickly moving to a required doctorate. Some government agencies today define a profession as an occupation that requires an advanced degree. Alternately, for engineers to enter into the profession, a baccalaureate in engineering is required. However, recent pressure from state legislators to reduce the number of hours required for an engineering Bachelor's degree has resulted in a landslide of BSCE degree programs reducing degree requirements to 120-128 credit hours. Couple this with additional "soft skills" courses in keeping with ABET requirements and an increasing amount of technical material an engineer should be familiar with (ASCE's Body of Knowledge), tomorrow's undergraduate engineering student may lack important technical courses. I believe that ASCE must be a leader in moving our profession into a future where the reputation of civil engineering as a profession is secure. One way to accomplish this is to continue working with NCEES on the "Bachelors+30" (NCEES calls it the "Masters or Equivalent") concept where professional engineering licensure will require additional education beyond the baccalaureate degree at some time in the future.
Now we should talk about the future of the profession as a world leader in stewardship of the built and natural environment. Civil engineers do plan, design, construct, and maintain the built environment. Who better than civil engineers to advocate for improved and renewed infrastructure, better maintained engineered systems and sustainable practices? Both the ASCE Report Card and Envision are great tools that are now used to let the public and our elected officials know about the state of our critical infrastructure. We need to persist in the education of the public and decision makers on the consequences of neglect of our infrastructure and continued unsustainable practices. And let's face it, those pre-1492 conquistadors were right: the world is flat - and it is shrinking - so this is even more important for our international members. Many international members are citizens of developing countries whose infrastructure needs are greater than those in the US. I see a great opportunity for ASCE's members to make an impact on the quality of infrastructure and the quality of life, both here in the US, but especially abroad.
Do our members have the tools needed to lead? The Dream Big! 3-D IMAX movie will be a great tool that members can use to lead kids to consider civil engineering as a career, as well as the general public to greater awareness of our profession. In leading our student members upon graduation into associate membership, practitioner advisors can play a key role. The concept of practitioner advisor needs to be re-energized and better implemented. Leadership skills can be taught. Leadership training is now being included in ASCE programs that reach our student, younger member, branch and section leaders. I believe that our institute leaders and leaders of our international groups should also have the opportunity to take part in this type of training.
Years ago, as a student, I was blest to have "fallen" into civil engineering as my chosen major. I now get great pleasure as an engineering educator in sharing my passion for civil engineering by teaching the next generation of civil engineers. As an outspoken leader, I will continue to be a role model in promoting diversity not only of gender, but of culture, ethnicity, nationality and thinking. And I sincerely hope the next phase of my life is to lead the American Society of Civil Engineers into a bright future.