photo of ASCE student members at the 2019 Convention Jason Dixson Photography
The Student Presidential Group has helped empower ASCE student members.

It’s been a Sunday ritual for a while now, the ASCE Student Presidential Group Zoom call – a chance for ASCE Past President Jean-Louis Briaud and a core group of student members from around the Society to connect.

The energy from the group has filtered down into the entire organization. In fact, the enthusiasm was evident even in the Briaud household.

“Just as somebody who observes it,” said Janet Briaud, Jean-Louis’ wife, “when Jean-Louis gets off that Zoom call on Sundays with the students, he’s so excited. They do a great job. Each time they blow him away in terms of what they’re capable of and what they do. He’ll just say, ‘They’re just so awesome; they’re just so great; they’re doing such great things.’ So their energy and the work that they do, the contribution that they’re making is huge.”

The Student Presidential Group has grown into one of ASCE’s success stories, bringing students together from around the world, while putting their concerns and perspectives in front of Society leaders on a regular basis.

“It’s something that has opened up doors I never thought possible,” said Matthew Hemphill, a senior civil engineering student at Texas A&M University and vice president of the SPG. “I’m getting to talk with students all around the world. It’s a great way to build connections going into my career.”

Briaud started the Student Presidential Group two years ago as he began his three-year term as a presidential officer. He wanted a way to elevate students’ voices in the Society.

“I wanted to empower our students,” Briaud said. “And the best way I could think of was to give them direct access to the president.

“So now I say, ‘Look, you have ideas? Give them to me; I’ll bring them directly to the Board of Direction. I’m not saying the board will accept everything you say, but at least you don’t have to go through a bunch of channels to get these things addressed at the board level.’”

The group has become a fixture on the board meeting agendas, regularly giving presentations and recommendations about student issues.

“The group was invented first and foremost as a bridge between students and ASCE decision-makers,” said SPG President Sophie Lipomanis, a student at the University of Louisville who has worked on the SPG since its start.

“We were able to connect students. Then we were able to start making changes and promoting issues that students care about. The next thing we knew, the board was actually taking action on things we were proposing. It’s very exciting.”

Students have been at the heart of Briaud’s entire career as an educator – from the more than 2,000 undergraduates he’s taught over the years to the 90 master’s students, and 50 doctoral candidates. This past summer, that focus went even further when he and Janet gave a $1 million gift to the ASCE Foundation to fund future student activities.

“The young have tremendous energy, and this energy is contagious,” Briaud said. “So if you can meet with them and give them power, potential, responsibility, ownership, they can do wonders.”

At its October meeting, the board approved taking steps to formalize the Student Presidential Group, fully integrating it into existing Society structures.

With Briaud taking over the role of past president for 2022, the SPG’s work is not done. New ASCE President Dennis Truax will take on the regular calls and leadership.

“This group has done so much already to help,” Lipomanis said. “And that’s our goal now – to keep this thing going.”