How can civil engineers continue to do their best work?

By staying current on the latest techniques and standards. And for civil engineers who carry a P.E. license, they need to keep up with what’s happening in the profession to renew that license. 

ASCE started providing continuing education offerings more than five decades ago. Back then, the vast majority of courses were in-person seminars; some were correspondence courses, sent back and forth by mail. Today, learning in person continues, in spite of a pandemic-imposed interruption, but technology has supplanted correspondence courses with webinars and guided online courses. 

The knowledgeability of course instructors is among the ASCE continuing education program’s greatest strengths. Two instructors recently shared with Civil Engineering Source what they see as the advantages of continuing education and how it’s changed over the years.

Heather Anesta, P.E., S.E., STS2, M.ASCE, is a Florida-based structural engineering specialist who has led her own consulting firm since 2015. She teaches ASCE courses on evaluating building structural stability and on wind loads for non-rectangular buildings.

Justin Marshall, Ph.D., P.E., M.ASCE, is the president of DuraFuse Frames. Previously, he taught graduate-level courses in structural and earthquake engineering at Auburn University. For ASCE, he teaches guided online courses on earthquake engineering for structures and on seismic analysis of buildings. 

Civil Engineering Source: How did you get involved with teaching ASCE continuing education courses? How long have you been teaching courses for ASCE?

Anesta: I got involved with ASCE continuing education after serving as an associate member of the ASCE 7-28 Wind Load Subcommittee. Serving on the subcommittee allowed me the opportunity to work alongside the engineers and professionals who developed the ASCE 7 wind data I use during the structural design process. Through conversations and initiatives on the WLSC, I was able to gain valuable insights into the intention, limitations, and applications of the ASCE 7 wind chapters, and I wanted to “pay it forward” to the ASCE community. ASCE continuing education was a great venue for sharing my knowledge and experience as well as for connecting with fellow engineers. I’ve been teaching courses for just under two years.

Marshall: I became involved with these courses as my colleague and doctoral advisor Finley Charney had been involved with in-person ASCE continuing education for many years. Because of Finley’s experience in the in-person courses, he was asked to develop one of the early guided online courses. He brought me in to help with the course development, which included both the presentation material and the online interactions. We worked together to minimize the burden on each other, take advantage of different skill sets, and provide a more diverse viewpoint on the course materials. Finley and I have developed six courses together over the last six years or so and have also used outside consultants in some cases to ensure that the material would be fundamentally sound and also be tied into professional practice.

Source: What do you like about teaching continuing education courses?

Anesta: Overall I love sharing knowledge and experiences, learning from others, and hearing about other people’s experiences.  

Marshall: Really the biggest benefit from teaching or moderating a course is what I learn from practicing engineers who take the courses. There is a broad level of experience in the courses, and I always learn more about the material as the questions they ask challenge me. It is also great to hear the variety of challenges and experiences that engineers have in designing new and retrofit projects in many different locations (both in the U.S. and internationally) and industries. When you have course participants who are truly engaged in the process, it makes for an interactive learning process that benefits both parties.

Source: What has changed about teaching continuing education courses over the years?

Marshall: When I first started teaching in-person ASCE courses, it was a great experience and was very similar to what I had done in the university classroom, although with a more dense presentation of materials. I did like this format as the in-person interaction was very good, and I think contributed significantly to absorbing a lot of material in a short amount of time. The transition to online, on-demand courses has been an interesting one. One thing that this has helped me with was that I had experience in developing and recording online education before I was forced to transition in a short time period to teaching my university courses in the same way due to Covid. 

Teaching the guided online courses requires more preparation and planning as you are not able to reply directly to student questions during the presentation so you have to consider the completeness and clarity of the materials presented. The development of the interactions is also enjoyable as you try to apply the materials in real-world scenarios to give the participants the opportunity to not just hear but also apply the knowledge that goes further to helping them fully absorb and understand the concepts. I still think the in-person mode of instruction is the most optimal as the personal interaction and relationships are an important aspect of learning. However, the availability of the materials to a wide audience without having to travel makes the online mode very beneficial to develop new skills and knowledge in a very targeted way.

Source: What is the value of continuing education for civil engineers? 

Anesta: As engineers, we must strive to always be learning, questioning, evolving, and honing our craft, which includes delving into the theories, equations, and factors we may sometimes take as law without a second thought. The moment we think we know everything or think we have nothing left to learn or question is the moment we fall short of the trust the public has instilled in us. Our utmost responsibility is to safeguard the life, health, property, and welfare of the public. ASCE continuing education does a great job of providing practical knowledge and application of its codes and standards contents and concepts.

Marshall: While civil engineering may not be a field that changes as quickly as other engineering fields, continuous development and learning are critical to staying on top of our profession. Learning new skills, refreshing skills that have not been used in several years, or transitioning to new areas of practice or expertise is critical for maintaining our edge and growing the reputation of our profession. The other aspect is that the demands on our profession are growing on a regular basis as we are asked to design projects that function in their intended roles, are resilient to external events (i.e., natural hazards, climate change), and are designed and constructed in a sustainable way. To meet these challenges, we need to be aware of what is happening in and beyond our industry. New innovations will occur, and we need to be ready to assess and implement those new technologies in a way that we meet our professional and social responsibilities. That will require educating and re-educating ourselves. 

Source: Why should mid-career engineers take continuing education courses? What can a civil engineer expect to gain?

Marshall: As someone who just changed careers mid-career (academia to professional practice), the importance of continuing education has been highlighted to me as I am developing new skills and knowledge specific to this change. One thing we have to avoid to maintain a positive career trajectory is stagnation. Even in a field where we may be considered an expert, there is more to learn. Taking some form of continuing education broadens our horizons and diversifies our knowledge base. 

Continuing to develop our knowledge is critical at all career stages. The question you have to ask yourself as an individual or as a firm is how can we not afford to continue developing the knowledge base of our engineers and our firm in this constantly evolving industry.

Learn more about ASCE Continuing Education.