By: Jayne Marks, PE
Jayne is a Structural Engineer in the Transportation Department of AECOM in Pittsburgh, PA. She was the Pittsburgh ASCE Younger Members Forum (YMF) President 2020 – 2021 and is the current Treasurer of the YMF, as well as the Winter Banquet Committee Chair.
On October 23-26, 2022, ASCE hosted their annual ASCE Convention at the Disneyland Hotel in sunny Anaheim, CA. I was fortunate enough to be a part of an amazing team of contributors who won this year’s ASCE Collingwood Prize; an award given to younger members under the age of 35 who are the author or authors of a paper (1) describing an engineering work with which the author(s) have been directly connected, or (2) recording investigations contributing to engineering knowledge to which the author(s) have contributed some essential part, and (3) containing a rational digest of results. Our paper is titled “Finite-Element Fatigue Analysis of a New Rib-to-Floor Beam Connection for Orthotropic Steel Decks” and was published in the February 2021, Volume 26, Issue 2 of the ASCE Journal of Bridge Engineering. Thanks to the generosity of my company, AECOM, and the Pittsburgh ASCE Section, I was able to attend the Convention with my co-authors and accept my award in person from outgoing ASCE President, Dennis Truax, and Executive Director, Tom Smith.
Pictured: Dennis Truax, Jayne Marks, Yixin Chen, Joe Saunders, Tom Smith
Attending the Convention was an amazing experience filled with many opportunities to gain new perspectives, form new goals, and keep my finger on the pulse of my profession. A large focus of the programming was on President Biden’s bipartisan infrastructure bill. Signed in November 2021, the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act is set to inject trillions of dollars into infrastructure over five years and presents a unique opportunity to the civil engineers who will be responsible for making this plan a reality.
The opening keynote was a panel of various government officials assembled to discuss implementation of the bipartisan infrastructure law. I found this presentation to be particularly engaging because it offered a perspective on a facet of my job that I don’t think I personally give enough thought to during the day-to-day: how do the decisions we, as civil engineers, make affect our communities? How can we ensure that this new wealth of resources is spent equitably and efficiently to enact the most positive change?
The Director of Los Angeles County Public Works, Mark Pestrella, stressed the importance of making data-based decisions when deciding how to utilize the money from the infrastructure bill. He mentioned that in LA, they’ve found that communities predominantly occupied by marginalized groups tend to be left behind when it comes to infrastructure spending; a conclusion they were able to come to based on data collected specifically to investigate this. Because of this, it’s important for civil engineers and decision makers to think creatively as we begin to utilize the funding provided by the bill: provide resources for smaller communities to help them navigate the grant writing processes, lump smaller projects in with larger projects to help them attain funding, combine smaller infrastructures systems into larger systems to avoid unnecessary segmentation, and provide education to communities so they’re able to properly maintain the systems they do have.
Pictured: Dennis Truax, Becky Keogh, Mark Pestrella, Laura Hanson
A similar message was reiterated during the Industry Leaders Forum event on the second day of the convention, with a strong focus on how racial inequality is a large component of this conversation. The newly appointed ASCE President, Maria C. Lehman, also highlighted the ongoing issue of gender inequality in our profession today during her acceptance speech. This was an inspiring address coming from someone so accomplished in her field. President Lehman has even been appointed to President Biden’s National Infrastructure Advisory Council which brought the conversation full circle. I sincerely appreciated these reminders that civil engineering is more than calculations done in a vacuum and that our choices and actions mean something beyond the obvious and important function of our jobs.
In addition to the larger presentations, I had the opportunity to learn more in the smaller presentations throughout the convention. I took a journey into ancient Rome to learn more about the Colosseum and a project that endeavors to use modern technology to recreate a moveable version of the ancient wooden flooring system that was lost to time. I also have a better appreciation now for the fake phishing email tests my company sends out every couple of months after sitting in on the session “Understanding Cyber Security Threats from a Hacker’s Perspective.”
Overall, attending the Convention was an incredibly valuable experience, not only for the things I learned, but for the people I met and the experiences I had. Disneyland was an amazing backdrop for a conference focused on innovation, creativity, and creation. Walt Disney once said:
“I don’t believe there’s a challenge anywhere in the world that’s more important to people everywhere than finding solutions to the problems of our cities. But where do we begin? How do we start answering this great challenge? Well, we’re convinced we must start with the public need.”
I made sure to keep this in mind as I got my picture taken with Mickey.
Pictured: Jayne Marks, Mickey Mouse, Scott Pickrell