Orange County Branch Newsletter

March 2016

Government Relations Committee

What Do You Do?

By Per B Tvedt, EIT

Attending Construction Quality Management training with the US Army Corps of Engineers recently in Portland, Oregon, I was again reminded of how few people in our society actually know what Civil Engineers do for our society. While I was waiting for a car to take us back to the airport from the car rental place, the driver asked why we were visiting Portland. I told him about the training with the Army Corps, and he asked about my profession. After learning that I was a civil engineer, he replied: “oh what do you do?”

This was another reminder about how limited the general population’s knowledge of our profession is, how few people actually know of Civil Engineers impact on our infrastructure, the infrastructure that these people interact with every day. 

We need to do some soul searching to find out why this is. Why does everybody seem to know what a doctor does, or a lawyer, or a carpenter, but nobody seems to know what civil engineers do for a living.

This is the main reason why I joined ASCE in the first place, and later the Government Relations Committee. I believe we have a golden opportunity to promote our profession through ever faster moving media, and it is an opportune time as well with our infrastructure in dire need of improvement.

I remember reading an article in the Orange County Register when I first moved here after graduation in 2012. The article was talking about the Popsicle Stick Bridge competition that I knew my fellow members in the Metropolitan Los Angeles Branch Younger Member Forum, had worked tirelessly with for months, just to find out that there were no mention of the Younger Member Forum, nor ASCE in the article.

I feel that we have come a long way since then, and having the “Report Card” talked about on Tonight with John Oliver certainly helps as well.

At the October Younger Member forum board retreat, as we gathered in the different committees to explore new avenues and brainstorm further development of our committees, we discussed using social media, and also identifying technical experts to convince elected officials and the public about the importance of improving our infrastructure, and how the infrastructure directly affects our economy.

Technical experts are important, but there are other experts out there that can further our cause, and that have an interest in developing the infrastructure from their own standpoint. Attending a dinner presentation with Coast, Ocean, Ports and Rivers Institute (COPRI), I was introduced to Dr. Walter Kemmsies, then Chief Economist with Moffatt & Nichol. It was interesting to listen to Mr. Kemmsies, and some real examples on how our lagging infrastructure impedes our ability to compete with other countries. Even if we have a superior product, or a popular brand, it is impossible to compete if we are unable to distribute the product fast enough, in particular in a world that expects everything to happen now. This is why I think it is important that we ally ourselves with other experts and their organizations in order to promote a healthier infrastructure, that translates directly into economic growth, and at the same time let people know that Civil Engineers are at the foundation of what is needed to grow our economy, not just for our self, but the society as a whole.

There are interest groups out there that are just as interested as we are in promoting infrastructure development. These are groups that we need to be involved with, be in their magazines and advertise together with. We should build relationships, and utilize each other’s expertise when we approach legislators.

 Maybe I can go to the bank one day without having to explain to the bank manager, what a civil engineer does for a living.

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