Orange County Branch Newsletter

May 2011

President's Message

Diversity is Beautiful

At our last luncheon, I looked around our table, and I saw something truly special.  I saw a diversity of ideas and opinions from our Board members as they were discussing some issues regarding our branch.  What was beautiful was the harmony between the board members, who are able to come to consensus on the various issues that we face.  This board is probably one of the most diverse Boards that the Orange County ASCE branch has ever had.  I am a Lebanese-American, Josh Nelson, our Vice President is a Norwegian-American, Tapas Dutta, our treasurer is an Indian-American, our secretary Penny Lew is a Chinese-American and Kathereen Shinkai, our past-president is a Japanese-American.  In addition to our Board, our committees are as diverse with multiple cultural backgrounds.  This reflects on the very diverse society that Orange County has become.

This year our Branch reaches its fifty eighth birthday and I would dare to bet that when it was first established, it did not have as many different cultures represented or as many men and women as we do today.  Why is this good and beautiful? Well, it teaches us to learn from other cultures, habits, traditions.  It also teaches us to be comfortable with each other and have a great balance, respect and appreciation for each other and for what we bring to the table.  We live in a world that is no longer separated by oceans, but that has been brought closer with e-mail, the internet, Skype and many new technologies.

When I worked for the City of Westminster, we had a project to scan all of the engineering plans and develop various GIS layers.  The consultant we hired sent the plans to India, due to the reduced cost to accomplish the project.  First, the City had concerns but after having several conference calls, we realized that the level of knowledge of the team was amazing, and the quality of work delivered was as good as products expected to be delivered locally.  Local engineering firms are providing services all over the world.  Parsons, URS, Jacobs, Fluor and many more engineering firms provide civil engineering services all over the world, and having diversified staff helps them to understand the markets they are working in, the cultures and the best ways to have successful projects.

Having staff who speak the language of the different countries where they provide services is a positive addition to the team, and sometimes when the project manager is the one who speaks or knows the culture of a foreign country, it can make or break a project.  But, one might say, is this necessary?  In this day and age, not really but people appreciate and feel more comfortable when they are working or interacting with people who are familiar with their ways of life, and nothing bring people closer to each other than over a meal.  And, when you have a client from a country that has food that you are used to, and you join your client to a meal familiar to you and to them, he or she will really enjoy the experience. 

Language is another tool that brings a diverse group together.  I love languages and speak four of them, Arabic, French, English, and Spanish.  One of our branch members is French, and every time I see him at our luncheons, we welcome each other and chat for a couple of minutes in French.  Couldn’t we speak in English? Of course we can, but I know that he enjoys speaking his native tongue with others, and for me, it gives me a chance to refresh my French.  I attended a French school from elementary school through high school, but miss speaking French since I don’t have the opportunity to do so on a regular basis.  At my work, I have a Japanese colleague, whose name is Ayako.  When I see her in the morning, I say: “Good morning Ayako-San”, and she replies, “good morning Ziad-San”.  We both bow to each other and I know she enjoys the gesture and we both smile.  I have never been to Japan, but I know that the Japanese appreciate traditional salutations, especially one who recently moved to the US from Japan.  My point is that diversity offers ways that bring us together rather than further apart, and we should embrace it and learn to appreciate each other’s backgrounds.

This month will be the beginning of a fully digital newsletter for our branch.  We hope that you will enjoy it, and we would like to hear from you with any feedback pr suggestions.  Josh Nelson and Mike Hoolihan have been instrumental in achieving this new beginning as they have worked tirelessly for many months on the improvements.  We know that we are moving away from an award-winning newsletter that the branch members have enjoyed for years. But we hope that the new newsletter format, with all what technology allows us to do, will make it an equally if not better newsletter.

I was invited to participate this month in a panel of speakers as part of the Professional Development Conference of the Society of Women Engineers (SWE).  The conference well done and it was inspiring to see so many bright women engineers working together to improve their careers.  Jeannette Lindemann is the current President of SWE and the Chair of our Government Affairs Committee and she is to be commended for a great conference.

Last month, I wrote about being prepared for disasters, and since May is California Disaster Preparedness month, I hope that you will take some of my recommendations into consideration and take the time to prepare your family, friends, and colleagues for disasters.  This month’s event is our May joint luncheon with the APWA Southern California Chapter, where this month’s topic is “Emergency Response by Public Works Following a Disaster”, learning from the latest earthquakes in Japan, New Zealand, and Chili.  We hope that you will join us in Lakewood as APWA is hosting the luncheon this year.

Finally, with our digital newsletter, we have more opportunities to post your stories, photos and topics of general interest to share with our members.  As always, we would appreciate receiving any contributions  from you.