Orange County Branch Newsletter

March 2014

President's Message

The (new) Community Engineering Corps

By Penny Lew, P.E.

I was contemplating writing an article this month about the California Drought but as I researched the subject, I found news and updates every couple of days. That left me a little unsettled but I see movement on the subject as a good thing.  However, I am happy to say that I have something new to introduce to our members this month.  The Community Engineering Corps (CEC), a new program recently introduced to ASCE Branch, Section and Region officers, sounds like a program many of us have been wishing for. I find the program could potentially inspire a large sector of our membership to participate in or team up, one way or another. What that means is whether you have technical skills, people skills, fundraising experience, and more, your help and skills can definitely be of use. 

The Community Engineering Corps was introduced to us as a domestic program initiated by an alliance between the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE), the American Water Works Association (AWWA) and Engineers Without Borders USA (EWB-USA). The intent for the program is for teams to assist underserved communities within the United States, to meet their infrastructure needs and improve each community member’s quality of life.  Members from the three organizations can volunteer their time and expertise to assist communities that do not have the resources to access engineering services.

The CEC program provides the opportunity for ASCE to get the benefits of what we have been connected with EWB and to utilize our technical institutes in joint organizational projects.  The underserved communities, communities that do not have the resources and funding for their projects, will not be competing with other projects engineers do, as the work through CEC will be done “pro bono”.  CEC itself does not fund or construct projects; therefore, fundraising will be one of the components needed for each project. 

On February 21st, five pilot projects were launched in different parts of the US including one on the Spirit Lake Tribal Reservation in North Dakota, another in New Orleans, Louisiana involving stormwater retention, and a project in Arizona.  Project applications must come from a community group or nonprofit organization that represents a community.

Currently, there are no limitations as the projects could be on public or private property and the types of projects can include any of the civil engineering specialties (water supply, structures, civil site, geotechnical, environmental, wastewater, construction etc.) Some examples of type projects in the works include gardens, nursing homes, septic systems, and wheelchair access.

Project teams will have access to quality assurance / quality control systems and educational resources to ensure that projects are done in a manner which is appropriate to the regulatory environment within the respective municipalities.
Teams will be most successful if they recruit volunteers with a range of experience and expertise to work on the improvement projects. Each project team must have a licensed Professional Engineer to serve as the Responsible Engineer in Charge (REIC).  Sections and Branches are encouraged to fundraise to support the projects their teams have adopted.

The alliance between the organizations will combine the strengths of each to provide technical expertise to underserved communities within the U.S. and ensure that their infrastructure meets their community’s needs. In case you are not too familiar with the organizations that make up the alliance, here is a little background about each:

  • Founded in 1852, the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) represents more than 140,000 members of the civil engineering profession worldwide and is America's oldest national engineering society.
  • Established in 1881, the American Water Works Association (AWWA) is the largest nonprofit, scientific and educational association dedicated to managing and treating water, the world’s most important resource. With approximately 50,000 members, AWWA provides solutions to improve public health, protect the environment, strengthen the economy and enhance our quality of life.
  • Founded in 2002, Engineers Without Borders USA (EWB-USA) supports community-driven development programs worldwide by collaborating with local partners to design and implement sustainable engineering projects, while creating transformative experiences and responsible leaders. Their 13,800 members work with communities to find appropriate solutions for water supply, sanitation, energy, agriculture, civil works, structures and information systems.

Since the CEC is a new program, we first need to get a feel for how many of our members would be interested in participating in this program. The Branch could be working with the LA Section or have other arrangements depending on what kind of response we receive. These are exciting times for us as we look at the possibilities. Look out for updates in our newsletter and website for any developments by the Branch or Section as we find communities that need our services. We will also need your help in identifying underserved communities that could use the services of the alliance. You are probably wondering how communities would learn about programs such as this. Through outreach by ASCE Sections and Branches, AWWA, EWB and other organizations, these communities should find out about the opportunities that will be available.

For more info, please see ASCE’s website:
or EWB’s website: [email protected]

Related Groups/Committees