Orange County Branch Newsletter

February 2015

President's Message

Increasing Support for our Student Chapters

By Gary Gilbert, PE, GE



One of the reasons I accepted the opportunity to join the ASCE Orange County Branch (OC Branch) Board of Directors was to engage with the Student Chapters and find ways to create more opportunities for them to grow.  I joined ASCE as a student member at California State University, Long Beach (CSULB) and since graduating I have been able to see what other student chapters in ASCE are able to accomplish.  Therefore, one of my strategic goals as president of the ASCE OC Branch this year is to help strengthen and grow the CSULB, University of California, Irvine (UCI), and California State University, Fullerton (CSUF) student chapters.

Last year the OC Branch board met with each student chapter at least twice.  At first we asked to review their budgets and have the students explain how funds were spent on activities held on campus and for the Pacific Southwest Conference (PSWC).  Each school was hesitant to discuss their budgets, but eventually the message to the student chapters became clearer.  The OC Branch board members were there not to criticize, but to see where each student chapter stood financially and to show them where there are opportunities for additional support.  For over a year we worked with the student chapters to identify where they wanted to improve and what it would take to achieve this goal.  Now each school is starting to see dividends from their efforts.

As the OC branch board has been increasing our interaction with the student chapters we have learned that each school has its own character and our approach should be tailored differently for each school.  CSULB has a strong connection with the construction industry, which is a mostly untapped source of future sponsorships for the student chapter.  UCI has a focus on research, mostly in water resources and structural engineering.  CSUF is good at hands on activities like the pumpkin launcher and they won first prize in both the GeoInstitute GeoWall and Structural Engineering Institute Student Structural Design Competitions in 2014.  We realized that some of the differences at the student chapters were influenced by the professors at each school and that the OC Branch board should meet with faculty to make sure that our support of the student chapters is consistent with the strategic goals of each school.

Last spring I was invited to attend a meeting of the CSULB Advisory Council, a group of senior members of agencies and civil engineering companies that meet twice a year with the CSULB faculty to discuss curriculum and the schools plans for the next year.  I learned that over the last 5 years or so, CSULB professors who taught when I was a student are now retiring and are being replaced young energetic professors excited about the opportunity to work with ASCE.  Most of the faculty was not familiar with the OC Branch and there is an opportunity to develop a new relationship between the OC Branch and the faculty at CSULB.  The OC Branch is currently looking for a member to participate in the CSULB Advisory Council meetings as the ASCE OC Branch representative and look for opportunities for the OC Branch board to increase our interaction with the faculty.

Last month I attended a UCI Affiliates meeting and learned more about an organization that I knew more for partnering with the branch on the ASCE OC Infrastructure Report Card.  During the meeting, I was impressed to see a balanced mixture of representatives from public agencies and consults as members of the organization.  The UCI Affiliates assists multiple civil engineering organizations at UCI, including ASCE, EERI, and ITE student chapters.  In addition, the UCI Affiliates has subcommittees, which provide recommendations on curriculum and the development of new educational programs.  During the meeting, the UCI Affiliates identified a need for an Ethics course and asked if ASCE could assist with developing a short class where students could earn credits.  It occurred to me that there might be an opportunity to have an annual class where the OC Branch could bring in experts from other parts of the country to discuss case studies of challenges with ethics in the Civil Engineering profession.  The idea would be to make an interesting short course that ASCE members could take to earn continuing education credits for licenses in other states and students could earn units towards their degree.  We would like to take advantage of the resources from ASCE Society in Virginia to bring charismatic speakers to Orange County and make presentations on ethics interesting.  If you are interested in helping the OC Branch develop this class, please contact me at [email protected].

An area that needs improvement at each of the universities is the amount of alumni participation and interaction with firms and agencies in Orange County.  CSULB has started a Civil Engineering alumni group and holds regular activities including a recent golf tournament in January.  The CSULB events with alumni are also well attended by current students and gives the alumni opportunities to learn about the changes at the school and where assistance may be needed.  In addition, UCI held their second job fair in November and Orange County consulting firms were well represented at the event.  The OC Branch would like to build upon the successful programs at CSULB and UCI.  Since CSULB will be hosting the PSWC in 2016, UCI in 2017, and potentially CSUF in 2018, so now is the perfect time to increase the engagement between alumni and local firms with our schools.

The OC Branch Younger Member Forum (OC YMF) has done an excellent job with developing connections with the students at each student chapter.  They hold resume workshops, mock interviews, and plan reading workshops each year.  OC YMF also has recruited recent graduates from each school to be liaisons and attend both student chapter and OC YMF events.  The implementation of liaisons has increased student participation at OC YMF events and increased the number of recent graduates staying involved in ASCE after graduation. Last year the OC Branch partnered with OC YMF for a jog-a-thon at Crean Lutheran High School in Irvine and we were able to raise funds for each of the schools.  The jog-a-thon will be held on Saturday, April 25, 2015 with a goal of doubling the amount that will be raised by each school. 

The OC Branch would like to develop a better connection with the faculty and alumni at each school.  We are looking to have a representative for each school to be a member of the OC Branch’s Student Activities Committee with the goal to rotate the chair position each year.  The focus of the OC Branch will be to work with local companies and agencies to encourage students to leave their campuses and visit local offices and project sites so that students can better understand the profession they will be entering when they graduate.  If we could get each student from all three schools to engage with a consulting firm or agency each year, it would allow them to be more engaging in the workforce once they graduate.  This would be beneficial to both the student and the employer.  The OC Branch would also like to learn more about the programs at each school.  There are professors at all three schools who have interesting research or are involved with site assessments of areas following a natural disaster and documenting case studies.  We would like to provide opportunities for our members to learn more about the achievements at each school.

I enjoy the opportunity to give back to my alma mater and ASCE at the same time.  I am hoping that out of our 2,500 members, there may be a few others like me.  I understand that all of us are busy with work and personal life, but if each of us could spend one day a year and do something for CSULB, UCI, and CSUF the impact would be huge.  The students are eager to learn and conquer challenges, but there is only so much that the professors can include in the curriculum.  If you are interested in getting more involved, please contact me [email protected]

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