Orange County Branch Newsletter

September 2015

President's Message

Retrospective of an Active Branch

By Gary Gilbert, PE, GE

By Gary Gilbert, PE, GE

I appreciate the opportunity the ASCE OC Branch members have given to me to serve as  the OC Branch President this past year.  The position did take a majority of my free time over the past year, but I am already feeling huge dividends for my effort.  On a personal level, I have found that working hard to obtain a degree in Civil Engineering, passing the Professional Engineering Licensure exam, and contributing to ASCE have allowed me to have the career that I hoped I would achieve when I was younger.  

One of my greatest interests, even prior to joining ASCE, was to be involved in getting younger students interested in the civil engineering profession.  So, it was a joy to receive the following email from high school student Ellen Cho at the end of my presidency regarding  her interest in a career in Civil Engineering (I received her permission to share her email): 

My name is Ellen Cho, currently attending La Serna High School as a senior. Until recently I have decided to become a civil engineer because I love helping the community. Through researching about civil engineering, I learned about the idea that we as a community shape the world together, that each individual has a part to play through your presidential message. My dream is to inspire other into helping the community because poverty, unequal education, and people in need still exists in the world today. I was hoping you could give me insights about what it means to be a civil engineer and how did you choose this field of employment. In addition, I was also wondering how the process works and what sort of intelligence you need to be successful in this field.

I shared the following thoughts with Ellen when I responded to her email:
I am glad to hear you are considering Civil Engineering as a profession.  I typically tell students that Civil Engineering is a profession where you can get paid for doing your hobby and contribute to improving the lives of others.  Providing communities with clean water, sanitation, and mobility (transportation) individuals can allow individuals to focus more on following their dreams instead of how to survive.  Community service is at the heart of the Civil Engineering profession, whether it be going to Kenya to build a water system, work with disadvantaged communities locally to improve stormwater collection, or teaching young students about the exciting new bridges we are building.  Sustainability is becoming an important part of how we plan and design future projects so they will last for many generations to come and improve existing communities and wildlife.  Even the most technical engineers typically spend less than ¼ of their time on actual analysis.  A growing part of the profession is to be able to explain the benefits of a project to the public and incorporating the ideas of the communities into the design.  Engineers are also involved in construction and management of projects.  It is a diverse field that everyone who is passionate about improving the lives of others can find a place.
Regarding what it takes to become a Civil Engineer, you will need a four year degree and pass a license exam.  I found the non-engineering classes in the first two years of college (Biology, Chemistry, Math, and Physics) to be the most challenging, but you don’t need to get A’s in these classes to get a degree.  Passing the classes and learning the concepts is what the intent of the courses being included in the curriculum.  However, when I got into the Civil Engineering classes in the last two years of the program where we take the ideas of the non-engineering classes and using them to create something I could touch and feel, the courses started to click with me.  I like to use the ideas of intelligent people and use them in different and new ways.  I was quite happy with my B average when I graduated.  The license exam is taken three years after you graduate.  There are classes to study for the exam and usually people get in study groups with coworkers or former classmates to prepare for the exam.  The license exam mostly takes a commitment of time to pass, but if you put in the effort the passing rate will be high.
I accomplished being a Civil Engineer through perseverance more than intelligence, but the path for each person is different.  I am glad that I am in a profession that I can continue well into my 80s if I want to and work on exciting projects that I will be using as much as the rest of the public.



I am very excited by the charismatic future and current engineers that are going to elevate the profession of Civil Engineering in the coming years.  I appreciate our committee, institute, YMF, technical group, and board members who helped the ASCE OC Branch accomplish so much this year. I would like to share with you what the OC Branch accomplished this past year and I want to thank the people who made it happen.
  • The awards program has been growing the last few years and with Tapas Dutta as the chair this year, we had an excellent program and a sellout event.  In addition, Tapas along with Trent Casillas as co-chair helped to develop an extremely successful Mentoring Program.  The ASCE OC Branch has been actively developing a mentoring program over the last 10 years and the program the Mentoring Committee put together was enjoyed by all members and sustained throughout the year with well attended events.  Next year’s mentoring program is already gearing up to be more successful than this year’s.  Having a healthy mentoring program is the key to growing future leaders in Civil Engineering.


  • The Community Service Committee was started this year by Greg Henk, who also became our secretary.  He worked to develop a new Community Service Committee that includes projects at the San Diego Safari Park, Angeles National Forest, and with Corazon in Tecate Mexico.  Concurrently with Greg, Penny Lew worked with HomeAid on planning activities for members to help the organizations goal of ending homelessness in Orange County.  It has been a personal goal of mine to create opportunities for members of all ages to be able to participate in community service projects at the local level.  Greg is also active in Engineers Without Borders Orange County Professional Chapter (EWB-OC) and he has created a partnership between the ASCE OC Branch and EWB-OC through the community service committee that will be growing next year.  Greg also likes to run and he was the lead for our team’s participation in the Ragnar Relay Race.

  • The Construction Institute, the newest addition to the OC Branch, was initiated in January of this year.  With Amber Falk’s network within the Society, she was able to bring the Construction Institute’s Student Days to Orange County.  See the article in this newsletter about the excellent event that I had the privilege to attend.  One of the purposes of creating the institutes at the OC Branch is to increase our interaction with ASCE, provide more return to our members on their dues, and hold events for the different disciplines of Civil Engineering that our members practice.  The CI Student Days event met all the goals.  In addition, Amber worked with the Continuing Education Committee to have a half day seminar on construction issues. We had many positive responses on the program for the seminar and we look forward to more in the future.


  • The Continuing Education Committee put on seminars this year with the Transportation Technical Group, Construction Institute, GeoInstitute, and the Environmental Water Resources Institute.  Wei Zhu has built a committee that consistently puts together unique and highly praised seminars in conjunction with our institutes and technical groups. The number of seminars has increased each year since Wei has become chair and I am very grateful for the time she puts into each event to make them the best they can be.  I also want to thank the hard work of Nathan Schreiner, Naz Mokarram, and Tran Tran for their contributions to the Continuing Education Committee to make the events so successful.


  • The Environmental Water Resources Institute (EWRI OC) board is composed of Jose Cruz, Mujahid Chandoo, Roger Chung, and Bita Sadri who worked diligently this year to enhance the luncheons, which was rewarded by large attendance at their events.  EWRI OC also gave out their first scholarship at the History & Heritage/Student Fellowship Night in October 2014.  I am also pleased that EWRI OC will be holding their second continuing education seminar later this month.


  • Clint Isa the GeoInstitute (GI) Chair has grown the institute to include field trips, luncheons, and social events in addition to having a second seminar on geotechnical engineering.  They had an excellent seminar with leaders of the profession providing information on the latest ground improvement techniques.  The GI also had fun at a bowling night and a harbor cruise in the Port of Long Beach.

  • The OC Branch Government Relations Committee has become reenergized by Ravi Shah as chair of the committee.  In the past, the Government Relations Committee has interacted regularly with local representatives, but our members were not well informed about the activities the OC Branch was participating in.  The committee has grown in size and is now regularly writing articles for the OC Branch newsletter about legislative issues that affect Civil Engineers. The committee is also assisting the LA Section with their Infrastructure Advocacy Seminar, which will be held on October 2nd at Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority (Metro) at Union Station.   


  • Even though we didn’t have a chair for the History & Heritage Committee this year, the committee accomplished quite a bit. Thanks to the long hours and perseverance of Isamar Escobar, a History & Heritage video was created and presented at the November History & Heritage/Student Fellowship Dinner.  Isamar is working on something a little different for this year’s November dinner and I am excited to see what she comes up with.  Elizabeth Ruedas helped us accomplish a goal we have had of scanning the historic ASCE OC Branch newsletters we have in our archives.  We hope to have all the historical newsletters available to members and the public by the end of 2015.  Penny Lew is working on gaining access to the Tustin Blimp Hangars for a tour in the fall of this year.


  • The OC Branch board has had the goal of growing our K-12 Outreach program over the last 10 years without sustainable success.  This year, Amy Choi with assistance from  co-chair Eric Walker, the committee has developed programs that engage ASCE with students and teachers in new ways.  Amy worked with teachers at Dale Junior High School on several programs including a joint event with WTS called “Girls Engineering Day”.  Amy will be presenting at the California Department of Education’s STEM Symposium in October on and event she did with 2nd and 8th grade students in Anaheim known as “Saturday Engineering Day”.  This year she will be working with Eric on hosting the Popsicle Stick Bridge Competition in Orange County during Engineering Week in February 2016.  If you have an interest in K-12, now is the time to get involved, because Amy has many successful experiences she can share with our members.

  • Vice President Steven King worked hard recruiting new chairs for the OC Branch committees from companies who have not recently been active in the ASCE OC Branch.  He also lead the Marketing Committee’s new Annual Sponsorship program, with assistance from John Merrill, and the results exceeded my expectations. Steven also worked with OCTA to provide ASCE leadership at the OC Branch, Transportation Technical Group, LA Section, and Region 9 to provide input regarding the performance of the Measure M2 program and OCTA’s procurement process.  See article in this newsletter that provides ASCE OC Branch members the opportunity to share  their thoughts on the progress of OCTA’s Measure M2 program.  The OC Branch is in good hands next year with Steven as president.


  • Anh Case has continued to maintain our membership list and track the growth of the membership.  We have seen the membership slowly grow the last few years.  Penny Lew worked on an initiative to provide outreach to new members  encouraging them to attend  OC Branch’s events and become more active in ASCE. 


  • With Josue Vaglienty joining the OC Branch board, we were without a Programs Chair.  Joe Gonzalez stepped in to the position and has been building upon the hard work of Josue the last couple years.  The Programs Committee focused on providing a diverse range of topics with the goal of having at least one program on every discipline of Civil Engineering.  The attendance at each luncheon has dramatically increased and there has been an excitement about the topics that I haven’t see in a while.  I appreciate our members attending the luncheons and supporting the work that the Programs Committee is putting in to create new programs.


  • Yaz Emrani has assembled the Public Infrastructure Coalition of Orange County (PIC OC) again to evaluate the status of the infrastructure in Orange County and to begin the preparation of the update to the ASCE Orange County Report Card, which will be released in 2016.  Yaz found time to continue to be involved in PIC OC in addition to completing his duties as past president of the ASCE Los Angeles Section.


  • The Publications Committee, with Kumari Bharil and Tracy Highwart leading the effort, has outreached to more of the OC Branch committees to contribute articles and therefore improving the content in our newsletter.  Tracy works many hours each month putting the newsletter together and we are very appreciative of her dedication to make sure the newsletter provides more value to our members each month.  Penny Lew has been kind enough to read through my President’s articles each month and providing excellent editorial comment on how I can be more clear and concise in conveying the content of each article.


  • This year the OC Branch board decided to update our website.  This was an ambitious plan since I was the board member most familiar with the website and juggling responsibilities as president.  Elizabeth Ruedas took the leadership on developing the new website and I am eternally grateful to her. She also showed the OC Branch board how we can use technology to reduce our workload so we can focus more of our time on assisting the committees and implementing plans developed during our strategic meetings.  Elizabeth was also gracious to take the position as chair of the new Social Committee at the OC Branch. This committee plans to bring some of the fun and excitement that YMF has enjoyed for so many years, to all OC Branch members.  In her spare time she created an amazing and well attended event with a panel of women in leadership roles discussing the challenges and opportunities of being a woman in engineering.  I appreciate her hard work making my year as president of the OC Branch much easier.


  • Member participation at the golf tournament has been steadily growing each year.  Josue Vaglienty deserves many of the thanks for this year’s near sellout event.  Josue put together a team of volunteers that ran the event efficiently and the attendees had a great time. Josue also initiated our Social committee, which has innovative new ideas for our two annual dinners and has developed our new event “End of Summer Social”, which will be held in September at Las Brisas in Laguna Beach.  Please come out to this l special event in September to bid on lunch with your favorite VIP.
  • One of my goals this year was to increase the OC Branch board’s interaction with the student chapters at Cal State Long Beach, Cal State Fullerton, and University of California, Irvine.  Having  become distracted by the duties of being president of the OC Branch, I  was not quite able to fully carry out what I had planned.  However, Naveed Kharrat, the Student Activities Committee chair, built upon the great work Eric Walker had done the last two years as he had significantly increased Branch engagement with the student chapters.  Naveed developed new opportunities for the OC Branch board and student chapters to interact with each other.  There was a resume and mock interview workshop, several financial workshops, and meetings that pushed the student chapter leaders to define their goals and how they planned to achieve them.  The students are now looking further into the future and each student chapter has had major successes this year.  I don’t remember a time when all three of our student chapters were so energized and excited to try out new ideas for growing membership and increasing funding for significant activities and events such as the annual Pacific Southwest Conference.
  • The Structural Engineering Institute (SEI) is growing under the leadership of Chad Harden.  He is focusing on both bringing technical programs to elevate the profession and fun events like the “World of Whiskey” event coming up next week.  I look forward to more structural engineers getting involved with ASCE.  Chad and I have had several discussion on the type of events that are not currently available for structural engineers in Orange County, how we can  engage more with structural engineers,  and how to increase their participation in ASCE. 
  • Sustainability Committee is one of the fastest growing committees in the OC Branch.  This last year it held a seminar, a standalone meeting on Green Roads, and a field trip to the Newport Civic Center.  The co-chairs of the committee, Nathan Chase and Sam Ali, have also participated in the Society’s first Sustainability Conference in Long Beach and had written articles that helped grow the Sustainability Committee.
  • Transportation Technical Group (TTG OC) held their first seminar with the help of the Continuing Education Committee.  Ted Rigoni, chair of TTG OC, was the driving force behind the event and with his dedication to making the event successful, the TTG OC seminar had the highest attendance and very positive responses following the seminar..  Ted, Adrian Anderson, Matthew Dennerline, and Dennis Mak worked hard to find excellent presenters for their luncheons and were rewarded by growing attendance at their events. 
  • You may have noticed that many of the members who helped the OC Branch’s committees are also members of the Younger Member Forum.  Being a past OC YMF president myself, it has been a passion of mine to find ways to have younger members and experienced members work together more on the OC Branch committees.  Remi Candaele, President of OC YMF, has taken the concept of increased interaction between YMF and OC Branch to heart and accomplished more than I could have dreamed.  He brought Renate Mousseux an expert in reading body language as the closing speaker for an amazing speaker series that had many leaders in the industry share their experiences.  He provided the opportunity for one of the father-in-law of one YMF member to speak about his experiences during the Holocaust.  Remi regularly met with YMF members who participated in the joint YMF and OC Branch committees to provide them with guidance and encouragement to try new ideas. The YMF had a spectacular program that had leading women in Civil Engineering speak at the panel discussion  “Women in Engineering”.  I had the opportunity to attend many of the excellent programs that YMF put together this year and Remi deserves many praises for putting together a successful year for OC YMF. 
With future engineers like Ellen and the dedication of the members of our committees, institutes, student chapters, YMF, and OC Branch Board of Directors, the ASCE has a bright future in Orange County.  Not everyone has the time to be the president of the OC Branch, but I hope that more of our members will become more active in ASCE and continue to be involved in our organization throughout their careers.  Thank you for providing me the opportunity to be your president this year and I hope you enjoyed the past ASCE year as much as I did.