Category Archives: ASCE

ASCE National Convention Conference 2016


Every year, ASCE organizes a National Convention in which civil engineering students and professionals from all over the country come together and attend civil engineering related events and workshops. This year, the National Convention took place in Portland, Oregon from September 28th to October 1st.

USC ASCE sent three student members to the National Convention to learn more about what ASCE is doing on the national level and to gain insight on some current civil engineering topics. President Saina Vosoghi, vice president Marissa Knutson, and secretary Elizabeth Gu flew to Portland to attend the convention and experience the beautiful city!

Vice President, Marissa Knutson (left), Secretary, Elizabeth Gu (middle), President, Saina Vosoghi (right)

Some of the insightful workshops that USC ASCE members were able to attend were on subjects such as past iconic construction endeavors, the influence of various civil engineering innovations, and how to improve the professional status of civil engineers. Two of the sessions, “Building the Grand Coulee Dam”, and “Behind the Scenes: Design and Construction of the World’s Longest Floating Bridge”, went through a step-by-step process of how these grand structures were designed and constructed. In addition, “Transforming Transportation – Automated and Connected Vehicles”, discussed the ethical dilemmas regarding the advanced technological pursuits of automated vehicles. Two workshops that discussed the role of civil engineering professionals both in industry and in the world included “Collaboration of Construction Engineers and Structural Engineers” and “Humanitarian Opportunities in Civil Engineering.”


An emphasis was placed on the importance of good communication between design and construction that begins with a solid relationship between construction and structural engineers. Also, the humanitarian opportunities that are available for civil engineers were discussed and displayed the importance of giving back using the engineering skills that civil engineers have in their possession. Beyond the workshops, USC ASCE members were given the opportunity to speak with esteemed civil engineering professionals and to preview MacGillivray Freeman’s “DREAM BIG” movie, set to release in February 2017.


The convention was not just about business, however. Saina, Marissa, and Elizabeth also got the opportunity to experience some of Portland’s most treasured attractions! They rode the Portland Aerial Tram and got to escape the LA drought and go hiking in some beautiful green forests. Powell’s Book Store was also an impressive sight to see, the world’s largest independent bookstore! They couldn’t stay away from the great food and visited Voodoo Doughnuts and the Portland Saturday Market. They took advantage of Portland’s great public transportation and rode the train to Washington Park, the deepest transit station in North America at 260 ft. below ground. At Washington Park, they explored the arboretum as well as the Vietnam War Memorial. They truly enjoyed getting to visit the city and were taken away with the beautiful buildings and impressive bridges. The ASCE National Convention was a great experience and we can’t wait for next year’s in New Orleans, Louisiana!

2016 TECHINCAL PAPER — A Strategic Approach to Reconciling Global Engineering Codes and Standards

Editor’s note: this essay is USC ASCE’s submission to the 2016 ASCE Daniel W. Mead Prize for Students. Justine Lee is current a sophomore at USC pursuing a B.S. in Environmental Engineering. Justine presented this paper at the PSWC 2016 Technical Paper Competition, winning 1st place out of 18 universities.

A Strategic Approach to Reconciling Global Engineering Codes and Standards

Justine Lee

In a rapidly globalizing world, even minute dissimilarities between available codes and regulations amplify the complexity of engineering design and decision-making. Engineering professionals are placed in or sent to foreign locations with growing frequency; even within their own countries, engineers may experience the complications of unreconciled industry standards through transnational project cooperation or international exchange of materials and technology. Engineering personnel are thus increasingly called to orient themselves effectively within the global arena, where they will need to determine the design standard that satisfies their ethical obligations for safety and quality while balancing local customs with global best practices. While project particulars prevent a catch-all solution, this paper outlines several techniques for developing a consistent strategy to address cases of criterial ambiguity: engineers should seek first to thoroughly understand and address the intent of relevant codes and standards, clearly document and communicate code interpretations and synthesis, and finally regularly review design actions.

Engineering standards and codes are related, but they have different roles. Standards are documents providing recommended specifications and procedures, and function as a reference in determining the viability and quality of similar processes, materials, products, and services (Yates, 2006, p. 163). By comparison, codes are a set of rules that often identify a minimum engineering standard. Codes become laws within a jurisdiction when formally adopted by appropriate governing authorities (National Fire Protection Association, 2016). Technical requirements determined for specific engineering projects are generally established either by law or by the standards cited and incorporated within contracts. International contracts will usually also include clauses addressing the project’s global nature, such as stating which legal system may settle disputes (Yates, 2006, p. 136). Although the details of drafting and navigating international contracts are beyond the scope of this paper,[1] engineering professionals should be familiar with the conventions that are enforced within the local jurisdiction, as code compliance is always the responsibility of the design engineer. However, some ambiguity is generated if local codes are less stringent than the standards with which the design engineer or sending organization is familiar. It is thus the responsibility of the design professional to appropriately consider the available codes and standards, and address those applicable to his or her project.

The arguably most crucial procedure when evaluating different standards and codes is to decipher the original authorial intent. Design codes are drafted as “living documents,” with clarifications or specifications amended and accrued over the years (Ching, 2012, p. IX). However, all sections begin with an author intending to solve a particular (existent or potential) problem. Therefore, when endeavoring to visually or spatially translate written codes, engineers should always ask why the code was written, and which problem(s) it attempts to solve. In a situation where engineers are confronted with foreign regulations, interpreting the reason for a code’s distinct wording might lend insight to the specific local (cultural, geologic, etc.) context. Whenever possible, local engineers and personnel should be contacted for collaborative assessment and to confirm integrity of authorial intent. This step not only enables suitably adapted designs, but also fosters multicultural engagement and working relationships crucial to project success. Engineers, too, have intent, and they create solutions according to some functional or applicational objective. Therefore, engineers should always measure their design goals against their best understanding of the code’s purpose and aim to harmonize the two intents (Ching, 2012, p. 9). In the international setting, engineers must recognize that codes employing similar language might stem from different motivations. Hence, document-specific code definitions should be consulted as much as possible to ascertain how particular terms are used; one should never assume that vocabulary carry the same meaning across documents. Where multiple codes apply, engineers should elect to address all implicitly proposed concerns. Neglecting to do so could lead to project delays and, in serious cases, not only jeopardize the engineer’s career and reputation but— more importantly— the safety, health, and welfare of society. Even when codes are prompted by the same issue, but differ only in standard or stringency level, engineers should ask the reason for the more exacting standard before deciding its applicability. These processes may be better conducted over a well-documented code analysis.

Diligent documentation is paramount when navigating and reconciling standards from multiple sources. Every engineering project, whether international or domestic, should contain within its project documents a code analysis detailing code citations and interpretations (Ching, 2012, p. 13). This document becomes expressly critical for monitoring the fulfillment of all defined requirements, while recording the dialogue and reasoning behind selections of certain standards over others. This will not only better position professionals to explain and defend the validity of their code synthesis decisions but also facilitate future conversations and plan reviews with inspecting officials or clients. In many ways, code reconciliation or synthesis may be compared to seeking code compliance via performance.[2] Both procedures could involve the introduction of new (foreign) technology, materials, or standards that cause deviation from local conventional systems. Thus, many permitting agencies may already have provisions in place for alternate compliance methods with detailed criteria by which officials may approve or reject deviations from prescribed design (Ching, 2012, p. 11). When appropriate, engineers should submit their analysis and project execution plans for review as early as possible to correct discrepancies before expending excessive amounts of time and energy on detailed design. In response to expanding global ventures, some organizations have also taken to compiling and harmonizing key design codes, creating comparison guides,[3] or drafting their own consensus-based standards. It is thus in the interest of engineers to determine if any agency has previously resolved similar code conflicts.

When working on a project with some global aspect, engineers may decide to adhere to widely accepted international standards; a few advantages and disadvantages of this strategy are briefly offered for consideration here. The most prevalent standards developing organization is the globally acknowledged International Organization for Standardization (ISO[4]), founded in 1947 at the Institute of Civil Engineers in London as an independent, non-governmental entity. ISO’s membership comprises 162 national standards bodies representing their countries, and ISO international standards cover almost every industry from food-safety to technology (ISO, 2012). The advantages of implementing international standards are: globally competitive and compatible designs, facilitation of communication and mutual technical understanding, and straightforward exchanges of technology. Major disadvantages include: additional internal costs for revision and modification of customary procedures and, if local personnel are unfamiliar with these standards, disruptions in project timeline or employee morale (Yates, 2006, p. 178). The added hassle of auditing and registration procedures might also deter engineers from adoption. However, a global movement towards wider usage of these standards would increase accessibility and simplify procedures over time; therefore, engineers and design firms might view international compliance as a long-term investment towards easier global trade. Currently, it would be up to the stakeholders to weigh associated benefits and setbacks to decide level of adherence.

During and after the code reconciliation process, engineers should regularly self-review with a few simple decision analysis tools to ensure continued integrity and satisfaction of ethical obligations as a professional. The first such tool, proposed by Noreen M. Surgrue and Timothy G. McCarthy, is called superposition of norms (2015). This method is especially useful when the norms of engineering design, local customs, or the sending organization are in conflict. The tool asks engineers to imagine a character who is equally biased[5] (and thus unbiased) towards all parties, and who is tasked to systematically consider the ideal solution from each perspective. In this way, the rationalized compromise maximizes the interests of all stakeholders.[6] Other quicker, simpler tests might include, but are by no means limited to: 1) Sleep Test, 2) Mirror Test, and 3) Newspaper Test (Chang, 2010, p. 466). Namely, engineers may ask themselves the following questions: Would this design decision keep me awake at night? How would I feel looking into the mirror? How would this look on the front page of the newspaper? These easy checks all have a similar basis— to provide an initial diagnosis of potentially regretful decisions— and can be conducted as often as desired. While failure of any of these tests should immediately encourage action and reorientation, engineers must ultimately recall that focus should not be given to merely meeting minimum threshold, but aspiring to safer and more effective designs.

In the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) code of ethics, the first listed fundamental canon reads that “engineers shall hold paramount the safety, health and welfare of the public and shall strive to comply with the principles of sustainable development in the performance of their professional duties” (emphasis added). Rather than reluctantly fulfilling obligations, engineers should stake personal interest in the dependability and excellence of their design. Although codes and standards may appear tedious or even daunting, they enable engineering professionals to shape and advance their fields. Instead of reacting passively to written rules, engineers should adopt a proactive stance, becoming familiarized— and involved, when possible— with code and standard drafting processes, actively anticipating potential decision or design conflicts, and engaging in the global dialogue surrounding their profession. Through discourse and personal ownership, engineers may begin to resolve these issues on a consistent basis: global solutions require a corresponding ubiquitous sense of global citizenship and cooperation.

[1] For some useful resources pertinent to international contracting, see the standard formats for international contracts published by the International Federation of Consulting Engineers (FIDIC) and the Legal Guide for Drawing Up International Contracts for the Construction of Industrial Work published by the United Nations Commission on International Trade and Law (UNCITRAL).

[2] This is as opposed to the traditional prescriptive method of code compliance. The majority of codes, especially in civil engineering, are prescriptive— identified problems are assigned approved responses. On the other hand, performance codes, also called objective-based requirements, define only the problem and allow engineers to imagine their own solutions. An example is fall prevention codes; while prescriptive codes may specify minimum dimensions for guardrails, performance codes afford engineers the freedom to innovate new safety precautions such as installing elevated garden-boxes (Ching, 2012, p. 8). It may be argued that performance codes compel engineers to more critically consider the consequences of their design decisions and the intent of written regulations.

[3] An example of this is the American Society of Mechanical Engineers (ASME), who in collaboration with other international standards development organizations, created a comparison of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission’s (NRC) boiler and pressure vessel rules (section III) alongside foreign regulatory codes (Terao, 2013).

[4] Since “International Organization for Standardization” would have different acronyms in other languages, the organization name is instead abbreviated as ISO, derived from the Greek isos, which means “equal” (ISO).

[5] This is achieved by establishing that the character is a composite member of one stakeholder group without knowing which, but with equal probability of it being any one group (Surgrue & McCarthy, 2015). While hypothetical in nature, this technique introduces a measure of objectivity to ethically ambiguous situations; for issues of code interpretation, designers might be motivated to heed otherwise unconsidered precautions.

[6] To illustrate this strategy in practice, Surgrue and McCarthy examine a case study in which the proposed site for a clean water project conflicts with local norms, as its proximity would disturb a site of religious significance during construction. The matter is resolved by building the project in an alternate location; although the engineering design was somewhat compromised, and the commissioning organization would have to account for additional costs, it is the only course of action that would not severely violate the major values or needs of any stakeholder group (2015).



American Society of Civil Engineers. (2006). Code of Ethics (Cannon 1). Retrieved from

Chang, C. M. (2010). Service systems management and engineering: Creating strategic differentiation and operational excellence. John Wiley & Sons.

Ching, F. D., & Winkel, S. R. (2012). Building Codes Illustrated, Volume 6 : Building Codes

Illustrated : A Guide to Understanding the 2012 International Building Code (4th Edition). Somerset, NJ, USA: John Wiley & Sons.

International Organization of Standardization. (2012). The ISO Story. Retrieved from

National Fire Protection Agency. (2016). A Reporter’s Guide to Fire and the NFPA (About Codes and Standards). Retrieved from

Surgrue, N. M., & McCarthy, T. G. (2015). Engineering Decisions in a Global Context and

Social Choice. In C. Murphy, P. Gardoni, H. Bashir, C. E. Harris, Jr., E. Masad (Eds.),

Engineering Ethics for a Globalized World (pp. 79-90). Switzerland: Springer International Publishing.

Terao, D. (2013). U.S. Government Use of ASME Codes and Standards. In K. Balkey, D. A.

Canonico, A. L. Guzman, P. F. Nelson, M. Webster, & S. Weinman (Eds.), ASME

Standards & Certification (pp. 10-11).

Yates, J. K. (2006). Global engineering and construction. John Wiley & Sons.

2016 LA YMF Student Night & Job Fair

Several USC ASCE members attended the annual Student Night and Job Fair hosted by the ASCE Los Angeles Younger Member Forum. The evening began with a job fair, where students networked with representatives from 17 companies looking to hire for internships and full-time positions. It was a great opportunity to network with professionals as well as students from other universities. With numerous USC alumni in attendance, there were many opportunities to take advantage of the power of the Trojan Family.

After networking, we had dinner with a choice of chicken or salmon, both of which were delicious. Representatives from LA YMF, the Metropolitan Los Angeles Branch, and LA Section spoke, followed by the keynote speaker, who highlighted how his personal experiences with earthquakes influenced his professional development as a structural engineer.

After the dinner, the ASCE scholarships were awarded. USC students took home the MLAB LeVal Lund Memorial Graduate Scholarship, LA YMF Graduate Scholarship, and LA Section Leo and Pat Hirschfeldt Scholarship.

USC ASCE Membership Chair Saina Vosoghi with her YMF Graduate Scholarship Award.
USC ASCE Membership Chair Saina Vosoghi with her YMF Graduate Scholarship Award.

With 13% of our members in attendance, more than any of the other 10 schools in the Los Angeles Section of ASCE, we also won a sponsorship to help with our costs for PSWC!

USC ASCE President and VP with the YMF PSWC Sponsorship award.
USC ASCE President and VP with the YMF PSWC Sponsorship award.

Overall the student night and job fair was a great experience and we strongly recommend that everyone attend again next year.

USC ASCE Membership Chair Saina Vosoghi with her YMF Graduate Scholarship Award.
USC ASCE Membership Chair Saina Vosoghi with her YMF Graduate Scholarship Award.
USC ASCE President Nick Halsey with ASCE MLAB President Genaro Mejia.
USC ASCE President Nick Halsey with ASCE MLAB President Genaro Mejia.
USC ASCE President Nick Halsey with ASCE MLAB University Outreach Chair Brian Ochoa.
USC ASCE President Nick Halsey with ASCE MLAB University Outreach Chair Brian Ochoa.
Group photo with all of the students and professionals at the student night and job fair.
Group photo with all of the students and professionals at the student night and job fair.

All photos are courtesy of Paul Choy, LA YMF Historian.

WSCL 2016

Sunrise in Anchorage (about 10:30 AM)

Last weekend, nine Trojans found themselves on a red-eye flight to Anchorage, Alaska for an amazing experience. Interestingly, four of the members were freshmen.

ASCE’s WSCL, or Workshop for Student Chapter Leaders, is an annual conference geared towards improving student chapters and creating better student officers. This conference is held alongside the Workshop for Section and Branch Leaders (WSBL)  and the Younger Member Council Meeting (YMC). In addition to presenting better ways to run a student chapter of ASCE with useful tips and workshops, the conference also provided many opportunities to network with Younger Members and Section and Branch Leaders within the civil engineering field.

Tyler and Spencer in the Chart Room
Tyler and Spencer in the Chart Room

After arriving early Friday morning, we tried to get what sleep we could before the busy day ahead of us began.  The day started “bright and early” at 9:00 AM (it was still dark) with a warm welcome from Shane Binder from the Committee of Student Members. After spending a few hours listening to speakers upstairs in the chart room , it was time for us ourselves to speak. Up next was the first round of breakout sessions.  These open discussions included topics like community outreach, financial management, and member recruitment.  The sessions were particularly helpful because it provided the opportunity for other schools to give insight and solutions to a problem that your chapter may be having and vice versa.

Following the breakout sessions came lunch where we had section and branch leaders sprinkled throughout the ballroom. I had quite an engaging conversation with a recently retired transportation engineer who did plenty of work in Orange County and even contributed to the Hyperloop project. During the second half of lunch, we were entertained by a special speaker: Norma Jean Mattei, the future president of ASCE and current president-elect. In addition, for the first time in ASCE’s 164 year history, the two upcoming official 2017 president-elect nominees for ASCE will be women.

Interesting discussion taking place in the Region 9 breakout session
Interesting discussion taking place in the Region 9 breakout session

Once lunch was over, we separated into specific region breakout sessions where we addressed possible solutions to various civil engineering and sustainability problems.  Since the session was region and section specific, this portion of the conference also gave us the chance to meet some of our Younger Members and other students from the Los Angeles area. Something that was introduced in this meeting was ASCE’s new movie Dream Big, coming to theaters in 2017. It is a movie designed to bring awareness to the world of engineering.

Next came another set of student breakout sessions, this time geared toward problems student chapters faced. We concluded the evening with a Q&A segment from ASCE heads, and finally ended with conversations with Alaskan job recruiters. Once the evening session was adjourned, we were free to seek out Alaskan cuisine.

Later that night, we attempted to find dinner, and we ended up pretty much exploring downtown Anchorage. Spencer and I stumbled upon Town Square Park which happened to have a plethora of unique ice sculptures. We ended up eating at Fat Ptarmigan, a restaurant that served wood oven fired pizza with countless toppings. The most interesting of them all was the one that included reindeer sausage. That was a first, and it was quite delicious.

Ice sculptures at Anchorage's Town Square Park
Ice sculptures at Anchorage’s Town Square Park

The following morning, we had breakfast with a presentation from Blaine Leonard, the 2010 ASCE president, who presented his Generational Differences slide show. I found it interesting that we live in a time where the workforce is comprised of four different generations with varying values and ideals. WSCL concluded back in the chart room with discussion about upcoming conferences and the location of next year’s WSCL, which will be located right here in Los Angeles.

WSCL group
WSCL group

Despite the six hours of daily sunlight, we definitely made the most of the trip. After the conference was officially over, we did the classic tourist thing: we searched for the perfect picture spots and explored Alaska’s gift shops. Probably the most exciting (and terrifying) thing for a few of us was the 7.1 magnitude earthquake that shook Alaska the day half of us left. Those that remained were safe, and the experience was a reminder that demonstrated just what civil engineers set out to achieve.

Sunset in Anchorage (about 4:15 PM)
Sunset in Anchorage (about 4:15 PM)

ASCE 2015 Convention – New York, NY

Eight USC ASCE representatives spent five days in New York City for the ASCE 2015 Convention. As the annual worldwide professional gathering for the American Society of Civil Engineers, the ASCE Convention is a phenomenal opportunity to meet other engineers and learn more about the civil engineering profession. After a whirlwind five days of networking and learning, we’re all energized and excited about our chosen field of interest.

This post gives a detailed recap of the conference, key takeaways, and details on our favorite presentations. You can also check out our compilations of social media coverage from the conference itself and from our adventures in New York.

The Convention

Interesting architecture inside the convention hotel.
The convention hotel.

Held at a hotel in Times Square, the actual convention ran Monday – Wednesday and featured a combination of networking events, breakfasts/luncheons, general sessions, and breakout sessions on specific topics. Check out a compilation of our tweets to see its progression here. Below, we’ll detail some of our highlights from the professional portion of the convention.

Networking & General Sessions

The ASCE Convention is all about networking – meeting other civil engineers, sharing knowledge, and making connections. Accordingly, the schedule is built around a series of networking breaks and meals, where attendees can eat and socialize while meeting civil engineers from around the county and the world.

Student & Emerging Leaders Breakfast

Student & Emerging Leaders Breakfast.
Student & Emerging Leaders Breakfast.

We started off the first day with a student and emerging leaders breakfast, where all of the student attendees could network with each other, meet the ASCE President, Past-President, and President-Elect, and learn what to expect out of the conference. This was a great opportunity to get an introduction to the convention in a more intimate setting, allowing us to be much more comfortable going into the larger sessions with the entire conference. Most of the annual convention attendees are practicing engineering professionals, so student attendees have tons of opportunities to talk with professional engineers of all specialties to learn more about the industry and potential career paths. Interacting with other student members also gives us a chance to meet fellow civil engineers that we’ll continue to see at ASCE events for years to come, where lifelong friendships will develop for many.

Opening Keynote Speaker – Luke Williams

Author Luke Williams kicked off the conference with a presentation on innovation. In particular, he advocated for disruptive innovation–a willingness to rethink traditional business practices and explore new ideas. Products lead to decreasing returns, but ideas lead to increasing returns and innovation, because they can continue growing from a basic concept to a full-fledged project. Innovation is most successful when it’s disruptive–it’s important to look outside your existing asset base, avoid “safe” incremental changes, and avert complacency. A good idea goes beyond a prediction to create a provocative response; excitement for the unexpected.

Opening Plenary Session, with keynote speaker Luke Williams.
Opening Plenary Session, with keynote speaker Luke Williams.

With technology as a baseline, civil engineering is poised to see many disruptive innovations in the near future. Perhaps these will come from new materials such as composites, or construction methods like 3D-printed buildings. At USC ASCE, we’re already working to disruptively innovate in our projects. An example is our new, drastically re-imagined structural approach for this year’s concrete canoe (details are top-secret). Overall, Williams’ engaging presentation was a great way to kick off the conference, setting up a theme of innovation that would continue throughout the other sessions.

Business Meeting

ASCE Buisness Meeting
ASCE Buisness Meeting

The business meeting is the annual meeting for ASCE members. At this year’s meeting, it was announced that ASCE now has over 150,000 members worldwide, with 43 international student chapters including 11 established in the past year. ASCE’s “Grand Challenge” is to innovate to reduce lifecycle costs for infrastructure and improve project delivery processes. Most excitingly, ASCE is working to bring more prominence to the civil engineering profession. An IMAX film entitled Deam Big is now in production and will be released in February 2017, sharing the amazing things that civil engineers do and inspiring children to consider careers in civil engineering from a young age. Finally, Mark Woodson was installed as the 2016 president of ASCE.

Industry Leaders Forum

Industry Leaders Forum.
Industry Leaders Forum.

We sat in on an amazing panel discussion on innovation featuring three industry leaders: Andrew Chatham from Google X, David Durham from Walt Disney Imagineering, and David Odeh from Odeh Engineers. They each broke down the new, innovative projects they are working on at their respective companies. Chatham is working on further developing Google’s first self-driving car, which is already at its freeway-driving prototype phase; Google employees are able to “drive” it to work! Durham is working on a new castle being built at Shanghai Disneyland, and discussed their project process–everything from designing in Revit and AutoCAD to communicating between Los Angeles, where the castle is being designed, and Shanghai, where the castle is being constructed. He also showed us Dish, an immersive projected 3D display which allows viewers to experience the castle’s design before it is even built. Finally, Odeh discussed the new technologies being employed at Odeh Engineers, such as a BIM Immersion room (which works much like Dish), and a 3D laser scan model that can be created of any existing structure. He also advised us that responsible risk taking is required in civil engineering, and left us with some words of wisdom from T.Y. Lin, “You have to have guts to be a structural engineer.”

Closing Luncheon and Speaker

Closing General Session with a Portland-themed lunch.
Closing General Session with a Portland-themed lunch.

ASCE’s new president, Mark Woodson, provided a few closing remarks recapping Convention 2015 before turning it over to Gregory DiLoreto to introduce the location for the ASCE 2016 Convention : Portland, Oregon! We saw an amazing video highlighting the must-sees (and must-eats!) in Portland, which definitely convinced us to at least consider attending next year. Next, Don McMillan, an electrical engineer turned comedian, provided a refreshing comedy break and an excellent closing for Convention 2015 over our delicious Portland-themed lunch of salad, chicken, and a fruit tart. McMillan reminded us that “engineers aren’t boring; we just just get excited about boring things” and taught us that “adaptive procurement” is the civil engineering term for ‘stealing’. Overall, Convention 2015 was an amazing experience, and we definitely all learned a lot!

Concurrent Sessions – Technical Presentations

Full house for the Brooklyn Bridge session.
Full house for the Brooklyn Bridge session.

At several points throughout the convention, attendees have an opportunity to choose between five or more sessions being offered concurrently. With our group of eight USC representatives, we split up to learn about the topics we were most interested in. The summaries below discuss some of our favorite sessions and were written by various convention attendees from USC. Overall, the concurrent sessions were awesome because they went into depth on the projects and topics they discussed and included technical details while still being accessible to civil engineering students.

Building the Brooklyn Bridge

The “Building the Brooklyn Bridge” session, part of the History & Heritage topic, detailed the means by which the Brooklyn Bridge was designed and constructed. Speaker Raymond Giroux described the context of the bridge’s construction as an iconic structure that could serve as both a physical and social connector between New York and Brooklyn. Drawings and animations of construction logistics techniques detailed the challenges of building the bridge. While most people interested in civil engineering are probably familiar with the general story around the Brooklyn Bridge and the three Roeblings that served as its chief engineers, Giroux’s presentation went considerably further, showing how caissons under each of the bridge’s towers were gradually lowered into the ground under the river as 272 vertical feet of granite blocks were erected above them. Overall, the Brooklyn Bridge is has proven durable and functionally while also being an iconic, architecturally significant and efficient structure, remaining one of the greatest works of civil engineering in the United States.

The Brooklyn Bridge.
The Brooklyn Bridge.

Leading Self and Others

This presentation started off by defining leadership as the art, science, and craft of influencing other people to achieve a common goal and improve an organization. Being a good leader is based in understanding the preferences and tendencies of each team member and the collective group to most effectively encourage everyone to do their best work. During the presentation everyone in the audience was given the opportunity to do a personality type self-assessment using the Myers Briggs test. Then the audience split into different groups based on personality type and the facilitators proposed different questions that elicited different responses from the different personality type groups. This Myers Briggs exercise showed that effectively working in teams means understanding the different thought paths of the different personality types. This means that everyone regardless of personality type, is capable of being a leader. Even though certain skills such as public speaking may come more naturally to some while others have to work harder than others to refine those skills, ultimately leading a team is about understanding the strengths and weaknesses of one’s team and oneself to bring the best out of everyone.

The New NY Bridge to Replace the Tappan Zee

The Tappan Zee Bridge is a 3.1-mile-long highway bridge 25 miles north of New York City. Work is currently well underway to construct new twin cable-stayed structures to replace the existing bridge, and the presentation discussed the process of designing and constructing this massive, $3.14 billion project. With a goal of integrating construction engineering into the design process, design/build projet delivery was selected and a five-firm joint venture was selected as the winning bidder to execute the project. Panelists from the owner, design, and construction management sides of the project detailed the massive efforts required to make the project a reality.

Tappan Zee Bridge Rendering
Rendering of the new Tappan Zee Bridge.

The geotechnical engineer explained the challenging soil conditions under the river, where 700 foot-deep bedrock necessitates the use of friction piles. To aid constructability of the extremely deep piles, more numerous, smaller-diameter piles are being used. One of the environmental engineering consultants explained how environmental concerns due to the construction work are mitigates, such as by creating “bubble clouds” around piles while they’re driven, to dampen the sound/virbration waves being generated and protect fish in the river. Structural engineers also explained the design of the bridge’s superstructure, with precast concrete pile caps, cast-in-place concrete columns, precast pier caps, steel girders, and precast deck panels that are stitched together with cast-in-place concrete. Additionally, construction engineers detailed techniques for building the bridge’s approaches, by assembling each span in a yard at one shore, then lifting the directly into their place, avoiding the need for extensive shoring in the water. Overall, this presentation provided an excellent overview of the different aspects of a large-scale bridge project, the design/build project delivery method, and types of engineers that contribute to a given project.

ASCE 2013 Report Card: Are Grades Raising?

Panel discussing resiliency.
Panel discussing resiliency.

This session featured a panel of industry leaders doing research to determine the United States’ overall infrastructure grade. The panel discussed strategies to surpass and improve on the nation’s current D+ rating at length, looking at transportation, water, utilities, waste, and other infrastructure, and especially encouraging civil engineers young and old to strive to influence politics. Phone calls and office visits with local, state, and even federal officials cause the civil engineering profession’s voice to be heard and can have enormous potential to sway public policy towards finally correcting our nation’s infrastructure. They stressed that the movement starts with the individual but requires the collective to envision an economic and efficient solution.

Adapting Infrastructure: Civil Engineers Practice Climate Change

Several experts on the topic of climate change defined climate change as well as the levels of confidence for which each effect of climate change is known and observed. The speakers stressed the importance of adaptive design in our infrastructure and low-regret engineering in order to minimize risk in the face of the various and ambiguously severe changing factors due to climate change. This calls for higher resiliency and better structural preparedness for a wider variety of weather and climactic events in the coming decades. Designing above established standards calls for civil engineering advocacy for understanding the effects of climate change and bolder requirements for building design in order to mitigate these novel and eclectic environmental threats. They stressed the need for engineers to think creatively and comprehensively about the most economically logical way to design for resiliency given these new external factors despite the largely unknown extent of their potential effects.

Goethals Bridge: A Case Study on a PPP Project

History & Heritage presentation on Building the Brooklyn Bridge

This session provided a comprehensive overview of projects done through Public-Private Partnerships, or PPPs, through the singular study of Goethals bridge. The bridge, which connects regional markets, airports, and seaports in the New Jersey and New York area, represents a massive overlap of both the public and private sector. The purpose of this PPP – and others – was for the project to be funded partially by the private company involved, and primarily by loaned capital from major banks or similar financial institutions. This allows the public sector to complete large and urgent projects with the efficiency of the private sector, without needing the initial capital to fund the project outright. The key to the successful implementation of this PPP project was the flexible by explicitly defined roles and responsibilities for both the public and the private partners.

Diversity & Inclusion in Civil Engineering

In this session the panel discussed the future of civil engineering in terms of diversity and inclusion in the workplace. We learned that diversity applies to everyone; we are all from different backgrounds and have experienced different things, which allows us to form a variety of different opinions. Having discussions with a diverse group of people allows us to acknowledge our personal biases and form valuable connections. Companies are now working to promote inclusion to make people with diverse backgrounds feel more valuable and important; employers are now recognizing that accommodating the needs of diverse employees helps with overall productivity and efficiency.

New York City

Manhattan from Brooklyn Bridge Park.
Manhattan from Brooklyn Bridge Park.

We arrived in New York a couple of days before the main convention started so that we could explore the city. Given our interest in civil engineering and the built environment, we took particular interest in the great historical and modern architectural and engineering achievements in the city. Check out our tweets about our adventures here, and read about some of our favorite places below!

1.The High Line

23rd St. Lawn on the High Line. The building under construction in the background is the first in the Hudson Yards development project.

A former rail line that was recently renovated into a park, the High Line is full of amazing views of the city and some really interesting architecture. We enjoyed walking around and taking in the sights of the city!

2. Central Park

View from the roof of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, over central park.
View from the roof of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, over central park.

It is mind blowing how big Central Park truly is! We spent a lot of time here and still didn’t even cover half of the park. Central Park is a great place to get away from the hustle and bustle of the city and be surrounded by some nature.

3. The Metropolitan Museum of Art

Metropolitan Museum of Art - main lobby.
Metropolitan Museum of Art – main lobby.

The largest art museum in the United States, the Met is full of art from all different time periods and geographic locations. We enjoyed getting to stroll through the museum and take in the amazing sights, like the massive painting “Washington Crossing the Delaware” and the amazing display of the “Temple of Dendur” in the Egyptian Wing. In addition to housing amazing art, the building itself is architecturally impeccable, featuring a wide variety of exciting spaces while serving its purpose as a museum well.

4. The Guggenheim

The spiral gallery at the Guggenheim Museum.
The spiral gallery at the Guggenheim Museum.

Although the art by Alberto Burri was quite interesting, the real highlight of the Guggenheim is the building itself! Designed by Frank Lloyd Wright, the large cylindrical building houses a unique “ramp gallery” for the art, where the path spirals around the perimeter of the building for an optimal flow while viewing the art.

5. Top of the Rock

Panorama from Top of the Rock
Panorama from Top of the Rock

The pictures really don’t do it justice, but taking in the New York Skyline from on top of Rockefeller Center was unbelievable. We managed to get tickets for the best time, because we got to enjoy the sunset through the skyline, and then also see the lights of the city turn on!

6. World Trade Center / 9-11 Memorial

One World Trade Center and the 9/11 Memorial building.
One World Trade Center and the 9/11 Memorial building.

We visited the World Trade Center site, where the 9/11 memorial, One World Trade Center, and Four World Trade Center are complete, and work is quickly progressing on Three World Trade Center. The project is a massive civil engineering feat in terms of both design and construction – the hundreds of trees arranged in neat rows with rows of drains built over a massive subterranean complex were particularly impressive.

7. Little Italy

Dinner in Little Italy.
Dinner in Little Italy.

A trip to New York is incomplete without food in Little Italy! We enjoyed enormous portions of pasta at a delicious restaurant, and then stopped by a dessert place to get some cannoli’s.

8. The Halal Guys

The Halal Guys food cart.
The Halal Guys food cart.

After a long day walking around the city probably one of the best meals we ate was at Halal Guys, which is a food cart in the city. They serve big portions of gyro and rice, and our entire group finished their meal!

9. Brooklyn Bridge Park

After learning about the Brooklyn Bridge at conference, we had to make sure to check in out in person. The Brooklyn Bridge Park offers stunning views of not only the bridge, but also the Statue of Liberty and the city skyline.

View of Manhattan from Brooklyn Bridge Park.
View of Manhattan from Brooklyn Bridge Park.

Overall, the convention and the city of New York offered an experience that we’ll never forget. We’re thrilled to have had the opportunity to attend, thanks largely to USC’s Undergraduate Student Government, which funded our registration costs. In closing, here are our favorite moments from the convention in picture form. It’s worth noting that the taking of selfies was facilitated by selfie sticks provided by ASCE!

ASCE 2015 Convention: Social Media, Part 2

We’ve been live-tweeting from the ASCE 2015 Convention in New York City, sharing our experiences exploring the city and attending the conference. This post is a compilation of all of the tweets during the actual convention, from Monday-Wednesday – we’ll update it daily with new tweets as they come in! Also check out part 1 – our adventures in New York.

ASCE 2015 Convention: Social Media, Part 1

Eight representatives are in New York this week for the ASCE 2015 Convention. Follow us on twitter for updates on our adventures and check out our facebook page for daily summaries. This post will feature a compilation of all of our tweets throughout the first half of the convention to give an overview of what we’re up to!

Half our group headed out Thursday night, the other half came Friday.

That’s One World Trade Center – the tallest building in the western hemisphere! Those of us in CE Building Science are particularly interested in all of the architecture in New York.

… who are our social co-chair can concrete canoe co-captain!

… due to the red-eye flight the night before. This was a great place for a quick nap.

And then we made it and it was awesome!

Check out the second half of our New York trip here, picking up when the actual convention starts!

Jay Higgins Visits USC ASCE

Last week, ASCE’s very own regional director came to speak to members of USC ASCE. Jay Higgins enlightened the group in the origins of ASCE, its current status as an organization, as well as future strategies and moves ASCE is making. ASCE, founded in New York City in 1850, currently has over 8,000 members in the LA area alone. ASCE’s vision and strategies for the future revolve around infrastructure, raising the bar of education, and sustainability. He believes the focus on these goals is extremely important leading up to the near future.


In regards to infrastructure, Higgins proposed movements toward a legislative committee that could focus on interactions between administration and members, allowing problems and opinions to be discuss throughout the entire organization. Raising the bar in education was another main point Higgins wanted ASCE to focus on. He mentioned the idea of making it required for engineers to receive their masters before being allowed to take the PE Exam. He referenced Law and Medical school for other professions, saying there should be a similar structure of education for Civil Engineers. He also focused on the idea of promoting leadership within civil engineering, as well as writing and management skills. In regards to sustainability, Higgins wanted to focus on three points: Environmental, Economics, and Social well being. Sustainability has a growing place in Civil Engineering, and while Civil Engineers should hold safety, health, and public welfare of the highest importance, they should also focus on sustainability within their professional endeavours.

In a more national and even global scale of infrastructure, Higgins stressed the importance of spending now in order to save later. People end up spending money to fix things affected by faulty infrastructure anyway, so why not just fix the infrastructure? Higgins proposes the need for government funding, as well as support from a variety of professions within civil engineering. He mentions that our priority should be on infrastructure and investing more money into it upfront in order to save money in the long run. Movements are, however, being made to prioritize our infrastructure, including grading systems, increased leadership in infrastructure renewal, promoting sustainability and resilience, and developing plans to maintain and enhance America’s infrastructure.

Higgins then mentioned new workings within ASCE, including the arise of new leaders within the alliance workshop, promoting CE for developing countries, providing engineering services for underserved communities in U.S., as well as new leaders with ASCE, such as Kathy Caldwell. He is also excited about a new film coming out, promoting Engineering and its developments.

In his concluding statements Higgins describes how he moved from water hazardous waste to construction management and ended up in construction claims consulting. He encourages students who haven’t yet found their spot within civil engineer to keep moving around until you find what sparks your passion.


2015 Techincal Paper — The Future of Construction: Shared Responsibilities

Editor’s note: this essay is USC ASCE’s submission to the 2015 ASCE Daniel W. Mead Prize for Students. Sylvia Tran is graduating in Spring 2015 with a B.S. in Civil Engineering (Building Science) and a M.S.C.E. in Structural Engineering. She currently serves as Secretary of USC ASCE. Sylvia presented this paper at the PSWC 2015 Technical Paper Competition at the University of Arizona, winning first place out of eighteen universities.

The Future of Construction: Shared Responsibilities

Sylvia Tran

Almost every construction company lists safety as a top priority, yet according to the United States Department of Labor, 4,405 workers were killed on the job in 2013, averaging 12 deaths per day (United States Department of Labor. “Occupational Safety and Health Administration.”). While the number of construction related injuries and deaths has decreased over the last few decades, construction remains one of the most dangerous industries. Historically, the controlling contractor accepts responsibilities for all safety issues that occur during the construction process.  However, in recent years, society has turned to engineers, who may be more qualified to examine the “human costs” of building their designs, to be more intimately involved with the construction process. As the Engineer of Record becomes more involved in a project, dividing the responsibility of safety between contractor and engineer becomes more difficult. Nevertheless, the Engineer of Record is ethically responsible for injuries and deaths that occur during construction of his or her design and should share the associated legal responsibilities with the controlling contractor.

Today’s complex project delivery systems complicate responsibility for the “design.” A proper definition of “design responsibility” begins by examining the professional’s legal duties imposed by state laws, permitting agency rules, and professional ethical standards (Bender 2007). The Engineer of Record carries the responsibility of the structural stability of a building by sealing and stamping the documents, certifying that the licensee is competent in the subject matter and responsible for the work product. However, the obligations of the Engineer of Record continue after the initial drawing submittals throughout the life of the project. The engineer must also review the means and methods of construction and perform structural observations (Bender 2007). On April 23, 1987, the partially erected structural frame of L’Ambiance Plaza, an apartment tower in Bridgeport, Connecticut, collapsed, killing 28 construction workers (Heger 2006). The contract documents split the structural design responsibility between the contractor’s engineer and the Engineer of Record.  The L’Ambiance Plaza collapsed due to one improper design of the lifting collars, which was one of the responsibilities delegated to the contractor. Although a registered professional engineer should have sealed the contractor’s design, the Engineer of Record only sealed the contract drawings (Heger 2006). The American Institute for Steel Construction Code states that “the Structural Engineer of Record shall be responsible for the structural adequacy of the design of the structure in the completed project.” According to the ASCE Code of Ethics, “Engineers shall hold paramount the safety, health and welfare of the public… in the performance of their professional duties.” (ASCE. “Code of Ethics.”) Though engineers are legally responsible for the full design of the building, they should also take ethical responsibility for safety during and after construction.

Legally, contractors are currently responsible for the safety of both the builders and the public during the construction process. The contractor must provide safety training, personal protection, first aid training, job site inspection, and hazard reporting throughout the project in order to reduce unsafe conditions (Clough and Sears 2005).  Before construction, project-specific job hazard analyses can help identify hazards before they occur and to minimize potential dangers. During construction, project engineers, foremen, and safety managers are responsible for identifying and correcting safety hazards that may endanger builders or the public (Thomas Conroy and Frank DiGiovanni, personal communication, Oct. 6, 2014). Contractors are responsible for knowing the building code and are professionally liable to “build per design (Butch Shin, personal communication, Nov. 3, 2014).” In 1970, the Occupational Safety and Health Act (OSHA) imposed safety and health standards on the construction industry. According to OSHA’s website, “Employers are responsible for providing a safe and healthful workplace for their employees.” (United States Department of Labor. “Occupational Safety and Health Administration.”) General contractors are responsible for providing a safe workplace, tools, and equipment and exercising reasonable care in accident prevention throughout the construction process to meet OSHA’s standards, but despite all of their responsibilities, there will still be safety concerns that an engineer would be more familiar with.

Construction safety requires coordination between contractors and engineers. A close partnership and open line of communication between the contractor and the engineer are key to project safety and success. Current laws dictate the contractor’s responsibility to review the construction means and methods (Thomas Conroy and Frank DiGiovanni, personal communication, Oct. 6, 2014). According to Dimitry Vergun, a practicing architect and structural engineer for over fifty years, “reviewing construction is not [the engineer’s] specialty; it’s the contractor’s. It should be up to [them] to raise flags… if they think something is not feasible to construct.” (Dimitry Vergun, personal communication, Oct. 9, 2014) Contract documents should clearly identify and assign responsibilities to the Engineer of Record and the contractor’s engineer, since individual responsibilities of the owners, professionals, and contractors are integrated and interrelated (Bender 2007). Every member of the design and construction team needs to be qualified, responsible, and committed to the safety of the project; a strong partnership will result in a successful and safe project.

As designs become more complex, structural engineers need to provide constructible details and engage with the contracting firm to better understand the constraints of construction. Constructability is a key aspect that should be considered before any drawing or detail is stamped. Neglecting to provide these details may result in situations like the Kansas City Hyatt Hotel Walkway Collapse, which caused 114 deaths and over 200 injuries in July 1981. Jack D. Gillum, the Engineer of Record for the project, wrote that the structural failure occurred because “the connection that failed was never designed (Gillum 2000).” Gillum believes that the designed connection detail should have been on the engineer’s drawings and the fabricator’s shop drawings, and that its absence should have been noticed by the shop drawing check or during the engineer’s design recheck. This incident impacted countless lives and challenged the standards of the construction and engineering communities. Engineers should also keep construction constraints in mind when designing to control the difficulty and build quality of construction (Allison Yu, e-mail interview, Oct. 29, 2014). Conditions based on the geographic location of a project, such as high winds in Chicago or seismic activity in Los Angeles, also need to be considered during the design process. While the responsibility of the Engineer of Record is intended for the completed building, an ethically-responsible engineer will design with foreseeably poor construction conditions in mind.

Even with thorough preparation and due diligence, accidents occur. No one should take the blame in these situations. For example, contractors take precautions to protect members of the public who would like to observe construction operations. In spite of adequate safety precautions, people may still be injured (Clough and Sears 2005). Just as accidents occur despite appropriate precautions taken by the contractor, the engineer can only do so much to prevent injuries. Innovative designs inevitably incur new safety hazards and unforeseeable accidents. In these situations, it is important for incidents to become meaningful “lessons learned” that will translate to the engineer’s next project. If the appropriate safety precautions are taken, neither the contractor nor the engineer is at fault. Society should understand that accidents happen and mistakes occur, despite planning and safety preparations (Thomas Conroy and Frank DiGiovanni, personal communication, Oct. 6, 2014).

Engineers should be responsible for their own work and ensure that the construction methods for their designs are correct. Reviewing the means and methods of construction muddles the question of responsibility of safety during construction and requires coordination between the structural Engineer of Record and the contractor (Heger 2006). On July 10, 2006, a ventilation duct ceiling panel in Boston’s I-90 highway tunnel fell onto a vehicle and killed a woman. The investigations of the Big Dig Ceiling Collapse found that fast-set epoxy had been used to hold the anchor bolts in place instead of the standard-set epoxy that the company originally ordered (Wallis 2006). The fast-set epoxy dried quickly, but lost its bonding strength within weeks. Despite testing the strength of the bolts, the builders did not discover the problem because they attributed failures to installation errors rather than the epoxy (Wald 2007). The inspection report attributed the collapse to “poor design specifications, inadequate management of construction, improper load testing, and unauthorized deviations from [the specifications] (Wallis 2006).” This incident could have been prevented if an Engineer of Record had reviewed the means and methods on this project or requested a method of construction from the contractor to see if the necessary precautions and procedures were in place.  Tragedies like the Big Dig Collapse demonstrate the lack of proper oversight of the construction means and methods.

The Engineer of Record must also perform structural observations. These consist of on-site inspections reported to the building department (Dimitry Vergun, personal communication, Oct. 9, 2014). The engineer should observe critical moments during construction of complicated configurations to ensure that the structure is built according to the design. Structural observations allow engineers to see if the contractor is creating structural hazards in an attempt to save time or money. In Chicago in 1979, the arched wooden roof of the Rosemont Horizon Stadium suddenly collapsed without warning, killing five workers and injuring sixteen (Abernethy 2012). The investigation examined whether the plans provided sufficient support for the roof and whether the builders had properly followed these plans (“Chicago, IL Rosemont Stadium Roof Collapse, Aug 1979.” 1979). OSHA revealed that, “the building was in such unstable condition that anything could have set off the collapse.” Inspectors later found that less than half of the required connection bolts on the building’s roof and less than a third of the steel plates were properly installed, which may have been prevented if adequate structural inspections were in place (Abernethy 2012). Proper construction requires proper oversight, but even the best of contractors are susceptible to making mistakes (Gillum 2000). The project team should determine the need for structural engineering services beyond the submittal of the permit documents, which may include conducting structural observations and reviewing shop drawings of structurally significant elements throughout construction, to prevent injury and death during construction (Bender 2007).

Currently, the Engineer of Record is legally responsible for performing periodic structural observations and reviewing the means and methods.  However, maximizing the role of the engineer would improve safety during construction. Introducing more legal risk and liability would increase engineer involvement by making them a more significant stakeholder in the project (Butch Shin, personal communication, Nov. 3, 2014). Existing code committees should encourage practicing engineers to review all provisions relating to public and construction safety (Bender 2007). Building regulations should require a permit for construction methods and means to be designed by a licensed engineer who would be specifically responsible for structural safety during the construction process. Another beneficial addition to the law would require the construction of any structural component to be observed by either the Engineer of Record or a qualified structural engineer familiar with the project’s design requirements (Heger 2006). Qualified engineers should be involved throughout the construction process and rewarded in proportion to the amount of responsibility they take on and the amount of time they spend on a project. Further beneficial additions to the law could require that the construction of any structural component be observed by either the Engineer of Record or a qualified structural engineer familiar with the project design requirements (Heger 2006). By revising current laws to require more review of construction means and methods and more structural observations, engineers will become more legally involved with creating a safer construction process.

Who is responsible for safety? Everybody. According to the ASCE Code of Ethics, engineers are called to hold safety as their top priority (ASCE. “Code of Ethics.”). This means that both structural engineers, including the Engineer of Record, and project engineers are responsible for construction safety.  In order to improve safety, today’s design and construction process requires changes in the law regarding minimum design standards as well as building regulations. The Engineer of Record should be more involved with the construction process, and therefore, share more of the legal responsibilities with the controlling contractor for any injury or death that occurs during construction.



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