This blog post - written by Elizabeth Maddox, Director of ASCE Conferences & Event Services - is part of a series that reflects on the experiences of scholarly society leaders who participated in the "Future of Scholarly Meetings" cohort. The Future of Scholarly Meetings was a collaboration between Ithaka S+R and JSTOR Labs.
The American Society of Civil Engineers hosts approximately 15 unique conferences per year. Despite its membership of over 150,000 members, generally 12,000 – 15,000 individuals attend ASCE conferences.
As the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic led all of us to reprioritize how we spend our time, ASCE leadership started to discuss how we could make our events a priority for our members.
• Did we need to hold all these individual events to truly serve our membership?
• Do each of these events provide specific content to these technical areas that are not valuable to other civil engineers?
• With the passing of the Bipartisan Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, does ASCE stand as one organization to share ideas and show our impact?
Answering these questions led us to explore a path to shift our conference structure in a significant way.
ASCE represents a unique multidisciplinary collection of professionals with common interests and deep specialized knowledge of individual engineering fields as embodied in our institutes and committee structure. ASCE institutes and technical committees hold individual, discipline-centric annual conferences that are well-established within their communities. These events are critical to meeting ASCE’s collective goals to foster networking, advance education, improve practices, create new engineering publications, and stimulate research.
Over the past few decades, these individual conferences have served the profession and our organization well, providing significant growth and engagement. However, at the same time, many members have expressed an interest in cross-disciplinary learning and networking opportunities. We also recognize that professional and career advancement, and especially innovative new ideas to solve the many challenges being tackled by the civil engineering profession, often arise at the intersections of these specialized disciplines. The fundamental changes in the economic infrastructure growth following the COVID-19 pandemic suggest that in-person conferences must adapt to new realities, including offering more virtual learning opportunities because of the limitations placed on business travel by engineering firms.
Because we must constantly evolve to best serve its members, the staff and leadership found an opportunity for the new post-pandemic conference environment by leveraging the strengths of our institutes, while simultaneously using our combined size and unifying mission of a safe, sustainable, and resilient global infrastructure to rally the larger community of civil engineers. Coupled with the passage of the Bipartisan Infrastructure Bill, it gave us a reenergized platform to highlight the profession and engage more civil engineers.
Leaders from each of ASCE’s nine institutes, ASCE’s Committee on Technical Advancement (representing a collection of other technical areas), and the current Society-level ASCE Convention Advisory Council worked for over a year to discuss and convince the membership that ASCE would be stronger together – one united voice.
Their work created a plan for a new cross-disciplinary conference. The proposed event starts with bringing multiple institute annual congresses and conferences along with the ASCE Convention into one larger setting and providing the opportunity for all ASCE entities to participate. The design and implementation of the new event will be driven by member interests, with a focus on creating learning opportunities to attract a large and diverse group of attendees.
It will specifically focus on the opportunity to explore cross-disciplinary themes in the technical tracks, as well as engaging exhibits and keynote events. At the same time, ASCE plans to preserve the parts of the annual convention that worked well while simultaneously providing programming opportunities that are important to maintaining the identity of the individual institutes and technical groups that choose to participate in this joint event.
The significance of holding the inaugural event in 2027 should not go without note. It represents the 175th anniversary of ASCEs founding in New York in 1852. To mark this momentous occasion, ASCE is planning the first of many other joint events that will bring together civil engineers from all over the world.
This 2027 event will bring together all disciplines of civil engineering under one roof and show a unified voice for building and improving America's infrastructure. Attendees will have the opportunity to learn from experts across various fields, including transportation, water resources, and structural engineering, and gain a comprehensive understanding of how all these disciplines work together. The event will provide a valuable platform for networking and collaboration, allowing civil engineers to share ideas, identify common challenges, and work together to find solutions. With a focus on innovation and emerging technologies, the event will help attendees stay ahead of the curve and be better equipped to address the infrastructure needs of the future.
-- Elizabeth Maddox, CMP, CAE, Director, Conferences & Event Services, American Society of Civil Engineers