I love to travel. It’s important to get out of the office and engage with members on their own turf. And as a partnership of the national Society and 53 state and territorial societies, it would be impossible for NSPE to do its job if we stayed hunkered down in our Alexandria headquarters.
But sometimes, the travel can get a bit brutal. In the past year, national officers visited 41 state societies during their annual meetings, making formal presentations and having countless side-meetings with state leaders and general members. Oh, yes, and there was the NSPE Annual Meeting in Seattle. But just in the six-week period, starting with the annual meeting in mid-July, my own travel commitments have had me out of town for 25 out of 40 nights.
But let’s start with that spectacular meeting in Seattle. As testimony to our success in making this annual gathering a source of rank-and-file member value, the number of registrants at NSPE 2015 was 85% higher than just three years ago.
And it wasn’t just a matter of quantity. The breadth and quality of the programs (in general sessions and three concurrent tracks, not to mention a robust menu of formal and informal networking opportunities and social events) garnered almost universally positive evaluations.
But don’t take my word for it: The annual meeting wrap-up site includes speaker presentations, award winners, and much more. Annual meeting photos are also available for viewing, and downloading, via NSPE’s Flickr account.
And speaking of social media, the total number of tweets and unique contributors using #NSPE15 were both up by nearly 30% over last year’s Twitter traffic. (We are already exploring new social media channels, like Instagram and Vine, to add to NSPE’s presence on Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, and YouTube.)
From April through July 2015, the annual meeting website received 15,000 page views, and the education track was the most frequently visited. Clearly, there is an appetite for professional development and a commitment among PEs for life-long learning.
The substantial increase in annual meeting participation by students and young engineers—more than double the number as in Washington, DC, last year—was particularly gratifying. And it was energizing to moderate the Young Engineers Forum, with President Tim Austin and President-Elect Kodi Jean Verhalen fielding questions and giving career advice in a packed and lively room. When the session ended, participants even continued the conversation in the hotel hallways.
Certainly a highlight of the meeting was a riveting presentation by Allan McDonald, the engineer who in 1986 refused to sign the launch recommendation for the space shuttle Challenger due to safety concerns, only to be overruled to disastrous result.
The auditorium was packed for his presentation, and although it came at the end of a very long day, not a single person in the audience seemed ready to leave. McDonald stressed the importance, even the obligation of never being afraid to speak up, ask questions, and offer your professional opinion, even if that opinion is inconvenient to others less focused on the public health, safety, and welfare than you are. In order to honor their duties as professionals, he noted, engineers need the authority that should go along with responsibility. And the only way to achieve that, McDonald observed, is to take personal ownership in what you do.
Too often, honoring that obligation takes courage and can incur personal costs, a fact we were reminded of when, following McDonald’s presentation, NSPE made a special presentation to Andrew Braum, P.E., the engineer featured on 60 Minutes for blowing the whistle on altered engineering reports from the Hurricane Sandy recovery. There was more than one moist eye in that room as Braum related struggling with the decision to act as he knew his professional oath required him to do, and how the stainless steel ring worn on the little finger of his right hand, received when he entered the Order of the Engineer many years before, made the decision for him.
And yes, there were plenty of formal and informal governance meetings in Seattle, too. Particularly productive working sessions were held with national and state volunteer leaders, state society executives, committees, interest groups, the annual House of Delegates General Assembly, and more.
With hardly a moment to recover from the annual meeting, the board began preparing for an August 14–15 meeting in Minneapolis. Building on the strategic discussions among all our partners and components in Seattle, leadership took further steps in translating the NSPE Race for Relevance-driven Strategic Plan into concrete, focused, and impactful action. In two intensive days of meetings, your national board focused on key areas of membership, communications, collaboration, policy development and advocacy, engineering’s “Grand Challenge,” and a three-year business plan.
I haven’t even gotten to the many fascinating encounters with members during recent state society visits, but I am running out of space and my next flight is about to board. I look forward to seeing many more of you next year at the joint NSPE/Texas Society Annual Meeting in Dallas (June 22–26, 2016), if we don’t cross paths sooner at your state society’s meeting.
Published August 24, 2015 by Mark J. Golden, CAE, FASAE