Leading Tennessee

May/June 2017

NSPE Today
Leading Tennessee

In a profession that struggles with diversity, engineering in Tennessee has had the good fortune of an abundance of strong female leadership for much of the last year. The 2016–17 presidents of the Tennessee Society of Professional Engineers, the Tennessee Section of the American Society of Civil Engineers, and the American Council of Engineering Companies of Tennessee are all women.

PE asked each of these presidents to share some of their thoughts on women in the profession and what they’ve been working on during their terms.

On Women in Engineering

Seeing women in leadership roles has been encouraging to Amy Spann, P.E., president of ACEC Tennessee. And while she believes the future is bright for women in engineering, it’s not something that can be taken for granted.

“The numbers being what they are, we want to continue to encourage and promote women in the industry and leadership roles,” she says.

Ashley Thomas Smith, P.E., president of the Tennessee Section of ASCE, is excited to see women well represented in the leadership of her own board meetings (the past president and president-elect are both women) and across Tennessee’s engineering organizations.

Smith, whose father was a civil engineer, remembers that when her father introduced her to female engineers as she was expressing an interest in the profession 20 years ago, there just weren’t that many. “It’s come a long way,” she says. “I’m grateful for it.”

Camp“The future looks good,” says TSPE President Janey Camp, P.E. “But I think we need to do a better job of encouraging females to move into leadership positions and take those opportunities.”

Camp would like to see more women engineers eager to move up the ranks of TSPE from their local chapters. “We could stand some more female leadership, but I don’t want it to just be that we’re putting females in places of leadership just to have females there and check that box,” she says. “I’d rather see females rise to the occasion and have everyone say, ‘Wow, she’s a great engineer.’”

On Presidential Passions

Ashley Thomas Smith, P.E.“I’m very passionate when it comes to our student membership,” Smith says. “We’re trying to really engage them and make them aware of what it’s like to be a civil engineer and capture their interest while they’re in school so they don’t graduate and then go off to other fields.”

Smith makes it point to stay connected to each of the nine student chapters in ASCE’s Tennessee Section and to stay available for help when they need it. “That’s our future,” she says. “We need to take care of that.”

Spann“One thing that we’re really working on, as always, is increasing the visibility of ACEC Tennessee and our value,” Spann says. “We’re trying to promote the business of engineering consulting companies, and so we are working hard at that with membership information and really promoting what we do at the national level and what we do at the local level.”

With a start of a new legislative session in Tennessee, ACEC Tennessee and TSPE have also redoubled their advocacy efforts. Both organizations are closely monitoring and responding to bills that could affect engineers and engineering companies.

Near and dear to Camp’s heart though is student outreach. “I’ve been working to make resources related to outreach for K–12 and higher education more readily available,” she says. This includes the resources TSPE members need for school visits, but just as important, it includes making sure they are aware of opportunities for those visits.

In Memoriam: Robert Sylar, P.E., F.NSPE

Robert Sylar, P.E., F.NSPENSPE mourns the loss of Past President Robert Sylar, P.E., F.NSPE, who passed away on February 20 at the age of 83.

Sylar was “one of the Society’s most admired, beloved, and influential volunteer leaders,” noted NSPE President Kodi Verhalen, P.E., Esq., F.NSPE, in a letter to his wife and family. He worked for more than 50 years to serve NSPE, culminating in his service as president in 1998 and elevation to the grade of Fellow in 2000 as part of the inaugural class.

Sylar had been a member of NSPE since 1968 and continued his volunteer work with the Society even after he retired from engineering almost two decades ago.

Among the accomplishments during Sylar’s presidential year, noted in Verhalen’s letter:

  • Creating a three-year strategic plan to guide the Society into the last decade of the 20th century with a new vision, mission, values, and goals;
  • Offering a much-needed professional development registration for engineers and surveyors to help members track their continuing education credits needed for licensure renewal;
  • Renovating the NSPE website by using the latest technology in the new world wide web phenomenon;
  • Launching the NSPE Update newsletter.

Sylar was born October 21, 1933, in Nashville, and he received his BS in engineering from Vanderbilt University. He retired as partner after 20 years with Gresham, Smith, and Partners, with previous engineering positions at Southern Land and Associates Inc., and the Tennessee Department of Transportation.