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Convention Season Recap

With COVID-19 switching conferences to virtual-hosting formats, MLAB leaders had an opportunity to attend the newest generation of conferences, while also learning more about the civil engineering field. Check out what they had to say about the events!


ASCE V-Tech Conference

Dana Robertson

The week of September 14-18 marked the first ever ASCE Virtual Technical (V-Tech) Conference, an event created to provide technical content during this pandemic-era world we currently find ourselves living in. Each ASCE technical institute had a variety of sessions. The conference also included live Q&A sessions with speakers as well as an impressive virtual exposition hall. The sheer amount of content provided by the conference was staggering. Different sessions running concurrently allowed the attendees to view whichever they were most interested in. Any disappointment from not being able to view concurrent sessions was short lived since recordings were made available the next day. Overall the conference had a whopping 50 sessions! Personal favorites included a panel discussion on the case for conceptual design, a presentation imagining the future of the AEC industry, and the Transportation & Development Institute V-Tech Keynote Session.

While the adjustment to the new virtual format was not without its share of technical difficulties, the tremendous value of the content quickly overshadowed any issues. It is rare to be able to be exposed to so many concepts, projects, and innovations in a single event. While the absence of networking and relationship building was disappointing, it would have been difficult, if not impossible, to provide this much high quality content in one geographic location. I am looking forward to the day when in-person conferences can continue, but I definitely believe virtual conferences can provide significant value for engineers now and into the future.



Linda Luu

Amid an ongoing pandemic, ASCE, like others, has had to re-program their in-person events to follow social distancing requirements. What that evolved into was a virtual weeklong technical conference, shortened to V-Tech, featuring courses from most of ASCE’s technical institutes. V-tech featured presentations from global leaders and question and answer (Q&A) sessions, including leaders from Uber and UPS. With several quality courses to choose from, an attendee can opt to further develop in his/her specialty or dabble into other facets of civil engineering. The courses provided lessons learned from completed projects and a glimpse of where the future of civil engineering is headed to.

The Utility Risk Management Division session welcomed experts who shared their insight on utility engineering best practices and how technology can further develop this industry. We also heard about upcoming standards that are in the works including an update to the ASCE 38 SUE Standard and development of a new standard, ASCE Standard Guidelines for Recording and Exchanging Utility Infrastructure Data, which compliments ASCE 38. A few takeaways from this session are highlighted below:

What happens when shortcuts are taken. From “Challenges of 3D Utility Models during Project Development and Delivery” session during ASCE V-Tech 2020 – Courtesy of Phil Meis

• Be able to resolve field construction issues and perform constructability reviews involving project owner and utility owner

• Utility Engineering should always be managed throughout the entire project

• There are lots of regulations to consider when dealing with utilities

• Mitigate risk by investigating utilities upfront because conventional low-tech solutions push the risks to the contractor which may increase cost

• Educate your clients to help them understand the available technology that could help avoid expensive potholing campaigns


The Construction Institute offered similar breadth and depth courses but one presentation that stood out was a presentation on the successful implementation of model-based contracting. In the state of New York, NYSDOT sought to use an innovative approach by legally contracting work with the use of 3D models and other electronic information as an alternative to traditional 2D plan set. Of course, this idea was initial met with opposition from the in-house legal staff. Eventually NYSDOT was allowed to deliver a bridge replacement project using a hybrid 2D/3D approach on a pilot project. Some items made more sense to remain as 2D plan sets such as notes, title sheets, tables, pavement markings, etc. However, the structural design of the bridge was modeled in 3D. When comparing the model to the actual construction, they resembled each other.

One interesting thing to note, even the bids were close to each other. The end result – model based contracting CAN BE successfully implemented. Hats off to NYSDOT for this innovative approach.


All week, no matter which track was attended, I noticed a common theme. The industry as a whole is finding ways to leverage technology to improve the way we do things. Utility engineering panelists predict augmented reality will become the new normal. Model based contracting is emerging and a panelist believes that we will see progress within the next 5 years. Autonomous vehicles are already here. With how fast technology is developing and our industry’s willingness to embrace this change, it’s an exciting time to be a civil engineer.



2020 ASCE Convention

Dana Robertson

The 2020 ASCE Convention took place on October 28-30, with 28 sessions in total. Originally scheduled to be at the Disneyland Hotel in Anaheim, the Convention transitioned to a virtual format due to the pandemic. Jacob Ward, an NBC news technology correspondent, started the conference off with an exciting dive into artificial intelligence and disruptive technologies. Other highlights include the unveiling of the Future World Vision Mega City prototype, and presentations on the recently completed Gerald Desmond Bridge Replacement and SoFi Stadium projects. The Convention was closed out by Amy Walter, the National Editor of Cook Political Report, who discussed the current political environment heading into the election. The proceedings were a great way to start off the 2020-21 ASCE year and I look forward to next year's convention in Chicago.



Ruwanka Purasignhe

The ASCE Convention was a great event that brought together all members of ASCE virtually for a 3 day conference due to the current Covid-19 pandemic. ASCE did a great job creating a virtual platform where members were able to visit different tracks and presentations based on our preferences. There was also innovative ways to get the audience involved and still host a proper Q&A.


Opening Keynote

Jacob Ward, former editor in chief of Popular Science, discussed how disruptive technologies will shape the 21st century, including autonomous driving, student designed spacecrafts, and AI genetic code. Mr. Ward highlighted how this century will see some remarkable technological advances that will be dramatic to how we live our daily lives, and as civil engineers we are right in the middle of the change.


Inclusion: Become a Change Agent to Rise Together

Inclusion is a very important topic in today’s world, and it was good to see ASCE have a large, open discussion on this topic. As leaders in our industry, it is important for us to bring inclusion and diversity into our workplace, and to be active change agents to our profession. The presentation discussed the characterisitcs of an effective change agent, including being Proactive, having Empathy, Authenticity, Knowledge, and Strategy (PEAKS).


Safety in Civil Engineering

Panel discussion covering the ASCE Industry Leaders Council (ILC) strategies to identify and develop ways in which safety can be improved throughout the industry. The strategy included working with education and training, then developing a measurable safety performance measure . Having involvement from design and construction firms, along with educational, insurance, and regulatory is also necessary.


Infrastructure in an Election Year

Panel discussion on latest legislation updates regarding infrastructure policy and how the new makeup of the elected officials could affect infrastructure moving forward. Discussion included how states and local agencies are increasing the amount of funding and financing for infrastructure, and how federal investment is moving along.

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