September 12, 2007

What a difference 50 years make

  • ACEC Washington members have produced some of the finest engineering projects in the world since 1957.
    ACEC Washington


    It is my pleasure and privilege to welcome you to our celebration of 50 years as a council in the state of Washington. Perhaps even more significant than the milestone is we are acknowledging 50 years of achievement as professionals, consultants and an organization.

    As engineers, we are often stereotyped as being quiet, shy, unassuming, though competent. In a media-driven world better able to understand the latest celebrity foible than our ever-growing need to reinvest in our critical transportation infrastructure, we have even been characterized as “nerdy.”

    At a Thanksgiving get-together a few years ago, my brother-in-law innocently asked my daughter, then a sophomore at the University of Washington, about her boyfriends, going so far as to suggest that she could/should consider an engineer (like her mother did). Without hesitation, and to the great amusement of us all, my daughter replied: “The odds are good, but the goods are odd.” Though her response, and its perfect timing, has become somewhat of a family joke, it also typifies the all too common perception of engineering and engineers. In a world of video games, ever-faster computers and graphics, iPods and HDTV, engineering and engineers are not viewed as cool, creative or good communicators.

    I take issue with that. I believe that engineering is one of the most creative, demanding and exciting careers that one can choose. Simply, engineering is the practical application of science. That is, engineering is about finding solutions that really work, not just in theory. It means solutions that meet or exceed the required technical standards (the science). It also means developing solutions that work — financially, socially and environmentally. The most successful engineering projects are not only those that reflect the highest level of science or aesthetics, but are those that represent the right solution for a client or community. The best science in the world has no value without engineers to make it practical.

    The consulting engineering community, represented by ACEC, includes engineers of all disciplines and specialties who have simply gone into business for themselves. What could be more American? Whether as part of a large, multidisciplinary, multinational firm, a small specialty firm with a handful of staff, or somewhere in between, a consulting engineer is nothing less than an entrepreneur; a businessperson with a dream, whose product is not a widget but his or her expertise.

    In 1957, the seeds of Washington’s chapter of ACEC were planted, and those seeds have grown into a dynamic organization that serves nearly 200 engineering firms and represents more than 5,000 engineers. We are the only organization that focuses on improving the business of engineering for our members, all consulting firms, and in doing so, serves the best interests of the public.

    The business end

    ACEC is the leading voice supporting the investment and reinvestment in critically needed or aging infrastructure. We have seen all too clearly the consequences of failure to do so in New Orleans and Minnesota. ACEC is a tireless advocate for fair contracting terms for professional engineering services. There may be no other profession (with the possible exception of medical) where issues of liability have such a profound impact on the ability to do business. As engineers, we seek only to serve our clients and the public, working under contracts that are enforceable and insurable. ACEC also offers business practice education and resources tailored to the unique needs of the engineering consulting industry.

    As you read this special section, perhaps you will see acknowledgements of specific projects or awards. ACEC Washington has an unmatched record of achievement at the national ACEC Engineering Excellence Awards. From retractable stadium roofs to groundbreaking green roofs on urban high rises, from unique structural systems for the latest skyscraper to projects that preserve and enhance salmon habitat, the state has many of the finest examples of engineering excellence anywhere in the world, all projects delivered by ACEC member firms.

    However, to focus solely on the engineering feats of our firms would be to miss the point of ACEC, and the value it brings to us all. Like each of our engineering firms, ACEC is ultimately about our people. ACEC has been blessed over the years to be represented by people with a passion for the engineering industry. From our staff to our volunteer leaders and committee chairs, past and present, we are represented by some of the finest, most competent and ethical professionals you would ever hope to meet. Working with any of these individuals will inspire you.

    So, please, enjoy this special section celebrating 50 years of ACEC in Washington. I invite you to reflect with and celebrate the challenges and accomplishments of our organization, our member firms and all engineers who are inspired to bring the practical application of science to our collective benefit.

    Engineering everywhere

    My challenge to ACEC members is to continue to support ACEC and its mission. Continue to provide great engineering services and deliver outstanding projects to public and private clients. Get involved directly with ACEC and its members by attending a conference or seminar. Through active engagement, the true value of ACEC is your ability to network with your peers.

    My challenge to the public and business leaders who read this is to look around you at the physical environment within which we live, work and play. Whether it is the road you drive on, the bridge you cross, the building you work in, its structure, its heating system or its solar technology to reduce its carbon footprint, understand that these projects all required:

    • Expertise to properly apply the appropriate science to the problem.

    • Creativity to find solutions that are technically, financially and environmentally feasible.

    • Passion to meet and surmount any technical or business challenges.

    • Integrity to tell the truth to clients and the public about what is needed to succeed.

    In short, these projects required an engineer!

    ACEC is proud to represent the consulting engineering community. This month, ACEC celebrates 50 years of service to consulting engineers in Washington. This section is also a celebration of consulting engineers — individuals and firms whose expertise, creativity, passion and integrity are the traits that define us and make us worthy of recognition. Thank you.

    Kurt Gahnberg is the 2007-08 ACEC Washington president and a principal at The Transpo Group. Gahnberg has been active in transportation planning and SEPA studies for more than 26 years and has been active in ACEC of Washington for many years. He holds a bachelor’s degree in civil engineering from the University of Washington.

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