Whew. I know it’s only February, but it’s been a long year! Do you feel that way sometimes? Or does everything always go as planned? I am sure, more likely than most, it’s the former as opposed to the latter. And you know what? That’s ok.
This sporadic feeling of being overwhelmed makes me think back to a busy time when, seemingly out of the blue, one of my mentors asked me, “Do you know how to eat an elephant?" Seeing how puzzled I was, he quickly responded, “One bite at a time.” And that is what we do as engineers. One step at a time, one foot in front of the other, we take small chunks out of the seemingly enormous tasks set out in front of us, until we have fully and completely tackled them and built something with purpose and value.
That is what we plan to do this year with your section, too. We’ve received your input and will be slowly implementing lasting changes in regard to how your section runs. It won’t happen instantaneously, but we will continue to work on these tasks, with your help, until we’ve tackled this elephant together. Next month I will clue you into some of the changes you are going to help us implement.
So, my last little quip… Remember to take it easy on yourself. You are doing a lot. People see the effort you are putting forth. Trust that you will make it to the finish line - even if it doesn’t occur as originally planned. It is easy to get overwhelmed if you forget that. We, your section friends, know you can do it and we are here to help.
Your choice of profession determines the medium through which to leave a legacy. For the educator, her medium is the educational system or method. For the physician his medium is the human body. For the programmer her medium is the digital environment. For you, as a civil engineer your medium is infrastructure, i.e. civil works. Every profession produces a material thing, i.e. artifacts for that medium that can outlast the artifact's creator.
When you choose the profession you love, your subconscious focuses your senses to observe even the minutest details of relevant artifacts and its medium, whenever and wherever you contemplate them. This focus coupled with your capacity for logic increases your professional knowledge until you develop the confidence to express yourself through the tools used to create artifacts for that medium.
Ralph Modjeski was born in January 1861 and died in June 1940. He chose the bridge as his artifact and left a legacy as a pre-eminent bridge designer. The bridge design practice he started in 1893 lives on to this day as the firm Modjeski & Masters. The documentary film Bridging Urban America was released in the Spring of 2015. It highlights the vital role of bridges during the massive growth of America’s industry in the early 1900’s. By carrying people and goods across topographical barriers to distant and promising markets, bridges ushered humans to an era of prosperity like no era before the founding of America. The movie includes spectacular aerial shots of many bridges Ralph designed.
As a civil engineer your profession’s medium offers splendor in expression while making human life on earth safer, benevolent, cheerful. Ralph’s life inspires us to: focus our senses, harness our minds, and dream up for our medium solutions to challenges that seem unsurmountable.
ASCE-NCS acquired a DVD of this movie under a public showing license for educational purposes for PDH credit. If you wish to borrow it for showing at an event, contact the Webmaster for details.
On Sunday, December 10, 2023, members of ASCE’s National Capital Section‘s Historic and Heritage Committee, braved the much needed rain to visit three important civil engineering structures to national capital region and the nation. These 19th century marvels included the Bollman Truss Bridge, Savage Mill and the Thomas Viaduct. Tours were spearheaded and led by Bernie Dennis. Bernie provided extensive background to the attendees, including articles of research from ASCE-NCS newsletters from March and May 2011 highlighting the Bollman Truss and Thomas Viaduct, respectively. Furthermore, he provided an excellent summary of the landmark nomination process and the role of the committee and its members in recognizing these two sites as National Historic Engineering Landmark (NHCEL).
The Bollman Truss Bridge in Savage, Maryland is a paramount edifice to the civil engineering profession. Designed by self-taught engineer, Wendel Bollman, of Baltimore, built the first iron truss bridge and obtained a patent for his unique design in 1852. His design integrated an array of tension bars spanning from end posts to independently support each floor beam, improve capacity for transient moving loads and additional redundancy. Additionally, the design selected different metals for differing applied forces, such as cast iron for compression members and wrought iron for tension members. Furthermore, his design used replaceable parts and bolted connections to permit future maintenance and repair efforts. The current bridge was constructed for the B&O railroad in 1869 and relocated to its present location in 1888 to serve the textile industry at Savage Mill. It is the last remaining Bollman Truss Bridge and as a result of its significant was designated in 1966 as the first NHCEL.
Recognizing a need for a dry warm place, the group then toured the nearby Savage Mill, a historic textile mill complex listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1974 and the site of the Savage Mill Historic District. The mill buildings served as a cotton and duck canvass manufacturer from the early 19th century through World War II. Major building campaigns range from 1822 to 1916. Its primary load-carrying elements include of unreinforced, load-bearing, stone and brick masonry shear walls which support multiple wood-framed floors and trusses roof systems. With the preservation efforts and sensitive design of its new life as a shopping center, it is easy for visitors to see its contribution to the region through its roof monitors, sizable wood members and 2.5” thick floor boards.
Ten miles to the north led to the last site visit of the day. The Thomas Viaduct near Relay, Maryland is a curvilinear, stone arch railroad viaduct built from 1833 to 1835 by the Baltimore and Ohio (B&O) Railroad to cross the Patapsco River and be the first railroad to serve Washington, D.C. This interesting structure was designed by Benjamin Henry Latrobe, Jr., son of the well-known architect. Its rustic masonry, tapered piers and gentle curve can be easily seen near the entrance to the Patapsco Valley State Park. It still remains in service after almost 190 years, a tribute to its robustness and durability. For its significance the Thomas Viaduct was listed as a NHCEL in 2011.
If you’re interested in learning more about local engineering heritage and or participating in recognizing engineering marvels, please reach out to the NCS History and Heritage Committee.
Text by Bernie Dennis. Photo by John Dumsick with permission for use in the article.
Growing up outside New York City, it was not difficult to see the impact of civil engineers from tall skyscrapers and suspension bridges to heavy manufacturing and environmental restoration. As a civil engineer for more than 20 years now, it has been tremendously satisfying working on projects and programs that have had major impacts on the way we live. I am grateful for those that came before me who built up the profession and developed our body of knowledge to what it is today. As a member of the NCS Board, I have the opportunity to give back to the profession that has meant so much to myself, my family, and our society. It is exciting and inspiring to continuously hear of the good works that colleagues perform daily in the DC region, across the U.S., and around the world. It is equally inspiring being among civil engineers who devote significant time and energy to support their colleagues and promote the profession’s interests. Being an NCS Board member is not easy; it is hard work that never ends, but the rewards have been plentiful both professionally and personally.
Christian has been a practicing civil engineer for more than 20 years, having worked for the Potomac Electric Power Company, Earth Tech (now AECOM), and Booz Allen Hamilton. He is a licensed Professional Engineer in Virginia and a Diplomate of Environmental Engineering. He holds both MS and BS degrees in civil engineering from the University of Maryland and Rutgers University, respectively. Christian resides in Maryland, is married and has one daughter (engineer in training, 1st Grade).
Since my Presidency (2007-2008) I have remained active in National Capital Section Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) activities, particularly in Discover Engineering Family Day (DEFD) held at the National Building Museum during Engineer’s Week. I also have helped out with the USA Science and Engineering Festival (USAS&EF) held at the DC Convention Center every other year and the EPA P3 (People Prosperity and the Planet) event in DC every year.
Those of us involved in STEM programs like to say that we don’t want or expect every kid to be an Engineer, but we want everyone to have a better understanding and appreciation for the built environment we live in.
As a senior manager at Whitman, Requardt & Associates (WRA) I have fun every day helping clients plan, design and build infrastructure. I’ve been with WRA for over 15 years and I’ve spent my entire 35 year career in consulting.
My wife Andrea and I met at the University of Delaware (Andrea is a Geotech Engineer). I graduated in 1981 with a BCE and I received a MCE from Delaware in 1988. I am a registered PE in Massachusetts, Virginia, the District of Columbia and West Virginia. We enjoy going to ASCE events and “talking shop” but we also enjoy taking care of our house and garden in Fairfax City, watching live basketball games and visiting our home state of Delaware where our families still reside.
Joining the NCS Board as the newsletter editor has provided me with an opportunity to “take charge” of the newsletter (sort of like being responsible for environmental impact documents in my previous life, but without having to defend the results to a perpetually angry public). I enjoy preparing reports that make the reader want to read; not so highly technical that folks loose interest, and filled with photos and graphics that draw the reader’s attention and help explain the issue. On the Board, I get to associate with eager, young, smart professionals, all P.E.s (or on the way to becoming P.E.s), who work in exciting positions doing some incredible work on projects with clear societal value. Being a Board member puts me directly in the middle of everything the Section does, from scheduling speakers to budgeting to sponsorship and outreach. As a volunteer organization, I can participate in virtually any of the NCS’ functions. And there’s always more help needed than there are volunteers to assist with NCS activities and initiatives!
Being on the BOD inspires me to come to more of the monthly meetings than I probably would otherwise because I feel a responsibility to the Section as a Board member. So I’m treated, on a monthly basis, to a presentation on some facet of civil engineering (sort of like a nerdy show-and-tell). While some of the presentations are not as fascinating as others, it’s hard not to be inspired when someone who knows what they’re talking about shares their insights on a particular topic. And many of the presentations are flat-out captivating.
L.J. retired as a Senior Project Manager from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission’s Office of Energy Projects in 2013, where he worked for 38 years as a sanitary (and then environmental) engineer. His work involved conducting environmental impact reviews of interstate natural gas transmission facilities, natural gas storage facilities, and liquefied natural gas import terminals. L.J. graduated from the University of Maryland with a B.S. in Civil Engineering and a M.S. in Engineering. He currently lives a quiet life with his wife in Arlington, VA.
Welcome to the website of the National Capital Section of the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE), a professional society for civil engineers. ASCE was founded in 1852, represents 130,000 members of the civil engineering professional worldwide, and is America's oldest national engineering society.
The National Capital Section was founded in 1916 and currently has more than 3,100 members. The section is located in Region 2 (link to region 2: http://region2.asce.org/). The National Capital Section serves the District of Columbia; the counties of Montgomery and Prince Georges in Maryland, except College Park in Prince Georges County; the counties of Fairfax and Arlington, and City of Alexandria in Virginia. The National Capital Section's mission includes:
To advance the professional knowledge and improve the practice of civil engineering for our members and those we serve.
To advocate for our profession with those whose actions affect us, and to educate those whose actions and responsibilities could benefit from a better understanding of the contributions of civil engineers.
To improve our community through effective community outreach programs, local involvement and educational efforts.