Letter from the President
Looking Backward, Looking Forward
The challenges of the past year have been immense. But so are the opportunities in moving ahead.
By Sheryl Sorby
When ASEE staff asked me to write this “Letter From the President,” my first response was to ask what others have done in the past. So I examined the three most recent letters. They covered uplifting topics such as respecting our colleagues through the titles we use for them, strengthening our ties with international partners, and updating members on exciting developments in engineering education and at ASEE headquarters. My first thought was, “How quaint.” These past messages reminded me of a past life that has been mostly eliminated by the crushing pandemic we now find ourselves in the midst of. Like most of you, I am struggling. Struggling to remain positive. Struggling to teach. Struggling to write. However, I recognize that I am one of the lucky ones in all of this. I remain healthy and am able to continue to work from home, so I have not experienced financial hardship.
This past year has been extraordinarily difficult for everyone. No segment of our society has been spared. Life in academia has been particularly difficult with reduced budgets; bans on travel; pay cuts; and the myriad problems of teaching, meeting, and discussing via Zoom. The political upheaval all around us has only added to our plight. As I write this, we have survived one attack on our U.S. Capitol, and experts are predicting more unrest and violence across the nation in the coming days. Sometimes it is difficult to get out of bed each day to face what awaits us. We dread what we will learn in the news about the virus, political unrest, and the economy.
I am hopeful for our future. Everywhere around me I see people stepping up to the plate and doing their best in a bad situation. Faculty have shifted research projects so they can continue their cutting-edge work under new rules of social distancing. Those who are tech-savvy have helped others to adopt and adapt best practices in remote learning. And ASEE staff moved mountains to quickly change our annual conference to an online format. Attendees appreciated their valiant efforts, and most deemed the virtual conference a rewarding experience.
Teaching plans for fall, and now spring, semesters were upended; most institutions adopted a hybrid mode of instruction combining face-to-face with online learning. University staff have worked tirelessly to ensure that our classrooms, labs, and offices are germ-free and safe. Outbreaks on campus have been quickly dealt with so that our lives and our learning could continue. Several vaccines are now available, and it is just a matter of time before things return to “normal.”
But what will the new normal look like? I’m sure it will contain elements of our old normal, but I’m equally sure the pandemic will result in permanent changes. Now that we all have become experts at online learning, will we offer more online or blended learning opportunities or programs? Now that we are all experts at videoconferencing, will the need for travel to meetings diminish? Some are predicting a new Roaring Twenties mentality in our nation’s youth. Will students be willing to attend our classes and give up their party time for our significant homework and project workloads?
It’s hard to say what our future will look like. If the pandemic has taught us anything, it is that we should always have a plan B, because things frequently don’t turn out the way we thought they would. The best-laid plans of mice and men and all.
One aspect of the future we can count on, though, is that our Society, ASEE, will continue to adapt and evolve and will rise to meet the challenges of tomorrow, just as we have met the challenges of today. We have organized online discussion groups and professional development activities for faculty. Our 2020 conference moved to a virtual format; our 2021 conference has been rescheduled for July. If the virus is still in control of our professional life at that time, we will likely move it to an online format again. ASEE staff have been working from home for some time and will continue that into the future. As a Society, we strive to be here for our members and will continue to do so. On that you can depend.
Take care, stay healthy, and be positive. I’m hoping we can all get together this summer in Long Beach, but if not, I’ll surely see you in Minneapolis in 2022.
Sheryl Sorby is President of ASEE.
ASEE Fellow Receives Diversity Award
Bill Oakes, professor of engineering education and director of the EPICS program at Purdue University, was honored with the 2020 Global Engineering Deans Council (GEDC) Diversity Award at the council’s virtual conference in November.
EPICS (Engineering Projects in Community Service) is a service-learning design program in which teams of students partner with local and global organizations to address human, community, and environmental needs. The program launched at Purdue in 1995 and has since spread to universities around the world in addition to expanding to several K–12 institutions.
The GEDC award highlights programs that “inspire students from all profiles and backgrounds to study and succeed in engineering.” Long term, it also aims to increase diversity among engineers globally to both better reflect communities and capitalize on diversity’s impact on innovation.
“We are honored for the recognition,” says Oakes. “EPICS employs community-engaged learning to teach design, and this pedagogy aligns with decades of literature on diversity. Many students who are not choosing engineering are interested in making a difference in the world, and that is at the core of EPICS.” Expanding such initiatives could significantly increase interest in engineering among a more diverse population, he adds.
Oakes was also the 2012 winner of ASEE’s Chester F. Carlson Award for Innovation in Engineering Education, given annually to an educator who has made a significant contribution to the profession.
Dora Smith, chair of ASEE’s Corporate Member Council and global director of the Academic Partner Program at Siemens, the award’s sponsor, congratulated Oakes and the EPICS program for increasing diversity in the engineering talent pipeline, emphasizing that “diversity is a business imperative and competitive advantage.”
The 2021 Outlook
By Norman Fortenberry
Happy 2021. I hope your year is off to a productive start. It is encouraging to know that, as I type, vaccines are being distributed and we can look forward—soon, we hope—to returning to “normal” life, personally and professionally.
So yes, we can see the light at the end of the COVID tunnel, and it might not be an oncoming train. But to keep it from being so, we need to maintain cognizance of our operating environments. Academic year 2019–2020 was incredibly tough, but our organizational and individual members adapted incredibly well and incredibly fast.
However, operating at an “emergency” level for an extended period of time is not a recipe for good health. Moreover, given the increased expenses, reduced revenue, and—for public institutions—possibilities of even greater reductions as states balance budgets with a reduced tax base, tough choices lie ahead for our members and, therefore, for ASEE. We have an ambitious strategic plan but are looking at an increasingly resource-constrained environment. The Board will have to prioritize what best serves the members and best positions the Society for the future. Some objectively excellent and important activities will have to be deferred, and some objectively excellent activities may have to be cut back or even eliminated. Nonetheless, we can’t afford to forgo some essentials because the long-term opportunity cost would be too injurious to the Society.
But I am optimistic. ASEE is on firm financial footing, thanks to engaged members, careful financial stewardship, and wise use of resources. We will continue to offer excellent resources and benefits, experiences virtual and (soon enough) in-person, and tools to help our members meet their professional obligations. We look forward to working through this constructively with you.
Norman Fortenberry is the executive director of ASEE.
Call for Nominations
The ASEE Nominating Committee, chaired by Immediate Past President Stephanie Adams, requests member participation in nominating candidates for the 2022 ASEE Board election. Board positions to be nominated are: President-Elect; Vice President, Member Affairs; Chairs of Professional Interest Councils I, IV, and V; and Chairs of the Council of Sections for Zones I and III.
- All nominees must be individual members or institutional member representatives of ASEE at the time of nomination and must maintain ASEE membership during their term of office. Nominating Committee members are not eligible for nomination.
- Candidates for President-Elect and for Vice President of Member Affairs must be active members who have served or are serving on the Board of Directors. Because ASEE is a Department of Defense contractor, candidates for President-Elect must currently be U.S. citizens and undergo a security clearance.
- Candidates for Chair for Zone I and Zone III will be selected by the members of their respective sections, as the ASEE Constitution stipulates. Each proposed candidate for a Society-wide office should submit a first-person biographical sketch of fewer than 400 words that documents career contributions, ASEE offices held, awards and recognitions received, and educational background. Include comments on leadership qualities, ability to collaborate with others to achieve objectives, and willingness to serve if elected. Self-nominations are accepted. For nominations for the office of President-Elect, please include a statement summarizing why you think your nominee is a good candidate for the position. A listing of members who meet constitutional eligibility requirements for the offices of President-Elect and Vice President, Member Affairs, is available from the executive director’s office at ASEE headquarters.
Nominations will be accepted electronically at firstname.lastname@example.org. Please include a subject line that begins with the words “2022 Nomination” so that it can be forwarded to the Nominating Committee. Please be assured that your nominations are confidential and will be seen only by the assistant Board secretary and members of the Nominating Committee. The deadline to submit nominations is June 1, 2021.
Nominations postmarked by June 1, 2021, will also be accepted by mail. Please mark the envelope CONFIDENTIAL and address it to Stephanie Adams, Chair, ASEE Nominating Committee, ASEE, 1818 N Street, NW, Suite 600, Washington, DC 20036.