10 Takeaways from the 2017 NCSEA Structural Engineering Summit

10 Takeaways from the 2017 NCSEA Structural Engineering Summit

This year John O’Brien, P.E., S.E., Sarah Scarborough, P.E., and I had the opportunity to attend the NCSEA Structural Engineering Summit in Washington, D.C. The sessions were informative and sparked thought-provoking conversations amongst the diverse group of engineers that were in attendance. We compiled a list of our favorite takeaways from the conference. Enjoy!


1.Whenever you are solving a problem, jot down what you think the answer is before crunching any numbers or analyzing any data.  This helps shape your engineering judgement.  Over time you will see the gap start to close between what you think the answer is and what the answer really is.  It also gives context to the problem and helps you associate the magnitude of loads with the design results. [Young Member Mentor Roundtable | Emily Guglielmo, P.E., S.E.]
2. Find a mentor.  Mentoring is a huge part of any profession and is especially important for professional development.  Develop a mentorship program within your firm that allows you to choose your mentor and even change your mentor over time.  [Young Member Mentor Roundtable | James Malley, P.E., S.E.]
3. Rethink your training program.  Don’t lock new hires in the room for a week and throw everything they should know at them.  Consider a more spaced out training plan with a few key things that should be learned each week over the first several weeks at the company.  This helps ensure people aren’t overwhelmed coming in and that some of the training sticks. [Young Member Mentor Roundtable | Carrie Johnson, P.E., SECB]
4. The NCSEA recently started a national committee from the Structural Engineering Engagement and Equity (SE3) subcommittee of the Structural Engineers Association of Northern California (SEAONC). In 2016, the SE3 committee conducted a national survey in order to see what reasons engineers give for leaving the profession in addition to what reasons engineers give for considering leaving the profession. Another major aspect of the survey focused on how the experience of working in the profession differs across genders. The results of the survey highlighted some major issues within our industry.

There were a number of important findings that came out of the survey, one of which being that a large percentage of structural engineers consider leaving the profession at some point during their career. The main reasons engineers consider leaving, based on the results of the survey, are well-known issues across the profession as a whole (pay, high stress, work-life balance, etc.), but the engineers who ended up leaving the profession decided to leave because management wasn’t able to meet their expectations. The SE3 committee also noted a pay gap between men and women in the profession. The SE3 committee will be conducting a dedicated compensation study later this year to better assess the current state of this pay gap. To learn more about the SE3 committee and the results of the 2016 survey, visit their website here: http://www.se3project.org/  [Structural Engineering Engagement and Equity (SE3) | Nick Sherrow-Groves, P.E.; Angie Sommer, S.E.]

5. A more robust electronic version of ASCE 7 is in the works. During the ASCE Panel on How to Improve ASCE 7, engineers were given an opportunity to discuss and voice their opinions on ways the ASCE 7 committee could make the document more usable for practitioners. Members of the ASCE 7 committee stated that the committee is currently considering creating an electronic version capable of morphing based on user input of project specific design criteria. [ASCE Panel on How to Improve ASCE 7 | Ron Hamburger, P.E., S.E., SECB; John Hooper, P.E., S.E.; Don Scott, S.E.]
6. The Structural Engineers Association of California (SEAOC) is in the process of publishing the Wind Design Manual, which is going to be released in early 2018. It will be formatted similar to the SEAOC Seismic Design Manual, with sample problems to demonstrate how to properly apply the wind provisions per ASCE 7-16. The guide will include 16 problems, from classifying a building as enclosed, partially enclosed, open, or partially open (plot twist!) to calculating the appropriate wind pressures for the attachment of solar PV panels. It seems like this guide will be a great resource for anyone who desires to become more well versed in the ASCE 7 wind provisions. [SEAOC Wind Design Manual – An Overview | Emily Guglielmo, P.E., S.E.; Steve Kerr, S.E.]
7. The lateral drift of the new International Spy Museum currently under construction in Washington, D.C is controlled entirely by gravity loads. Sarah and Mary attended a construction tour of the new International Spy Museum with a group of other engineers from the Summit. Of the many fun facts, they learned about the new structure, one of the more interesting facts was that there were several extraordinary measures taken to limit the lateral drift of the building – this large drift, however, was not caused by wind or seismic loads. The drift was caused by the gravity loads due to the skewed geometry of the exterior columns.  [International Spy Museum Construction Tour | SK&A]
8. The 2011 Mineral, Virginia earthquake caused significant damage to both the Washington Monument and the Washington National Cathedral. Martina Driscoll, P.E., and Terrence Paret of Wiss, Janney, Elstner Associates, Inc. presented the findings from the investigation on the damage that occurred in these two landmark structures as a result of the 2011 earthquake. The spires at the Washington National Cathedral were of particular interest as many of them had fractured and shifted in place – luckily many of them did not fall and no one was injured. Terrence Paret noted that it was especially challenging to design a repair for the spires. The dynamic behavior of the structure was impossible to model, he said, due to the varying geometries of the spires, many of which had differing material properties as well. Additionally, the project team had to ensure that the repairs of the spires wouldn’t cause a more dramatic failure to occur in the next large seismic event.  [Shaking Up D.C | Martina Driscoll, P.E.; Terrence Paret]
9. Individuals who exhibit introverted tendencies can still network effectively and successfully. Career Coach Jen presented her top five “pro-tips” for how engineers can implement when networking with other professionals. She highlighted that networking can happen in any sort of environment, not just marketing events or conferences. Additionally, she noted that the initial meeting of a new professional contact is just the start of a professional relationship – you have to follow up in order to start building the relationship.  [Networking Strategies: Even Introverted Engineers Can Network Effectively | Jennifer Anderson]

10. Buildings constructed in Washington, D.C can only be a maximum height of 130 feet. There is currently a height restriction for buildings constructed in Washington, D.C. that dates to 1910.  [International Spy Museum Construction Tour | SK&A]

Author: Mary Shinners, EIT

Mary joined PES in 2015 after graduating from Georgia Tech. She’s now busy assisting project teams with structural analysis and design, preparing structural models using several types of structural software, performing surveys and assessments of existing structures, and preparing construction documents for various projects. She’s excited to continue learning what is required for successful project outcomes and looks forward to garnering more experience with different types of projects as her career progresses. Mary can be reached at mshinners@pesengineers.com