ASCE Newslink Archive

Burlington Northern or Santa Fe?

I’ve been going to a lot of parties lately.  Improving my social networking skills is one of the many benefits of being the president of the San Diego chapter of ASCE.  Other perks include getting up early every third Wednesday of the month to host the officers meeting, participating in the annual audit of our financial statements, and having the privilege of crafting a message every month for your enlightenment. Sure, it sounds glamorous, but this position is not for the faint of heart. (Psssst: if you or someone you know is in the unfaint of heart category, let me know because next year I am responsible for finding candidates for incoming officers, and I will need suggestions. Please, send names my way.)

But I digress. Let’s get back to the sexy part of being your section president: the parties.    Being section president really does provide many opportunities to meet new people. These opportunities allow me mingle with engineers and other professionals and point out all of the terrific things ASCE does for San Diego. Since September I have been invited to many events to talk about civil engineering. In October I shared my story of becoming an engineer with the Younger Member Forum at one of their meetings. The YMF section meetings give everyone a fantastic opportunity to unwind after work, enjoy the camaraderie of others building a career in engineering and to forge lifelong networks with people who share similar interests. 

This past year I also had the opportunity to discuss ethics with life members and engineering students from both UCSD and SDSU.  Examining how the key elements of honesty, integrity and dignity provide the foundation of our profession enlightens not only those who are preparing to carry the torch of knowledge into the future but also those of us who need reminders of why we are engineers. 

Just last month I presided over an Order of the Engineer Ring Ceremony with President-elect Jim Frost. More than 50 students and working professionals accepted the obligation of an engineer and then mingled afterward. The proper amount of pomp and circumstance accompanied the occasion, but we were also able to enjoy talking about food, vacations, and families before we broke up for the evening.

However, the update to our infrastructure report card has provided the most social opportunities for me this year. (NEWSFLASH: the 2012 version is now available on-line at!) I have lost track how many times I have discussed our report card since becoming section president. In talking about the merits of the report card I have mingled with County Supervisor Ron Roberts, bent the ear of Mayor Sander’s staff and engaged fellow engineers at lunch gatherings.  The report card alone has afforded me, and many others, to debate with engineers and non-engineers alike.  Whether you agree with the grades, we all agree that our infrastructure will not last forever and we, as a community, need to do something about it.

So what I have just described for you may not be a series of parties as much as they are meetings. Yes, meetings. But meetings nonetheless where I get to practice my social skills often obfuscated by my engineering genes. And I have found these experiences invaluable when I do attend non-engineering related events.  This spring I have had more than my fair share of events to hone my social skills: little league baseball games, volleyball games, piano recitals, and 8 year old birthday parties to name a few.

Inevitably the conversations turn toward professions.  Often the exchange goes something like this. 

“So, Dean, tell me what you do for a living.”

“I’m an engineer.”

“Oh.” Short pause. Then, “Burlington Northern or Santa Fe?”

At this point I smile politely, while quickly assessing whether this person is auditioning for a stand-up comedian spot on the Late Night Show with Jimmy Fallon or he is fulfilling a quest to prove yams are smarter than people.  Without missing a beat, I reply, “I’m a civil engineer.”

“Really!?!  Well I hardly know you, but you do seem nice!”

It’s conclusive: yams are smarter than some people.

And this is how it goes. Whether it is our 23rd annual ASCE awards event (plug: tickets are still available to Rock This City on Saturday May 19th at the Hard Rock Hotel!), my son’s sixth grade class on career day, or a gathering of the Ladies Auxiliary Club of Tropical Bromeliads, I have the opportunity to break out of my shell, share my perspective as an engineer, and hopefully make the world a better place to live.

Dean Gipson, P.E.
ASCE San Diego Section President

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