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UMass Amherst ASCE Student Chapter Celebrates 65 Years

The American Society of Civil Engineers Student Chapter at the University of Massachusetts Amherst was founded in 1950, making this year its 65th anniversary. Throughout the chapter’s history there have been tremendous strides in expanding our influence, knowledge and participation in design competitions. This includes the student chapter’s competition focuses; from solely competing in the Steel Bridge and Concrete Canoe, to including competitions such as the Big Beam Competition and the Earthquake Engineering Research Institute’s (EERI) National Seismic Design Competition.

“Foggy Bottom” Concrete Canoe, 1995, photo courtesy of Kerry McCormack, ’95

The 65th Anniversary of UMass Amherst ASCE has given us the opportunity to take into perspective not only the accomplishments that we make in our time with the Chapter, but also the contributions of all the excellent men and women before us.  In an effort to be mindful of and to pay respect to the colorful history of UMass Amherst ASCE, we reached out to a few of our alumni to hear their experiences as part of UMass Amherst ASCE, and to piece together some of the Chapter’s storied history over the past 65 years.

“ASCE helped prepare me for working and coordinating with colleagues, staying active in my industry, and viewing my career as more than a 9 to 5 job.  Look at every challenge as an opportunity for growth.”  Michael Mitchell, ‘06

Our alumni maintain both a presence in and enthusiasm about ASCE, and many continue their involvement in professional regional chapters. Bill Paille, ‘88, was a participant of two concrete canoe competitions and is a member of the professional ASCE chapter in Boston.  He said, “Get involved and experience what leadership is all about.  Learn from your fellow students, how to work as a team, how to present in front of a live audience, don’t be afraid do make mistakes...and learn how to write.”  Our alumni have expressed how important and vital involvement in ASCE has been throughout their careers, and how becoming involved early can offer many opportunities for continued growth and networking.  Shawn Kelley, ‘94, ‘97, ‘03, an active member of the Vermont professional chapter said “ASCE is a fantastic organization and you should stay involved after you graduate...It will be the beginning of your professional networking...starting early is very important.”

“Managing a team of people toward a common goal is often something that you need to be able to do in the workplace, but that you don’t always learn in the classroom.” Elizabeth Galloway (Abbanat), ’03

We have chosen selected quotes from our alumni during interviews that chapter members conducted during this semester. Their time spent as former members of the UMass Amherst ASCE Student Chapter were hailed as “some of the most important years to be involved,” according to Kate Biedron, ‘05 and many of our other alumni. The following quotes reference their personal experiences as members of UMass Amherst ASCE, including some of their favorite memories. From the reflections on their time in the student chapter we hope to learn from their experiences.

“Going to the National Concrete Canoe Competition in 2004, which was held in Washington, DC.  I can’t recall any other time that I’ve been as ‘fired up’ about engineering!” Michael Mitchell, ‘06

“I wouldn't trade the marathon work weekends at the chicken coop for anything else. I will never forget how much fun (and long) pour day was. We may not have had the prettiest canoe out there but it always floated and we were proud of it.” Matt Soltys, ’12

“Most important to me was working on the concrete canoe, where I learned first-hand about project management and real, hands-on problem solving.  Another benefit was that I became close friends with someone who later became my husband!” Elizabeth Galloway (Abbanat), ‘03

“We built an eighteen-foot-long canoe, 400 lbs., named the "Aggregate Queen" and were part of a team that raced it down the Penobscot River in Orono, ME.  Yes, that's right, white water!  Unfortunately, one of the paddles broke and the canoe got sideways and hit a huge rock and the canoe broke in half.” Bill Paille, ‘88

“For a handful of years we used an old steel bridge to hold up and display our boats. It looked cool because it tied the different teams together. There were a fair amount of people who competed in both Bridge and Canoe so it worked well.” Tyler DeRuiter, ’10

“Baron von Swan” Concrete Canoe held up by Steel Bridge, 2009, photo courtesy of Tyler DeRuiter, ’10

The memories and experiences made during their time as members of the UMass Amherst ASCE Student Chapter truly resonate with current members’ similar experiences. Teamwork and friendship go hand-in-hand within the design-build teams and throughout the general membership. These competitions and the real life applications of the work have given our alumni an advantage once they became professionals. Along with their memories and experiences comes their insight into how UMass Amherst ASCE helped them in their professional careers, as well as general take-away messages for students.

“In my role as President of ASCE, I gained communication skills that have helped me to this day.  I am a faculty member at the University of Delaware, and I lecture to large groups of students all the time.  I also help guide students to student organizations like ASCE as I know how beneficial membership can be.” Michael J. Chajes, ’84

 “I feel that involvement in ASCE is the best way for a student to get ‘introduced’ into their profession.” Tony Puntin, ’92

 “When you leave UMass, you won’t know EVERYTHING so don’t pretend like you do, offer to do anything and learn everything.” Kerry McCormack, ‘95

“Joining and becoming an active member in professional organizations like ASCE is important to developing relationships, your career, and our profession.” Judd Galloway, ’03

“ASCE was great to help and understand civil engineering outside of an academic context. I met a number of industry contacts in ASCE as a student officer that I'm still in touch with.” Robert House, ’09

“The UMass ASCE chapter allowed me to expand on the material I learned in the classroom but it really allowed me to learn more about myself and who I am.” Aimée O’Brien, ’11

An in-person interview was conducted with alumni Ellen White, ’91; Scott Michalak ’92 & ’95; and Peter Quigley ’84 & ‘88. They believe it is important to take ownership of your decisions and learn from mistakes, but it is also important to be happy with these decisions and your profession in general. They also believe that ASCE is an opportunity for students to be introduced to the civil engineering profession.

After speaking with our alumni, it is clear how successful they have become. All have referenced how ASCE has helped prepare them for real-world applications through their leadership roles and experiences as a part of UMass Amherst ASCE. Throughout the past 65 years of UMass Amherst ASCE history, it is clear how beneficial and helpful the student society is, and how well it is represented by our great alumni. The positive influence they have had on us will only help us succeed more. Our alumni’s invaluable advice will greatly help both the student chapter’s continued success as well as our current and future members’ professional careers after graduation. To our alumni: your passion for the profession and drive to succeed is evident, and will resonate within the society through future generations. Thank you again for your contribution in representing such a great society throughout the years.

“Rapid Fracture” Concrete Canoe, 1987, photo courtesy of Bill Paille, ‘88

Co-Authored by the 2015-2016 UMass Amherst ASCE Student Chapter and Executive Board members: Rosey Tortola, President; Rick Hanna, VP; Billy Howe, Treasurer; Nathan Yu, Secretary; Dan Clasby and Brian Biagini, Publicity Officers.