In a moment now sadly rich in irony, University of Washington professor Kate Simonen attended a carbon neutral conference in Los Angeles this past March and thought to herself, “I don’t want to travel this much anymore.”

The COVID-19 pandemic was still mostly impending in the United States. But for Simonen, it wasn’t even the pandemic concerns.

“I was reflecting on my health, the time away from my family and my carbon footprint,” Simonen said.

Nearly half a year later, Simonen’s reflections have become new norms, as ASCE, like many other organizations and businesses, has pivoted quickly in the face of COVID-19 to host an array of conferences and events in a virtual format during the pandemic.

Among the calendar of newly virtual events: the ASCE 2020 Convention, Oct. 28-30, and the first-ever ASCE Virtual Technical Conference, Sept. 14-18, where Simonen will serve as a keynote speaker.

“It’s exciting,” said Simonen, who will speak about her work as the executive director of the Carbon Leadership Forum, a collective committed to reducing carbon emissions in the built environment. “We’re challenged to radical experimentation, like, ‘OK, we’re not going to go in person, so what is it going to be like?’”

In the case of the ASCE 2020 Convention, the reimagined virtual event will still feature the latest Future World Vision “Megacity” experience, keynote speakers, a virtual exhibit hall and even a community happy hour.

“In the past, many new professionals, emerging leaders and international members may not have had the opportunity to attend the ASCE Convention in person,” said Greg Scott, P.E., F.ASCE, chair of the Convention’s technical program subcommittee.

“The virtual environment ASCE is going to deploy this October will make content on innovation, critical issues impacting the profession today and global visions of the future of engineering much more accessible. This year many more members will be able to actively participate in presentations and discussions on topics that will shape their future for years to come.”

Meanwhile, the ASCE Virtual Technical Conference – or V-Tech – features a technical program that collects experts and speakers from ASCE’s different Institutes, many of which have had to reschedule individual conferences planned for 2020.

The Structural Engineering Institute, for example, was able to turn the originally scheduled in-person Structures Congress 2020 into a one-day virtual event this past spring.

Maria Kozdroy, EIT, A.M.ASCE, a structural engineer for AECOM in New York City, would not have been able to travel to the planned in-person version but was able to attend the virtual Structures Congress. She said the opportunity to attend a variety of virtual events has been one of the silver linings to what has been a very strange year.

“I’m finding these events, and I like it because I’m able to just join. I don’t need to go anywhere. I can just join whatever I see online,” Kozdroy said. “It’s like, ‘Oh, that’s more information for me to learn!’ I like it.”

The ASCE Construction Institute was slated to host its annual CI Student Days this weekend. With the coronavirus rendering that plan impossible, the Construction Institute innovated, instead offering a three-week, seven-course series of webinars designed to connect and educate students.

“To be honest, I’m not 100 percent used to having virtual meetings. I guess I’m a little old-fashioned. I still prefer in-person meetings. But I felt like it was really good,” said Jose Wu, S.M.ASCE, a civil engineering student at City College of New York and first-time CI Student Days attendee.

“I got to meet people from around the country and connect with different companies.”

Ultimately, Simonen said, the rise of virtual events is all about what you make of it.

“We can be sad about what we lose, but we can also be optimistic about what we gain,” Simonen said. “We can make some connections that we wouldn’t have made and do it with lower personal, financial and environmental cost.”

Explore the calendar of upcoming ASCE virtual events.

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