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Highlights from Texas CECON 2023: A Conference for the Future of the Civil Engineering Industry

by: John N. Mudd, PE (HR Green), CECON 2023 Senior Planning Committee Co-Chair
This September in San Marcos, Texas, almost 500 members of the civil engineering community gathered to celebrate the future of civil engineering at the Texas Civil Engineering Conference (CECON). The three-day event — organized by volunteers and American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) Texas Section staff — is the place for engineers to engage in professional development, build business relationships, and engage in peer-to-peer technical exchange.

Roughly 10 years ago, several ASCE Texas Section leaders had a vision when first starting the CECON Conference. That vision was to provide a conference that covered the breadth and depth of civil engineering in Texas. Ten years later, the organization achieved that goal by partnering with four ASCE Texas Institutes Chapters: the Geo-Institute (TxGI), the Structural Engineering Institute (TxSEI), the Transportation and Development Institute (TxTDI), and the Environmental & Water Resources Institute (TxEWRI). CECON was able to structure a program for professional development tracks for all their members and those specialties.

Held at the Embassy Suites San Marcos Hilton Hotel and Convention Center, CECON 2023 provided a way for design consultants, contractors, manufacturers, agencies, students, and other professionals to relax, catch up with their peers and colleagues, brush up on their technical knowledge, and gain essential knowledge on the future of the engineering industry.

An attendee had the following comment on the event: “I have been attending CECON for the past several years, and I must say that this year, your team managed to push past any and all expectations on the programming content, exhibitors, and speakers. I am excited to see how you top it next year.”

The 2023 ASCE Texas Section CECON Planning Committee would like to thank all event supporters, sponsors, industry partners, and exhibitors. The committee also extends a special thank you to the CECON Social Sponsors: Plastics Pipe Institute (PPI), Advanced Drainage Systems (ADS), TDR Pipe, and Lane Enterprises.

The Future is Now
The 2023 theme, “The Future is Now,” was selected to highlight two different ideologies. First, to celebrate just how far the industry has come regarding technology and innovation. Second, to help start the conversation on how to engage future civil engineers from each discipline of the industry (water resources and hydraulics, environmental, construction, structural, geotechnical, transportation, utility, survey, and city planning and municipal engineering) to continue building on the foundations set by our ancestors.
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Ahead of the opening ceremony, the conference gave attendees some time to focus on the exhibitors, which provided unique and informative perspectives on the products and services within the industry.

The CECON 2023 opening ceremony began with the opening keynote speaker, Eva Lerner-Lam. Lerner-Lam is the Founder and President of Palisades Consulting Group, Inc. and brings almost 46 years of experience in transportation policy, planning, operations, and standards development. Lerner-Lam’s presentation featured ASCE’s Future World Vision project. To continue growing into the future, this program showed how today’s technologies are gathering real-time data from the environmental, technical, and socioeconomic systems that shape the world and how turning that into planning tools helps better serve communities. To learn more about this initiative, go to www.futureworldvision.org.

Unique Conference Offerings
The second keynote of the conference was a presentation on the Texas Department of Transportation’s (TxDOT) I-35 NEX Central Construction Project in San Antonio, Texas. This presentation was provided by Marco Galindo, Project Delivery Supervisor for the San Antonio District of TxDOT, and Francisco Palacios, Design Director for Alamo NEX Construction. The presentation provided insight into the 22 miles of elevated lanes of Interstate 35 throughout the northeast part of San Antonio and neighboring communities. Some of the latest technologies utilized in the construction arena helped make this project successful.

Breakout sessions were held throughout the afternoon, including the specialty tracks curated by members of the four partner ASCE Texas Institute Chapters: TxGI, TxSEI, TxTDI, and TxEWRI. Late afternoon educational offerings culminated in a TxDOT Leaders Panel and another set of breakout sessions. Panelists included Mike Arellano, PE (Deputy District Engineer TxDOT - Austin), Charles Benavidez, PE (Deputy District Engineer TxDOT - San Antonio), Martin Horst, PE (District Engineer TxDOT - Yoakum), Lance Simmons, PE (Chief Engineer - TxDOT), Stanley Swiatek, PE (District Engineer TxDOT - Waco), and Tomas Trevino, PE (District Engineer TxDOT - El Paso). ASCE President (2023) Travis Attanasio, PE served as moderator for the discussion exploring the nuances of leading and growing the various TxDOT Districts in Texas.

Wednesday evening, attendees and families joined together at “The Future is Bright Tailgate Party” social at the Texas State University Football Stadium, sponsored by PPI, ADS, TDR Pipe, and Lane Enterprises. Activities included throwing around a football, participating in a field goal contest, and enjoying a Texas barbecue dinner. The evening was a highlight for many conference goers and their families.

As with the previous day, Thursday morning began with a focus on the exhibitors. The remainder of the morning was packed with breakout sessions covering an array of topics including “Liberty WWTP Flood Mitigation” presented by Keval Satra, PE (HR Green), “Lift Station Consolidation on a Macro Scale” presented by Marshall Preas, PE (Pape Dawson), and “The Design and Utilization of Concrete Overlays” presented by Tyler Speakmon, PE (CEMEX).

After networking breaks, attendees enjoyed two interactive discussion panels. First, the Texas Legislative Panel discussion moderated by ASCE Texas Section Government Affairs Committee Co-Chair Michael Bloom, PE (5engineering) featured an interactive discussion with Texas Representative John Lujan (District 118 and member of the House Committee on Transportation), Sarah R. Schlessinger (CEO - Texas Water Foundation), and Commissioner Kathleen Jackson, PE (Texas Public Utility Commission). This was a new and fresh perspective on the different viewpoints from those who write, shape, and advocate for change in the Texas infrastructure legislature. The second offering was the Texas Directors of Public Works Panel, which included Jackson as the moderator and panelist Carol Haddock, PE (City of Houston), Rozi Hosseini, PE, RPLS (City of San Antonio), and Shahad Mohammed, PMP (City of Dallas). The panelists discussed how each of them are working to bring their cities into the future.

The remainder of the afternoon offered attendees more technical education, followed by a Happy Hour with exhibitors and a motivational keynote address. The Happy Hour gave attendees a chance to network and mingle with colleagues and industry supporters in a relaxed setting before taking their seats to listen to the keynote message from Chet Garner, creator and celebrity host of The Daytripper on PBS.

Honoring Civil Engineering Projects and Leaders
Thursday concluded with the Casino Night Gala and Awards Ceremony. A packed room of attendees supported and celebrated the 2023 ASCE Texas Section annual award recipients for their outstanding achievements and excellence in the field. Planned by the ASCE Texas Section Younger Member Committee, this year’s gala featured several casino table games to choose from and a variety of prizes as payouts.

ASCE 2023 President Travis Attanasio, PE and ASCE 2024 Society President Marisa Geldert-Murphey, PE emceed the Awards Ceremony, honoring the following award recipients:

  • Government Civil Engineer Award: Joe Alvarez
  • Professional Service to Students Award: Mark Mann, PE
  • History & Heritage Award: Anne Cook, MLIS
  • Professional Service Award: Julie Jones, PE, CFM
  • Service to People Award: Kathleen Jackson, PE
  • John A. Focht Jr. Citizen Engineer Award: Patricia Fayre, PE
  • Award of Honor: Augustine Verrengia III, PE
  • Award of Honor: Russell “Rusty” Gibson, PE
  • Lifetime Service Award: Bud Beene, PE, F.ASCE
  • Lifetime Service Award: Martha Juch, PE, CFM
  • Lifetime Service Award: David Matocha
  • Lifetime Service Award: Tim Newton, PE
  • Lifetime Service Award: Ken Rainwater, PhD, PE, CFM, D.WRE
  • Texas Outstanding Civil Engineering Achievement (OCEA) Award: Luce Bayou Interbasin Transfer Project (Coastal Water Authority)
  • Texas OCEA Award of Merit: Runway 13R-31L & Taxiway C Phase 1 Reconstruction (City of Dallas and HNTB)
Successful Conclusion
The third and final day of CECON 2023 kicked off on a high note with a morning packed full of well-attended breakout sessions, continuing to include specialty tracks curated by partnering ASCE Texas Institute Chapters. Friday’s sessions included technical and industry best practice topics like “Risky Business: Providing Effective Risk Management for Civil Projects” presented Glenn Goldstein, PE (Foresight Planning & Engineering Services), “Breaking Down Silos for Affordable Housing” presented by Rachel Parrish, PE (City of San Antonio), and the yearly Texas Ethics Program presented by Michael Sims, PE (Texas Board of Professional Engineers).

The combined ASCE Texas Section Business Meeting and Luncheon called, “State of Our Community,” was presented by ASCE & Texas Section Leaders including Attanasio, Jenni Peters, CAE (ASCE Texas Section Executive Director), and Kimberly Cornett, PE (ASCE Incoming Texas Section President 2024).

Fitting with the “The Future is Now” theme, the final keynote of the conference, Dr. Shreek Mandayam, Vice President for Research of Texas State University, provided the conference with a look at the university’s Run to R1. This presentation offered a look at the university’s Moody Center and Local Research initiatives that focus on the growth and future of the engineering curriculum and research capabilities as they work toward becoming an R1 Doctoral University.

A guided tour of House Zero by ICON concluded the conference. As a call back to the 2022 conference, attendees enjoyed the opportunity to explore the implementation of 3D home-building technology in the residential construction market.

Looking Forward
ASCE Texas Section’s CECON Planning Committee strives to make each year better than the last, continually incorporating lessons learned and best practices discovered the year before. The Committee has already begun planning for CECON 2024: “Raising the Grade” in Frisco, Texas, September 18-20, 2024. Learn more and save the date at www.TexasCECON.org.
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