October 2020 - Originally Presented on TXASCE.org.
For the first time in its history, the ASCE Houston Branch will be led by three women holding the positions of immediate Branch Past President, President-Elect, and President. Julia Clarke PE, Mahsa Arastoo PE, and Sarah Alvarez PE, respectively, have all taken their unique paths into and through ASCE, and we took some time to learn about each of their stories and hear what they have planned for the ASCE Houston Branch in 2020-2021!
Past President Julia Clarke’s ASCE Journey
My ASCE journey is unconventional. In 2003, one of my classmates needed a volunteer to join the practice squad of the ASCE Steel Bridge Competition Team for the University of South Florida (USF). I was a junior, and I knew little about ASCE. The members on the USF ASCE Steel Bridge Competition Team were friendly, and I enjoyed being the timekeeper while my teammates assembled the bridge during practices. They encouraged me to obtain a free ASCE student membership and to attend the 2004 Southeast ASCE Regional Conference. Although I was not part of the bridge team on competition day, I enjoyed cheering for them. Coincidently, I decided to enter the student technical paper and presentation competition and won the fourth-place trophy.
After graduating with a Bachelor of Science in Civil Engineering from USF, I moved to West Lafayette, Indiana, in 2005 to attend Purdue University for graduate school. I decided to join the ASCE Geo-Institute Student Chapter. I became a volunteer for organizing the keynote and technical speakers for the Annual Lovell Lecture Series.
When I graduated with a Master of Science in Civil Engineering, I moved to Houston, Texas, to start my career as a Graduate Engineer in Geotechnical Engineering. I wanted to focus solely on my career, and I took a break from ASCE involvement. My first supervisor, Scott Marr PE, encouraged me to get involved in professional organizations. He said, “Julia, you need to go beyond the four walls of your office and network with your peers. Making great connections will greatly benefit your career. I will support you in your efforts.” I signed up for a professional membership with ASCE after my conversation with Scott.
You need to go beyond the four walls of your office and network with your peers. Making great connections will greatly benefit your career. I will support you in your efforts.
Scott took me to my first luncheon hosted by the ASCE Houston Branch in Spring 2010. When I arrived at the luncheon, I was nervous. There were a lot of people, and I knew no one other than Scott. No one looked like me, and I felt intimidated during the networking session. Once the luncheon began, I sat at a table that had white gentlemen that were in their mid-50s to early 60s. They were very nice to me, but I felt that I needed to start volunteering for a smaller organization to become more comfortable in a larger organization like the ASCE Houston Branch.
I became actively involved with the SWE Houston Area Section until I became President of the organization in 2014-15. During my Presidency, I knew that I wanted to focus more on my involvement with ASCE in the future. While I was President of the SWE Houston Area Section, I was the Geotechnical Committee Chair for the ASCE Houston Branch. In 2015-16, I continued volunteering with the ASCE Houston Branch as the Technical Programs Committee Chair.
As the Technical Programs Committee Chair, I also took on the role of interim Vice President Technical during the last three months of the fiscal year. I enjoyed volunteering for the ASCE Houston Branch, but I never thought that I would have an opportunity to become an officer of the ASCE Houston Branch. I had a different style and a different way of thinking. At the 2016 April Branch Meeting, Patrick Beecher PE, came up to me and asked me to be the Vice President Technical when he became President. I was honored to accept his invitation to join the Board.
I became an officer of the ASCE Houston Branch, serving in multiple roles including, 2016-17 Vice President Technical, 2017-18 Vice President Administration, 2018-19 President-Elect, and 2019‑20 President. I am the current Immediate Past President, and I plan to take a break from ASCE leadership once I am no longer a Board member of the ASCE Houston Branch. But don’t worry, I’ll be back, stronger than ever, and ready to jump back into ASCE leadership when I am well rested!
President-Elect Mahsa Arastoo’s ASCE Journey
As a child, I always knew I would become an engineer but was unsure which major suited me best. My dad is a computer engineer, and my mom is a civil engineer. They influenced my career decision and paved the way for me. My mom, her area of expertise, is in the maintenance and stabilization of dams. She would share stories with me about her site visits and talk about the challenges she faced in each project. That is how I became so passionate to learn more about different structures such as dams, bridges, and skyscrapers. With that, I decided to become a civil engineer.
I participated in the Iranian National Entrance Exam and got accepted to the University of Tehran. Although ASCE does not have a section/branch in Iran, I managed to find other ways to volunteer while pursuing my bachelor’s degree. For two years, I served as the Student Forum Chair and organized different events. During this time, I realized how much I enjoyed participating in extra circular activities. My involvement in these activities also helped me prioritize my schedule and plan my time better.
In 2011, I moved to the United States to pursue a master’s degree. After graduating from Texas A&M University, I joined Aguirre & Fields and moved to Houston. My first supervisor, Rick Carle PE, encouraged me to get involved with ASCE. I was new in town, and it was an excellent opportunity for me to meet people and make new friends, so I agreed. The first meeting I attended was a Younger Member (YM) happy hour in January 2014. The only other person I knew was my coworker, but Houston YM group members were so welcoming and friendly that it encouraged me to attend more events. However, when I arrived at my first branch meeting, I was too shy even to check-in. There were so many professionals in various stages of their careers in the same room that I thought I would never fit in. I was wrong. Each time I would attend an event, I would meet more and more professionals and made many connections. Looking back, I am glad I overcame my fear and continued to participate in ASCE events.
There were so many professionals in various stages of their careers in the same room that I thought I would never fit in. I was wrong. Each time I would attend an event, I would meet more and more professionals and made many connections. Looking back, I am glad I overcame my fear and continued to participate in ASCE events.
In the past five years, being involved with ASCE Houston Branch, currently serving as the President-Elect, I have held VP Administration, VP Technical, Branch Director, and YM Technical Activity Chair positions. In addition to ASCE, I led the Professional Development Committee with Infrastructure Advancement Institute (IAI) as Chair and Vice-Chair, and I was nominated to be a board member recently.
I feel fortunate to have mentors at Aguirre & Fields, who support and encourage me to be involved in professional organizations. I developed my leadership skills through ASCE, and I enjoy volunteering my time alongside so many talented and devoted engineers in my field. I am excited about the opportunity to serve alongside Sarah and Julia this year, and I am looking forward to many more years of involvement with ASCE.
President Sarah Alvarez’ ASCE Journey
My journey with ASCE began in 2012. I started by attending branch meetings which interested me. I attended the meetings alone, and it was absolutely terrifying. I decided to be pushed out of my comfort zone and continued attending branch meetings. Over time I started to attend Younger Member (YM) Happy Hours, which then lead to me being pulled into planning meetings for the sandcastle team. The following year, I was asked to consider co-chairing the YM Sandcastle Team. I accepted the two-year term.
Upon completion of the two-year term I was not asked to continue in a committee chair position. I had originally wanted to chair the YM Group, but I did not express my desire. I was shocked to not have been asked to volunteer for a position as this was how I first became involved. I nearly decided not to continue volunteering. After some consideration, I decided to follow the path I desired and reached out to a then board member asking about vacant positions. I was contacted by Patrick Beecher PE and asked to consider running as the Secretary for the Branch. After that I followed a general succession plan through VP Communications, VP Administration, and eventually President-Elect.
I have been involved with the Branch since 2012 and in leadership positions since 2014. I have learned so much along the way and have gained so many friends. ASCE has propelled my career and made me a leader in the profession. I am grateful for the opportunity to preside over the Branch and serve the local Branch members. That is my why, the reason, I continue to volunteer and dedicate so much of my time, because I genuinely love interacting with members and getting to know who they are and finding a way to get them involved.
That is my why, the reason, I continue to volunteer and dedicate so much of my time, because I genuinely love interacting with members and getting to know who they are and finding a way to get them involved.
I met Mahsa while serving on the Younger Member Forum. Her first leadership role was as the YM Technical Activities Chair. I personally saw how her leadership drastically increased YM involvement and brought great content to benefit the YMs. It has been a pleasure to grow with Mahsa within the organization. She is cheerful, dedicated, dependable, and dedicated leader. I am confident she will do an excellent job at continuing to provide value to our members during her term. I met Julia my first year serving on the Board. Right from the start I knew she was a strong, organized leader who got things done. I have learned an incredible amount about leadership from her and her drive inspires me to be better. The ASCE Houston Branch has been fortunate to have Julia preside over us during the COVID-19 outbreak as well as volunteer over the years.
ASCE Houston having all presidential positions held by females is reflective of the ASCE Society-level leaders in 2018. ASCE on a global scale had the same set-up for the first time ever in 2018, and now we are seeing this historical mark at the Branch level. It is important for female engineers, engineering students, and children to see females in leadership positions. It allows the demographic to be able to relate and identify more easily and make career/leadership goals more attainable. I am proud of the ASCE Houston Branch for voting in female leadership, and even more proud to have such diversity among us.
Sarah’s Goals for ASCE Houston in 2020-2021
We held our leadership orientation in early August. We used this time to brainstorm with our leadership actions moving forward into 2020-2021. We had identified several goals the previous term, predominantly focusing on membership retention and recruitment. We will continue to work towards the goals set in the 2019-2020 term. We are faced with the challenge on how to continue to adapt and evolve as a branch to achieve these goals in a virtual environment. It is a daunting task and sometimes discouraging since I love to meet and interact in person. Once I get passed my own feelings of disappointment to not be able to interact as I am used to, I realized I am faced with such a beautiful opportunity.
We are able to explore new ways to bring membership value and expand our outreach to include satellite areas within our Branch’s geographic region. I am excited to continue to change the way we operate as branch as we evolve into a virtual world. I am thrilled to have such a strong leadership supporting me to help achieve these big dreams. I am thankful for a strong membership who have been flexible, encouraging, and understanding of the difficulties we as leaders are facing. Also, I am learning to be patient with myself take a breath and accept I cannot control the situation, but I can control how we react. ASCE Houston Branch has existed for 75+ years, ASCE Texas Section has existed 105+ years, and ASCE has existed for 165+ years. As an organization we have seen challenging times before. As an organization we are resilient, and we will continue to thrive as we launch ASCE into the future!
View the ASCE Houston Branch’s recent Officer Installation Ceremony and President Sarah Alvarez PE’s membership address here.