Following is an interview that Ron Purvis, ASHE National President, provided for the ASHE Potomac Section newsletter (“Delineator”). The questions in red were from Martha Kemp, Newsletter Editor.
What are your top three goals for the ASHE organization for the coming year?
ASHE is a unique organization with tremendous potential. We are the only volunteer nonprofit technical organization that welcomes the entire highway industry as equals. Everyone who works in a highway related job is eligible for membership and eligible to hold any ASHE office. Every member has equal opportunity to influence the ASHE agenda including: engineers, planners, administrators or technicians from construction contractors, suppliers, public agencies or private consultants.
Most highway industry employers recognize the value of volunteer technical organizations and support employee involvement. Local ASHE meetings, technical seminars and the Annual Conference provide a variety of programs that focus on technology exchange and innovation. All program topics directly relate to highways. Members have the opportunity, not only to learn more about their jobs, but to broaden their prospective as they are exposed to the total process from conception to preservation. Highway project team members are less likely to be strangers when there is an ASHE section nearby.
Growth is important. As the organization grows its influence will increase. Growth will also help provide the funds for a paid ASHE administrative staff. It is difficult to accomplish long range nationwide goals with only volunteers who rotate annually. In my opinion, ASHE growth would accelerate: (1) if the visibility of the national organization was elevated; (2) if the mission of the organization was clearly understood by the industry; and (3) if public sector administrators recognized ASHE’s value to their agency and staff. My goals, as National President, are to focus on these three issues.
1. Enhanced National Visibility
Generally, people do not know about ASHE unless there is a section located nearby. I am convinced that if the organization had more national visibility, we would receive more inquiries regarding chartering new sections, which should expedite the growth process. The National Public Relations Committee has been given the task of publicizing the organization nationwide.
There are many ways of enhancing our national visibility. For example we could place promotional material in national highway related publications and we could set up the ASHE booth at national or regional highway conferences. Unfortunately, we are limited as to the number of ads or conferences because of the expense. National receives only ten dollars per member annual dues, which have not been increased in over twenty years.
Members who work for organizations with multiple offices could also help spread the good news about ASHE. Most organizations have newsletters or publications that are distributed to branch offices and clients. The National New Sections Committee will provide help if a few local people interested in starting a new section can be identified. Tell others about ASHE
2. Clarification of the ASHE Mission
We must do a better job of communicating the purpose of ASHE. Ask ten people about the purpose of the organization and you get ten different responses. While it is not true everywhere, many people in Virginia seem to think that ASHE is an organization of consultants. Speakers from outside prepare presentation for ASHE meetings that are directed exclusively to consultants. It is not in our best interest, nor the best interest of ASHE, to be known as an organization primarily for consultants.
Our organization was initially organized as a partnership between private and public sector individuals when work was beginning on the Interstate System. The reason ASHE was formed was to improve the working relationship between the contractors, DOT staff, consultants and suppliers. Several of our past National Presidents were DOT employees, including District Administrators. Construction contractor superintendents have also served as National President. If I may paraphrase our mission statement: ASHE is a forum of private and public sector partners promoting technology exchange and innovation to accomplish a safer and more efficient highway system.
3. Increased Public Sector Support
Partnering is a term used by transportation agencies to encourage a cooperative working relationship between the private and public sector groups involved in a highway project. The term is used to emphasize the importance of teamwork in accomplishing mutual goals. ASHE provides an excellent opportunity to achieve this partnership on all highway projects. ASHE participation will improve project quality and delivery. We are an organization of equals. We foster an atmosphere of mutual respect for everyone involved in the process.
It is very important that we do a better job of communicating who we are and practicing what we preach. Agency administrators may not always be able to reimburse employees for the cost of ASHE participation. However when agency administrators participate, and endorse the value of staff participation, others within the agency follow their example; which benefits both the agency and the industry.
Are there long-term organizational goals you hope to shape?
ASHE has a Strategic Plan which can be found on the web site at http://www.highwayengineers.org. The plan is updated every three years. We have a Strategic Plan Committee who monitors progress toward the goals included in the Plan. Since joining the National Board, I have had the opportunity to participate in the Strategic Plan development process twice. The 3 goals discussed earlier are based on Strategic Plan goals.
In the past ASHE National has focused mostly on addressing the needs of the local sections. As we grow, more emphasis should be placed on creating a stronger National and Regional Organization with a full time National Director and staff. This will permit the organization to accomplish more things, provide more services and have more influence on the highway industry.
Do you think ASHE can impact national transportation issues and policy? If so, how?
Once our organization has expanded throughout the US, it should become a significant influence in shaping highway policy. The need for such an organization is clearly demonstrated by our national and local legislators who are distracted by partisan politics as they promote earmarked pork barrel spending while the functionality of the highway system declines and the maligned highway industry flounders.
The challenge is to influence issues and policy without placing the organization off-limits to our public sector members, who are crucial to our identity. In my opinion we should focus on improving the process from outside the system without getting involved with staff lobbyist and political contributions. Once the organization has nationwide representation, there will be significant opportunity for grassroots influence on transportation policy.
What can the ASHE Potomac Section do to help promote your goals and objectives?
Hopefully, the Potomac Section will help with the 3 goals discussed earlier.
1. Promote the growth of the organization where you work and with your contacts.
2. Plan programs and projects that help accomplish the mission of our organization.
3. Develop programs to attract local members from all the different partners in the highway industry; particularly the public sector.
Only a few National Presidents have the opportunity to host the Annual Conference during their term of office. It is a special honor to preside over this conference in Virginia. My term will conclude at the end of the 2006 Williamsburg Conference. There is nothing that my home section could do that would be more important to me, than helping our Region host a successful conference where quests feel truly welcome and pleased that they attended. Your help in making this a quality event would be greatly appreciated.
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