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The ASCE Raise the Bar Initiative: A New Paradigm Based on Credentialing in the Medical Profession

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2019 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


Tampa, Florida

Publication Date

June 15, 2019

Start Date

June 15, 2019

End Date

October 19, 2019

Conference Session

Key Educational & Professional Issues of Strategic Importance to the Civil Engineering Profession - and ASCE

Tagged Division

Civil Engineering

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Paper Authors


Stephen J. Ressler P.E. U.S. Military Academy

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Stephen Ressler, P.E. Ph.D. is Professor Emeritus from the U.S. Military Academy (USMA) at West Point. He earned a B.S. degree from USMA in 1979, a Master of Science in Civil Engineering from Lehigh University in 1989, and a Ph.D. from Lehigh in 1991. As an active duty Army officer, he served for 34 years in a variety of military engineering assignments around the world. He served as a member of the USMA faculty for 21 years, including six years as Professor and Head of the Department of Civil and Mechanical Engineering. He retired as a Brigadier General in 2013. He is a registered Professional Engineer in Virginia, a Distinguished Member of ASCE, and a Fellow of ASEE.

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Thomas A. Lenox Dist.M.ASCE, F.ASEE American Society of Civil Engineers

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Thomas A. Lenox, Ph.D., Dist.M.ASCE, F.ASEE is Executive Vice President (Emeritus) of the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE). He holds a Bachelor of Science degree from the United States Military Academy (USMA), Master of Science degree in Theoretical & Applied Mechanics from Cornell University, Master of Business Administration degree in Finance from Long Island University, and a Ph.D. degree in Civil Engineering from Lehigh University. Dr. Lenox served for over 28 years as a commissioned officer in the U.S Army Field Artillery in a variety of leadership positions in the U.S., Europe, and East Asia. He retired at the rank of Colonel. During his military career, Dr. Lenox spent 15 years on the engineering faculty of USMA including five years as the Director of the Civil Engineering Division. Upon his retirement from the U.S. Army in 1998, he joined the staff of the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE). In his position as educational staff leader of ASCE, he managed several new educational initiatives – collectively labeled as Project ExCEEd (Excellence in Civil Engineering Education). As ASCE’s Executive Vice President, Dr. Lenox led several educational and professional career-development projects for the civil engineering profession – with the overall objective of properly preparing individuals for their futures as civil engineers. An example is his staff leadership of ASCE’s initiative to “Raise the Bar” for entry into professional engineering practice. Dr. Lenox’s awards include ASCE’s ExCEEd Leadership Award, ASEE’s George K. Wadlin Award, ASCE’s William H. Wisely American Civil Engineer Award, and the CE News’ “2010 Power List – 15 People Advancing the Civil Engineering Profession.” He is a Distinguished Member of ASCE and a Fellow of ASEE. In January 2014, Dr. Lenox retired from his staff position with ASCE. He continues to serve the engineering profession as an active member of ABET's Board of Delegates, Engineering Area Delegation, Global Council, and Governance Committee; several of ASCE's educational and professional committees; and ASEE’s Civil Engineering Division.

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For the past two decades, the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) has been pursuing its “Raise the Bar” initiative, for the purpose of better preparing civil engineers to attain the Civil Engineering Body of Knowledge and enter into professional practice. The ultimate goal of this initiative has been to change state licensure laws, such that a master’s degree or equivalent (augmented by appropriate work experience) would become the academic prerequisite for licensure as a professional engineer in the U.S. In support of this goal, ASCE has partnered with the National Council of Examiners for Engineering and Surveying (NCEES) to promote “Raise the Bar” legislation in several states. However, despite these efforts, no U.S. licensing jurisdiction has yet adopted such legislation.

Acknowledging this lack of progress, the ASCE Board of Direction formally initiated a major change in the direction of the “Raise the Bar” initiative in March 2018. The Board’s new approach is to use Society-administered credentialing, rather than licensure, as its principal mechanism for raising the bar. Charged with exploring the feasibility of this proposed new paradigm, the recently reorganized ASCE Raise the Bar Committee (RTBC) has now begun its work.

In support of the RTBC’s charge, the purpose of this paper is to propose and justify a new paradigm for the ASCE “Raise the Bar” initiative. Consistent with the ASCE Board’s guidance, we propose a developmental model aimed at achieving the strategic goals of the initiative through Society-administered credentialing, superimposed upon the existing U.S. licensure system.

We begin our analysis with an overview of the credentialing system currently used in the U.S. medical profession. This comprehensive, highly structured system of licensure and board certification is used to validate the attainment of expertise within well-defined medical specialties (e.g., neurology, cardiology, internal medicine), according to standards controlled by the profession itself. We also describe the medical profession’s “carrot and stick” approach to motivating board certification, resulting in 80% of U.S. medical doctors currently achieving this milestone.

We then describe the existing system of board certification in the civil engineering profession, and we assess its suitability for application as ASCE’s principal instrument for raising the bar. As part of this assessment, we discuss the system’s principal limitations: • Unclear goals • Inconsistent standards • Inconsistent application across specialty areas • Lack of formal definition of the specialty areas themselves • Lack of a clear market-based incentive for board certification

Finally, with these analyses as background, we propose a comprehensive three-level developmental model that raises the educational bar for civil engineering, using credentialing mechanisms that are entirely within ASCE’s control. Our model is derived directly from the medical credentialing system but is adapted to accommodate differences in the educational paradigms of the medical and engineering professions. The structure of our proposed model is based on progressive attainment of the following three career milestones:

• Licensed professional engineer – corresponding to attainment of the existing education, experience, and examination standards for P.E. licensure.

• Board-certified engineering professional – corresponding to attainment of the Civil Engineering Body of Knowledge (to include expertise in a civil engineering specialty area), achieved through a master’s degree or equivalent, additional experience in the specialty area, and a formal board certification process.

• Diplomate – corresponding to the attainment of eminence in a civil engineering specialty area, achieved through additional experience and a higher-level board certification.

We conclude with recommendations for implementing this model—to include the all-important challenge of stimulating demand for board-certified professionals and diplomates in the marketplace.

COORDINATING NOTE: This abstract is submitted at the specific invitation and request of Tom Lenox, the coordinator of the ASCE Liaison Committee’s sessions for the Civil Engineering Division of ASEE in 2019. It should be considered for inclusion in the session on “Educational & Professional Issues of Strategic Importance to the Civil Engineering Profession – and ASCE.” that the ASCE Liaison Committee is organizing.

Ressler, S. J., & Lenox, T. A. (2019, June), The ASCE Raise the Bar Initiative: A New Paradigm Based on Credentialing in the Medical Profession Paper presented at 2019 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition , Tampa, Florida. 10.18260/1-2--33370

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