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Updating the Civil Engineering Body of Knowledge: A Proposed Methodology

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2015 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


Seattle, Washington

Publication Date

June 14, 2015

Start Date

June 14, 2015

End Date

June 17, 2015





Conference Session

Civil Engineering Division Technical Session 3

Tagged Division

Civil Engineering

Page Count


Page Numbers

26.1634.1 - 26.1634.6



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Paper Authors


Stephen J. Ressler 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 and currently serves as President of the Board of Directors for Engineering Encounters, a non-profit organization founded to promote K-12 engineering outreach. 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 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 and a Distinguished Member of ASCE.

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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 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 recent 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.” In 2013, he was selected as a Distinguished Member of ASCE. In January 2014, Dr. Lenox retired from his staff position with ASCE. He continues to serve the engineering profession as a member of the ABET Board of Directors, an active member of several ASCE education and accreditation committees, and ASEE’s Civil Engineering Division.

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Updating the Civil Engineering Body of Knowledge: A Proposed MethodologyIn 2011, the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) Committee on Academic Prerequisitesfor Professional Practice approved a long-term plan for management of updates to the publishedCivil Engineering Body of Knowledge (CE BOK) and the associated ABET accreditationcriteria. This plan calls for ASCE to develop a formal revision to the CE BOK and associatedcriteria on a regular eight-year cycle. This regular change cycle reflects three broadly acceptedconclusions drawn from ASCE’s experience in developing the first two editions of the CE BOKfrom 2002 to the present:  A professional body of knowledge is a dynamic entity that reflects the ever-changing nature of professional jurisdictions. A given profession (or professional group) can be strengthened by formally articulating and publishing its body of knowledge, but only if the profession is willing to update its published BOK regularly, to reflect changes in the professional environment.  A published outcomes-based BOK may need to be updated if, during the implementation process, specific outcomes are found to be problematic from the perspective of implementation.  Changes to the CE BOK—and, especially, to the associated accreditation criteria—will be more acceptable to the accreditation community (especially ABET program evaluators, commissioners, accreditation committee members, department chairs, and faculty) if they occur on a predictable schedule that is longer than the current six-year accreditation cycle for engineering programs.Consistent with the approved eight-year plan, a task committee to develop the Third Edition ofthe CE BOK should be constituted in October 2016, should finalize its work by September 2018,and should publish its final product by March 2019.The purpose of this paper is to propose a methodology by which the Third Edition CE BOKCommittee can develop an updated BOK publication that objectively reflects the profession’scurrent consensus on the knowledge, skills, and attitudes required for entry into the professionalpractice of civil engineering.The most fundamental challenge in developing a CE BOK update that represents a legitimateconsensus of the professional community is that each update will be developed by a committeecomposed of individuals, most of whom will have had no involvement in the development ofprevious BOK editions. This deliberate inclusion of fresh perspectives is absolutely essential tothe integrity of the BOK development process. Yet it is also problematic, because (1) no singleindividual can legitimately represent the needs of the profession as a whole; (2) every individualinevitably brings personal biases and agendas (sometimes consciously, sometimes not) to thecommittee’s deliberations; and (3) the thoughtful deliberations of previous BOK committees willnot be known or fully understood by the members of the new committee.In the author’s view, these fundamental shortcomings of committee-based BOK formulationmust be purposefully addressed in formal, well-conceived specifications for:  committee composition;  recruiting and selection of committee members;  decision-making protocols; and  broad-based review of the work products and drafts.In the absence of such specifications, the committee’s product is likely to be little more than asynthesis of current committee members’ opinions—reflecting an arbitrary character that cannotlegitimately reflect the profession’s needs and is quite likely to result in excessively large,weakly justified (and perhaps contradictory) changes from update to update. This would be insharp contrast with the two previously published CE BOK documents, which reflect a rigorous,scholarly problem-solving approach, enriched by broad input from across the profession.Based on this assertion, the author proposes the following guidelines for establishment of theThird Edition CE BOK Committee:  The committee will be designed by the ASCE Raise the Bar Committee, with positions (not people) designated to represent all relevant constituencies of the civil engineering profession.  The committee membership will be determined through a formal application process. As part of this process, potential committee members must affirm their support for the established decision-making protocols (described below). Applications will be reviewed and approved by the Raise the Bar Committee.  The committee chair will be recruited and selected based on his or her experience serving on at least one previous BOK committee.  All committee members will be required to study the Second Edition of the CE BOK, with particular emphasis on Appendices J through O—the detailed explanation of outcomes and their rationale.The committee’s decision-making process will adhere to the following guidelines:  The general formulation of the CE BOK—which is based on an articulation of clear, discrete, measurable outcomes and associated levels of achievement—will be retained.  The outcomes and levels of achievement articulated in the most recent edition of the CE BOK will be retained unless there is a compelling, objective justification for adding, deleting, modifying, or reorganizing outcomes. That justification can only be one of the following: o A formal vision, policy statement, or similar publication promulgated by an organization that can legitimately claim to represent the engineering profession or a portion of the engineering profession. o A documented change in licensure policies or examination content that directly affects the knowledge, skills, or attitudes expected for professional practice. o A documented change in accreditation policies, procedures, or criteria that directly affects the knowledge, skills, or attitudes expected for graduation from an accredited engineering program. o Clear, convincing evidence that a specific aspect of the previous edition of the CE BOK is erroneous, incomplete, or unclear. o Clear, convincing evidence that one or more outcomes articulated in the previous edition of the CE BOK are problematic from the perspective of implementation (e.g., an outcome is not measurable, or its measurability could be improved).  The committee will refrain from considering the potential impact of changes to the CE BOK on future accreditation criteria.  The committee will aggressively seek feedback on its work products from the entire civil engineering professional community.With these justifications serving as statements of principle, the author presents a detailedmethodology for the Third Edition CE BOK Committee to fulfill its charge in a manner thatreflects:  Awareness of, and respect for, the work of previous BOK committees;  Scholarly rigor in researching potential justifications for change;  Scholarly rigor in deriving BOK changes from these justifications; and  Appropriate input from across the profession.The paper concludes with a brief summary of five recent changes in the professionalenvironment that should be considered by the Third Edition CE BOK Committee in identifyingpossible updates to the published BOK:  The Environmental Engineering Body of Knowledge, published in 2009 by the American Academy of Environmental Engineers and Scientists (AAEES).  The National Society of Professional Engineers (NSPE) Body of Knowledge, published in 2013.  The Graduate Attributes and Professional Competencies, published by the International Engineering Alliance (IEA) in June 2013.  Substantial changes to the content of the Fundamentals of Engineering Exam, implemented by the National Council of Examiners for Engineering and Surveying in conjunction with its transition to a computer-based examination format in 2013.  Possible changes to Criterion 3 (Student Outcomes) of the ABET Criteria for Accrediting Engineering Programs.COORDINATING NOTE:This abstract is submitted at the specific invitation and request of Tom Lenox, the coordinator ofthe ASCE Liaison Committee’s program for the CE Division of ASEE in 2015. It should beconsidered for inclusion in the session that Tom Lenox is organizing and moderating.

Ressler, S. J., & Lenox, T. A. (2015, June), Updating the Civil Engineering Body of Knowledge: A Proposed Methodology Paper presented at 2015 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, Seattle, Washington. 10.18260/p.24970

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