Plain Talk

The Bridge

Our Future Is in College

Where will we find the next generation of technical experts? That question is deliberated in standards conferences all over the world and in standards organizations everywhere. It is this community’s perpetual challenge, its ongoing quest for continuity. For ASTM International, the answer to that question was a matter of building a bridge.

“Tomorrow’s technical experts are in a university somewhere. Our future is in college.” That is from a PlainTalk article I wrote in 2003, the year that ASTM International instituted student memberships.1 In 2007, ASTM included educators in its academic outreach program, and in 2009 it established the Professor of the Year Award for instructors who could demonstrate the use of ASTM standards in their teaching. By 2011, ASTM’s outreach message had connected standardization to career paths because professionals in fields ranging from marketing to diplomacy were required to be conversant in standards issues, a subject heretofore reserved for technical experts.

This year, we have dedicated staff to conduct surveys, Web conferences and telephone interviews in an effort to determine what employers expect entry-level personnel to know about standards. They will also examine best practices in academia and evaluate what resources and mechanisms exist to prepare students for entry into the work force.

This is also the year in which we stress the symbiotic nature of our academic projects, joint ventures that benefit both ASTM International and its student partners. Consider, for instance, the 2014 Focus on Academic Research campaign, which assists students in building technical and problem-solving skills and makes new information available to the standardization process through the ASTM Student Member Paper Competition. With winners slated to present their papers at one of the 2014 fall ASTM committee week meetings, the competition will offer fresh perspectives to ASTM technical committees.

The ASTM International Project Grant Program will offer five $500 grants this year for senior or graduate design projects that contain an ASTM International standards component. The resulting research will be published on the ASTM website.

This year, three $10,000 scholarships will be awarded to high achieving graduate students who have demonstrated interest or involvement with ASTM standards. One Ph.D. candidate’s application included a vivid example of how ASTM standards connected his book research to real-world design and hands-on experience. He called ASTM standards the “bridge.” With the help of his professor, a past winner of the ASTM Professor of the Year Award, he submitted a new method for ballot as a complement to an existing standard of Committee D30 on Composite Materials.

ASTM International continues supporting the WISE (Washington Internships for Students of Engineering) program this year, a paid 10-week summer internship in Washington, D.C., during which students learn how technology impacts public policy and prepare a paper on a topic of current public policy interest. The ASTM-sponsored student’s WISE paper will examine how standards can be used to support an adequate supply of safe water.

We had not thought of our academic outreach program as a bridge. That term was coined by a student. I think it symbolizes the associations we are building with the students who will fill our ranks and carry on the ASTM tradition of developing the world’s best standards. The next generation will give as good as it gets. Or better.

Reference

1. There are currently more than 5,000 ASTM International student members from 70 countries.

James A. Thomas

President, ASTM International

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This article appears in the issue of Standardization News.