Professor's Advisory

    Steven M. Cramer, Ph.D.
    University of Wisconsin-Madison,
    Department of Civil Architectural and Environmental Engineering

    "Standards form a technical language that is essential for new engineers to understand. Progressing for the first time into the work of engineering is much easier if you understand the language and landscape of the technical standards that shape your industry."

    At what university and in what department do you teach?
    I'm a faculty member at the University of Wisconsin-Madison where I teach in the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering.

    What is the nature of the courses you teach?
    I teach courses in the general areas of structural design and analysis, and engineering/construction materials.

    What year did you join ASTM International? In which committees are you active? Are you a committee officer?
    I've been involved with ASTM for almost 20 years. During that time I have been an active member of ASTM Committee D07 on Wood but have also had some interest in the activities of Committee E05 on Fire Standards and E06 on Performance of Building Construction. I was recently elected as the chair of D07.

    What are some advantages of your participation in standards development?
    Standard development provides a landscape and a language for discussing technical matters with other engineers from the public and private sectors. The standards development process provides a forum where existing knowledge is harnessed and where knowledge gaps are clearly defined. As an educator and researcher I find the insight gained through standards development has become very useful.

    Do you incorporate standards, ASTM or otherwise, into your curriculum? If so, what types? How are they implemented (case studies, research, other)? What is the value of doing so?
    I incorporate standards both in teaching structural design and teaching construction materials. Implementing standards in the structural design classroom is largely a matter of awareness and exposing students to the language of the profession. In teaching materials of construction, standards form a core part of laboratory exercises and provide a context for discussing material performance. It is difficult to discuss material procedures. Standards provide an organized and meaningful way to discuss complex technical issues. Standards facilitate teaching student engineers how to structure and organize complex technical problems in useful and practical ways.

    Gaps in knowledge about materials and construction products often become readily apparent in the standards development process. Identification of these gaps has helped shape and target my own research proposals, and research I have completed has worked its way back into codes and standards. Codes and standards provide one of the best opportunities for implementing academic research on construction materials.

    Have you worked in industry, either past or currently? If so, in what capacity? What role did standards play in this experience?
    I have worked in industry on several short-term assignments related to construction materials in the course of my career. While the bulk of my career has been in academia, these short assignments have given me a perspective of the importance of standards and how they are used from the non-academic side.

    Have you been involved in research, either past or presently? If so, in what capacity? What role did standards play in this research?
    Yes, I have an active research program. Again, knowledge gaps become clearly defined in the standards development process. These gaps create the basis for research ideas and pursuing research. I have had completed research find its way back into new or revised standards. It is particularly gratifying when a researcher can close that loop because it means research is seeing near-term implementation.

    What advantages do you see for students to have an understanding of standards and their development?
    Standards form a technical language that is essential for new engineers to understand. Progressing for the first time into the work of engineering is much easier if you understand the language and landscape of the technical standards that shape your industry.

    In your view, should a familiarity with standards be required for graduate-level education, particularly in engineering, law and business disciplines? Would this assist in gaining professional success?
    I cannot speak about the law and business disciplines, but certainly, a familiarity with standards just makes common sense in the industry and engineering professions in which I interact. I really cannot imagine an education that ignores standards as being even close to complete.

    2006