Mary Stroup-Gardiner, Ph.D.
Dept of Civil Engineering
"Materials and specifications are at the heart of a civil engineer's job, so the earlier new engineers understand the implications of precision statements on material specifications, the better."
At what university and in what department do you teach?
I teach civil engineering at Auburn University in Auburn, Ala.
What is the nature of the courses you teach?
My topics include civil engineering construction materials such as portland cement, concrete aggregate properties, asphalt cement and hot mix asphalt concrete; pavement management; pavement condition evaluations and rehabilitation; construction process control and acceptance specifications.
In which committees are you active? Are you a committee officer?
I am active in ASTM Committee D04 on Road and Paving Materials and in eight of its subcommittees. I am currently a member-at-large of the D04 Executive Subcommittee.
What are some advantages of your participation in standards development?
Networking is a key advantage. Participation leads to contacts with other people working in the same areas, both across the nation and internationally.
ASTM is great training for anyone who needs to get work accomplished in a consensus environment. It seems that there is a lot of effort by facilitators to get people to solve problems in a consensus environment, but if someone is not familiar with how this process works, it can be very frustrating.
ASTM is a great way to gain an understanding of how to write technical directions so that people can follow the directions without having to make too many "judgment calls."
My participation in developing standards and their precision statements has given me a very good understanding of how statistics are connected to a company's bottom line or an agency's potential for litigation (or hopefully, their ability to avoid litigation through an appropriate use of statistics).
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?
When material requirements are introduced in a civil engineering class, there is usually a reference to an ASTM standard, either a specification or a test method. This is the most appropriate time to encourage students to read and understand ASTM standards. A good starting point is to point the students to key sections. The Scope section is a great summary of when and where to use the standard. The Summary is another student-friendly section for a quick overview of the standard. Understanding how to read and interpret the precision statements is critical. Materials and specifications are at the heart of a civil engineer's job, so the earlier new engineers understand the implications of precision statements on material specifications, the better.
I refer to the appropriate ASTM standards throughout the semester. The students are required to use the standards in a number of ways. The students are required to select material-appropriate test methods in the design of a laboratory experiment, match photographs of equipment with the appropriate test method, and to evaluate real databases of test results to determine if the statistics meet the precision statement requirements.
Have you worked in industry, either past or currently? If so, in what capacity? What role did standards play in this experience?
I work with a number of industry clients: Materials and testing divisions in department of transportation agencies, county engineers, paving material suppliers, Federal Highway Administration (FHWA), Federal Aviation Administration (FAA).
Quality research is dependent upon quality standardized testing when establishing baseline materials properties. Most of the industries require that standardized tests be followed; ASTM standards are by far the most used. Agencies typically support research so that they can gain an understanding of the variability associated with a particular test or set of tests. This information is then used to develop or adjust specifications for local and regional factors. Materials suppliers sponsor research during product development. They are interested in how their new product compares to traditional materials, documenting improvements in material properties or their performance in the final products, and determining which of a line of products is the best product to market.
When evaluating new products, both the properties of the products as well as any existing ASTM standard test method need to be evaluated. It is not unusual for the test method's underlying assumptions or theoretical basis to play an important role in assessing new material properties. It is important to know when you can use a particular test method, and more important to know when you can't or when you need to alter the parameters of the test.
Have you been involved in research, either past or presently? If so, in what capacity? What role did standards play in this research?
As a professor, fifty percent of my job is to teach and most of the other time is spent conducting research. My roles in research include proposal development, selection of any standard tests, modification or development of new test methods, factorial design of the experiments, quality control and acceptance duties of the testing and test results, statistical analyses, and final report writing.
I have published several journal papers that deal with statistical analyses from research that have led to the development or modification of ASTM precision statements. I try to involve students in design and conducting round robin testing programs for precision statements when I can. It is a very good lesson in how difficult it is to actually write an easily understood technical document.
What advantages do you see for students to have an understanding of standards and their development?
A good understanding of the statistics that are used in the development of precision statements will help civil engineering students assess the ability of a particular test method or specification to meet the needs of a particular job or material.
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?
A familiarity should be required at the undergraduate level. Statistics is a required course in most civil engineering programs. It would be nice to see practical applications of statistics incorporated into the classroom. In the construction business, specifications govern the contractor's bottom line, project estimating, and project management. Poorly written specifications only serve to generate a substantial loss of time and effort in defending against poor specifications or using the loopholes to save money or dodge responsibility. Also, given the dwindling expertise within most agencies due to retirements and downsizing, young engineers, especially those in agencies, have little experience with specifications. This leads to even more issues with conflicts and attorneys. A civil engineering undergraduate degree is also the first degree of choice for some students moving on to law school or an M.B.A. program.