Public Outreach, SEAW (Washington)
SEFW reached out to a sampling of Forum attendees to seek feedback. Comments included:
“It was fantastic!” (Architect, Seattle, WA)
“I always like the speakers [of the SEFW Forums] and I learn something new every time. I’ve since impressed my friends from the Tricities with knowledge of that bridge [that was featured in the presentation].” (Civil site design engineer, Bellevue, WA)
“That was a great presentation. I really enjoyed how the historical aspect was tied in with the structural engineering perspective, and that has given me a whole new appreciation for bridges.” (Aerospace engineer, Everett, WA)
“As a Seattle resident, I was very intrigued by the local history of bridges. I found the topic very relevant to the information that we are learning in class.” (Structural engineering student, Seattle WA)
“It was the talk on the historical information on some local Washington bridges that caught my interest.” (Structural engineer, Portland OR)
At its onset, SEFW initiated a lecture series to be held each fall with the goal to present structural engineering concepts in a generalized way so as to appeal beyond just a technical audience. The topics aim to attract a broad audience that includes younger students, families, and the general public. The 2020 event was the 10th Annual Fall Forum and was arguably the most successful.
This entry will outline the 1) event planning, 2) strategic coordination, and 3) metrics of success for the SEFW 2020 Fall Forum event.
Event Committee: The Fall Forum event committee broadly consisted of the 14-member SEFW Board of Directors, which together discussed runner-up topics from previous years, current events, recent dynamic presentations, and other possible lecture ideas. Board members with contacts related to the shortlist of ideas then reached out to potential speakers to gauge interest and availability. This process occurred in early 2020, and by March the topic and speakers had been selected. After this, a smaller Fall Forum Task Force subcommittee was created, which consisted of the Board executive committee (chair, vice chair, secretary/treasurer, administrator) and the Directors who contacted the speakers. The decision for the event to be completely virtual was made in summer 2020.
Curated presentation: As previously outlined, the goal of the Forum is to present structural engineering topics and concepts to a wider audience. The Forum posed a unique opportunity this year with the selection of Maureen Elenga and John Stanton as co-presenters. Maureen Elenga is a local author and historian, raised in Washington state by an architect father with several collegiate degrees in art history. Her published books include “Seattle Architecture: a Walking Guide to Downtown” and “Bridges of Seattle,” which helped inspire the selected Forum topic. John Stanton is a well-liked, affable, and engaging professor of civil engineering at the University of Washington, hailing from the UK, with degrees from prestigious universities and published research in seismic engineering and structural design. After discussion, the topic was set as “Bridging Washington: The History, Structure, and Innovation of Washington Bridges.” It was decided that Maureen would present a bridge case study, outlining the political, cultural, and anecdotal background of a local bridge, sure to engage any general community member, and then John would showcase the engineering marvels and design secrets behind the bridges. This way a general audience would be intrigued by Maureen’s history of a bridge, and then learn something unique about how the bridge works. The planning committee believed this format would appeal to both non-technical and technical participants. The plan was for several bridges to be showcased, and in the end the duo discussed 25+ bridges of various engineering types from all corners of the state of Washington, including the bascule bridges in Seattle, steel bridges like Deception Pass and the Astoria Megler bridges, the floating bridges over Lake Washington, the iconic cable-stayed bridges in the TriCities, and the West Seattle Bridge. Maureen’s anecdotes ranged from ribbon cuttings and tolling repayments to construction snafus and football rivalries, while John’s explanations ranged from engineering pioneers and “riveting 101” to the innovative CESURA track bridge and balanced cantilever design. Their conversation was complementary and engaging, and truly celebrated incredible bridge structures all over Washington. The presentation was 90 minutes, with an additional 30 minutes for interactive audience Q&A facilitated by the online broadcast platform. SEFW maintains an informational video library on Vimeo, and the event has been posted and will remain accessible online in perpetuity. (Please see PDF of the event program. Please see URL of the Vimeo video.)
Established timeline: Planning for the event consisted of developing and adhering to a strategic timeline of administrative milestones, such as venue coordination, fundraising solicitations, web updates, publicity efforts, follow-up phone calls, letter campaigns, graphic designed items, and more. This timeline (which has been refined over the 10 years of facilitating the Forum event) became a guide for the months leading up to the event. Two sets of weekly conference calls were established to encourage progress: one call with just the Forum Task Force and a second call that also included the speakers. (Please see PDF of the planning timeline.)
Cooperating organizations: One critical aspect in the publicity of the Fall Forum is reaching out to other professional organizations in the industry and facilitating cross-publicity. If an organization is willing to put the Fall Forum event in an online calendar, e-newsletter, or social media page, then SEFW will publicize the “cooperation organization” relationship in final Forum materials. This has always proven to be quite fruitful and this year the list of cooperating organizations was the largest it has been. The 22 cooperating partners included university civil engineering and architecture departments across the state, architectural organizations, materials organizations (concrete, masonry), student organizations, and other structural engineering member organizations from around the Western United States, plus NCSEA itself. With a virtual event and unlimited participant capacity, this open-ended and wide-spread publicity was welcome and instrumental in the Forum’s ultimate reach. (Please see URL of the SEFW Forum webpage.)
News outlets: SEFW submitted a press release to several local news organizations, and professional paper the Daily Journal of Commerce picked up the story and published it in its weekly Architecture/Engineering section. Additionally, SEFW offered logo placement in a newspaper advertisement as a Platinum corporate sponsorship benefit. A Platinum sponsor was secured which allowed for an ad to be run closer to the Forum date. The article ran on October 21 and the ad ran on November 4. (Please see PDF of the DJC article and ad.)
Social media: SEFW and SEAW both have an active Facebook presence, with SEFW also posting on Twitter. While initial “save the date” and publicity flyer posts were shared online, the more poignant social media posts to promote the Forum occurred closer to the event date. In the two weeks prior, SEFW posted “Did you know?” posts spotlighting bridges around the state of Washington, including Seattle-area bascule bridges, the Astoria Megler bridge, and the Ed Hendler cable-stayed bridge in Eastern Washington. Posts also spotlighted previous John Stanton messages and Maureen Elenga’s recently published book. These were shared by other Facebook and Twitter users, and in many cases also shared on the SEAW Facebook page. (Please see URL of the SEFW Facebook page.)
METRICS OF SUCCESS
Global reach: One of the best aspects of this virtual Forum was the unlimited event capacity and geographic reach. SEFW captured its own data at the time of registration but also received analytics from the venue after the event was broadcast, indicating where users were located. Just under 400 registered users watched the event as it was livestreamed from Town Hall Seattle on November 12 (323 on the Town Hall platform and another 76 on YouTube). In the week after the event, an estimated additional 100 registered users viewed the recording. A review of the data indicates that in addition to many structural and civil engineers, attendees also included architects, university students and instructors, government employees, high school students and teachers, media representatives, and many, many members of the general public. Attendees hailed from every corner of Washington state, 9 additional U.S. states, and 10 countries from North America, Latin America, the Caribbean, Europe, and Asia. Where previous Forums have only been able to accommodate 200 to 300 local Seattle attendees in an auditorium setting, this Forum was able to fulfill the mission of SEFW globally.
Fundraising: SEFW’s annual fundraising campaign among Washington state engineering firms occurs at the time of the Fall Forum event. Firms are invited to donate at various levels of sponsorship and are solicited via emailed invitation and subsequent phone calls and emails. Individuals are also invited to become a “Friend of the Foundation” for a $100 donation. Much of the donations raised have historically funded the Forum event itself, including the venue costs, networking reception, speaker reimbursable expenses, video recording, and A/V costs. This year, the event costs were minimal as there was no reception (with its inherent coordination) and the venue, A/V, and video recording costs were much less than previous years. The end result is that while SEFW had a gross fundraising amount that was less than previous years, SEFW instead had a net fundraising amount higher than previous years. The event yielded one Platinum sponsor, three Gold sponsors, 17 Silver sponsors, 13 Bronze donors, and 16 Friends of the Foundation. All funds go to support the SEFW mission and will be used for scholarships, educational events (like the Forum), research endeavors, and K-12 outreach efforts.