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During Carol Johnson’s first term as president of the American Society of Plumbing Engineers (ASPE), she, along with the rest of the world, had to contend with a global pandemic that forced the cancellation of all in-person events, including the annual ASPE Convention & Expo slated to take place that year.
Today, we as a society are gathering again (with caution) and ASPE is forging ahead with the 2022 convention and expo, taking place this month, Sept. 16-21, at the Indiana Convention Center in Indianapolis. The event promises to be a showstopper filled with professional development sessions geared toward plumbing industry professionals and the largest plumbing product trade show in the country (expo.aspe.org/schedule).
“You should attend to see all the people in the ASPE family; to be part of the delegate meeting to do the business of ASPE; to see one of the best plumbing shows out there; and get great educational offerings,” encourages ASPE President Carol Johnson, CPD, LEED AP, CFI, FASPE, ASSE 6060.
More than 250 exhibitors will be showcasing their innovations (https://bit.ly/3S6DR2h), and 30 professional development sessions designed specifically for plumbing engineering and design professionals are on schedule for this year’s event (expo.aspe.org/technical-sessions).
2022 not only marks the return of the ASPE Convention & Expo but the end of Johnson’s second term as ASPE president. (The association will be electing their next president during its business meeting the weekend before the expo opens to the public.) For those who may not be aware, Johnson is the youngest person to ever serve as president for the organization and the first woman ever elected to the position (https://bit.ly/3cRrK8Y).
For the past four years, Johnson donated her time and talent to promoting the intellectual property the organization offers its members — a goal she made while running for her first term in 2018 — all while being employed full time. Today she is the senior associate, assistant discipline manager, senior project manager and PFP technical lead at Dewberry.
“Knowledge is power, and I view ASPE as your intellectual property,” Johnson explains.
She’s accomplished a lot to help promote that vision, too. During her tenure, the organization provided more educational opportunities to its members, added webinars and modernized its online presence through ASPE Connect, an online forum for plumbing engineers and designers to ask questions, share ideas and meet new people. Manufacturers also have an open resource to ask questions, Johnson adds.
“It’s a whole forum where you’ll have plumbing-only conversations — not mechanical conversations, not any other conversations, just plumbing conversations,” Johnson says. “If you’ve got a question, somebody who works in that area can pop up and give you an answer. Then you can go research it but the truth is, you’ll get a quicker result [with ASPE Connect], so it helps you be a better designer and gives you more input on what you’re doing.
“For these smaller firms that might not have a technical lead or a senior person in plumbing, it’s a pretty nice tool for members to use as a resource, especially for the younger guys.”
The organization updated the platform during one of the most challenging times of her presidency — the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. To pivot, ASPE stopped all travel and nonessential spending and began supporting its local chapters by setting up Zoom meetings and online education programs, which she believes has been very successful.
“We had a minimal drop in members and, financially, we are better off than we’ve been in my history of ASPE,” she says. “Providing that stability for them moving forward is very much a success; we still worked and did what we needed to do, we just didn’t travel.”
Johnson explains that ASPE works with codes from a legislative standpoint; the organization includes technical and research divisions, publications, and provides educational opportunities to its members.
ASPE’s greatest asset to the plumbing industry is the organization’s knowledge base and certification in learning programs; its intellectual property package is the biggest complement for industry professionals, Johnson maintains.
“A goal of the organization is to provide as many tools as possible for members to do their job well,” she says. “We provide leadership skills, soft skills, communication skills, direct contact with plumbing manufacturers, engineering and design principles, and code reflections. We’re a full package when it comes to the voice of the plumbing industry because we affect every level.”
Severe weather, drought and winter storms also have impacted the plumbing community during Johnson’s tenure. One only has to recall the Texas freeze of 2021 to remember the impact severe weather had on plumbing systems, or the current drought and water restrictions being imposed on communities in the western United States.
It’s those types of events that highlight the importance of plumbing systems to the community at large and help change the public’s perception about them.
“When the ground freezes, when you can’t get water in your building, when you’re not prepared for Legionella or stagnant buildings, it makes the industry more aware that the plumbing system is part of your healthy building system and the health of the occupant,” Johnson explains. “This is why you should stay aware of how to be a good designer and engineer, to stay educated, and know what your products are and how you need to develop the code or change the code.”
A Few of Her Favorite Things
Johnson enjoys designing buildings and seeing the end result, but professes that the favorite part of her job is working with people who she can help train internally to become good designers and engineers, and provide them an opportunity for great careers: “I get to help somebody else have that career. To me, that’s a little bit bigger than you; it’s part of the greater good.”
This is why she is a firm believer of ASPE membership. “I have a loyalty to ASPE because it’s helped me develop a career that’s been good to me.”
Some of the highlights of Johnson’s presidency include: spending a week speaking with students at the Milwaukee School of Engineering about the career paths one can have in the plumbing industry; speaking with chapter leaders and people within the organization at the local level; encouraging younger professionals to participate and start serving in leadership positions; and helping the organization charter two new chapters — the Lubbock High Plains Chapter in Texas and the Hampton Roads Chapter in Virginia — an accomplishment that Johnson says hasn’t been done in the last 20-plus years.
“I’ve reached out to the industry because I love ASPE,” Johnson explains. “I’m in it for the members and I ran on being in it for the members, and I have definitely done that; I feel I have had a people impact. Making ASPE personal for the members has been, to me, a highlight. It has been my honor, during the good and the difficult times, to do this. Many times I have reached out to families of members who have passed away to pay respects to those lost members.”
She believes that being the first female and youngest ASPE president has also had an impact. “Many people have told me, ‘Because you were able to become the president of ASPE, it makes me feel like I can do it, too,’” Johnson reflects.
During her presidency, Johnson stayed actively involved with the ASPE Young Professionals and the Women of ASPE to encourage involvement across the board and listen to their insights.
“When young professionals take ownership within an organization and make it theirs, that’s when you really grow because they’re engagement is really good for them, and it’s great for the organization,” she notes.
When her second term ends, Johnson will join the ASPE Past President Committee. Her primary responsibility will be to serve as the Nominating Committee Chair; this committee reviews the next and future board of directors.
In addition, she also will become the chair of the Health-Care Design Guide Committee for ASPE. Johnson will continue working with ASPE’s group on the ASSE 6060 Medical Gas System Designer certification exam, and looks forward to seeing ASPE publish its Legionella Design Guide, which, as of this writing, is in a public comment period.
“It’s been busy times, but to continue to offer education related to health care and then be directly involved in that is my next big thing,” she says.
Johnson’s advice for aspiring plumbing engineers and specifiers?
“One thing I tell my young guys is, ‘This career can offer you anything you want if you’re good at what you do,’” she notes. “I'll say that to anybody in ASPE. ‘If you’re good at what you do, you can do anything you want with your career. Be committed to learning your craft.’”