Post Best Practices: Diversity By Thought

Nowhere does the Society’s multidisciplined approach and myriad socio-economic backgrounds make more of an impact than at the local level. The Cape Fear Post, a Distinguished Post in 2021, leverages the diverse makeup of its membership as a strength in delivering value—from IGE workshops to community service; from providing scholarships to supporting the Engineering & Construction Camps.

SAME recently chatted with leaders of the Post on how they are consciously developing and widening membership to deliver robust programming, provide mentorship, and collaborate for the technical challenges of the future.

SAME: Can you provide a brief overview of the Cape Fear Post and its programs?

Cape Fear: We are a small Post located in wonderful Wilmington, N.C., in the southeastern coastal region of the state. Many of our members live and work within the area, which includes the headquarters of USACE Wilmington District and several installations: Fort Bragg, Camp Mackall, Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune, and Marine Corps Air Station Cherry Point.

The Cape Fear Post focuses its annual programming around four primary goals: activities and programs supporting industry- government engagement (IGE), community service projects, networking events, and STEM/Young Professionals engagements. We typically hold one luncheon/IGE event each month to address the current needs and interests of members.

Our most popular IGE event is the Small Business Workshop, which provides an overview of USACE Wilmington District’s budget, contracting plans and projects, updates on high-profile initiatives, and unique operating conditions and challenges across its area of responsibility. Held each July, the briefings provide valuable insight on how to posture resources to be best prepared for the upcoming year.

We also host an annual golf tournament in conjunction with the regional SUMMIT Conference to raise funds for the Post’s scholarship program as well as to assist SAME’s summer camps.

SAME: What are the keys to success in supporting such a diverse schedule of programs and events like the Post does?

Cape Fear: Conducting a wide variety of events and programs throughout the year is made possible by the diverse makeup of our membership. We have a spectrum of ages that connect with the Post, both in the general membership and (very intentionally) on our board. That diversity produces ripe opportunity for mentorship that benefits experienced members and those younger professionals who have recognized the way SAME involvement can broaden their careers and leadership potential. We also have a diversity of affiliations and interests within the membership that helps inspire interesting conversations and experience-sharing. Some in our Post are either active or retired military, many of whom served with the Corps of Engineers. Some are architects and engineers from engineering firms that serve federal/military clients. Some are A/E professionals who have relatively little work in the federal arena, but who still find the topics, events, and friendship rewarding. Still others are even more tangentially related to the SAME mission, but are seeking a professional group that strives to elevate its members. In the Cape Fear Post, everyone finds a home, and each person adds to the richness of our collective.

We like to think this balance of interests helps us to have the same balance and diversity in the opportunities for our members.

SAME: How is the Post driving industry-government engagement?

Cape Fear: Admittedly, IGE is the most significant aspect we are working to improve. Our Post was originally founded by two high-level leaders within USACE Wilmington District and was predominantly led by officers and staff for many years. Somewhere around the turn of the century, we witnessed a “distancing” of government involvement and an increase in industry engagement. This trend has been difficult to reverse.

In the Cape Fear Post, everyone finds a home, and each person adds to the richness of our collective.

Though each district commander that we interact with recognizes the value of SAME to their staff—especially for their young leaders—they are eventually reassigned to another duty station and the Post must restart engagement efforts. The district has been very willing to support our annual Small Business Workshop with multiple staff and its leadership to present and engage with the membership. However, we have found it more difficult to encourage regular involvement outside of that event. We greatly appreciate the support from the National Office in these efforts to strengthen relationships and see the mutual ways that industry and government can benefit one another.

SAME: What are the main challenges that the Post is facing?

Cape Fear: Participation from the servicemember and civilian community remains a challenge, but we are making progress on addressing it. The majority of our active members are private sector who have long, deep connections to the local industry and value the Post’s mission.

We are working to increase active participation of public sector members by hosting annual workshops and expanding the settings of our meetings (socials, luncheons, service projects). We are actively working to encourage local government and military civilians to serve as Post officers to help establish a precedent of value and spread awareness to their communities.

SAME: How is the Post partnering with other local organizations to increase the value delivered to members?

Cape Fear: The Cape Fear Post is a founding member of a rotating “Joint Society Meeting” that also involves the local branch of the American Society of Civil Engineers, Professional Engineers of North Carolina, and the American Nuclear Society. Each year, the responsibility of hosting a joint meeting is met by one of these groups. The topics that result provide diversity of thought and rich networking opportunities for all.

This year is also the 10th consecutive year that the Post has teamed up with Wilmington Area Rebuilding Ministry to participate in the annual Veteran’s Day of Hope. In this service event, members help a low-income veteran (or their spouse) with repair projects around their home. It has been one of our favorite events each year and serves as our most “pure” outreach event, with fairly solid participation numbers.

While our sister Post, the Coastal Carolina Post, runs the SAME/Marine Corps Engineering & Construction Camp at Camp Lejeune, the Cape Fear Post does its part to support it by staffing and running the Engineer’s Reaction Course each year. This event is an all-afternoon canvasing of basic engineering and leadership skills that takes the campers through five separate stations that are scored separately and then tallied. Post volunteers share their observations to the campers about how the challenges they encountered parallel many they will encounter in their A/E careers. It is quite inspiring for our volunteers to watch the next generation in action!

SAME: What advice would you give other small Posts looking to expand the variety of their programming?

Cape Fear: The most important piece of advice is to provide opportunities, whether that is social activities, IGE programs, community service, or a combination. We discovered we could plan more events, recruit speakers, and get better engagement when we were more accommodating and flexible to everyone’s schedules.

Another practice we implemented a couple years ago is a planning session to get a jump on the coming year to let members know what is happening. After implementing this, we noticed smoother events and more membership involvement.

Setting up an expectation of leadership succession has been very valuable to our long-term health. Infusing younger leaders into board positions has given us fresh ideas while allowing the more experienced leaders to provide mentoring and support. We have found that the path of Young Member Representative to Vice President to President to Past President keeps a flow of creativity and energy in our small Post.

Lastly, we believe it is essential to have fun!