Fall 2019 Newsletter of the Christian Engineering Society

President's Corner

by Steve VanderLeest (Steven.H.VanderLeest at gmail.com)

I have told the story of the origins of our group at previous conferences, but not all members have heard it, so I thought it might be worth reviewing the history of our society and conference in the newsletter.

In 1992, three of the engineering faculty from Calvin College organized the first conference for Christian engineering educators. To my knowledge, this was the first time a national conference had been organized. Retired Professor James Bosscher suggested the idea of the conference at a department meeting of the engineering faculty. Two other faculty were inspired to join him to develop the event: Rich Van Andel and myself. To draw Christian faculty from other institutions, the conference was scheduled in the days immediately after the American Society for Engineering Education (ASEE) national conference, held in Toledo that year. Toledo is reasonably close to the Calvin campus in Grand Rapids, which enabled us to keep costs low by holding the event on Calvin’s campus. We arranged for vans to transport ASEE attendees from Toledo to Grand Rapids. Over 40 people attended the Christian Engineering Education Conference (CEEC) that first year. Although there was great enthusiasm to hold another conference, the next one wasn't organized until I returned to Calvin in the summer of 1995 after completing my doctoral work at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. 

Bosscher and I then worked with colleagues at Messiah College in Grantham, Pennsylvania to host the second CEEC on their campus in 1996. During this meeting, Bosscher suggested the idea of a society for Christian engineers. Although many were interested in the idea, it was a wish without a plan, fading into the background in the weeks and months following the excitement of the conference. I organized a dinner meeting in Milwaukee in 1997 during the ASEE conference to generate further interest. Don Peter and his colleagues at Seattle Pacific University hosted another dinner meeting in 1998 when ASEE was held in Seattle. The next full conference was not held until 1999 at the Jungle Aviation and Radio Service (JAARS) facility of Wycliffe Bible Translators in Waxhaw, North Carolina.  This location was selected due to its proximity to Charlotte, where ASEE was held earlier in the same week. Christian engineering faculty from Calvin as well as Dordt College helped organize the conference this time, including published proceedings for the first time. Three years later, the conference went international, meeting in Montreal, Quebec, Canada in 2002 (again matching locations with ASEE). This time the leadership for the conference came from both Calvin as well as Baylor University. 

The conference had now settled into a rhythm, held every two years, scheduled in the days immediately after ASEE and in the same vicinity. A more informal dinner meeting was held in alternate years. At first, we met in the even years, but we switched to odd years in 2009 to avoid a recurring conflict with the national leadership conference. The tenth conference was held in June of 2013 on the campus of Georgia Institute of Technology in Atlanta. In order to broaden the audience a bit, the word “Education” was dropped from the conference title, becoming the “Christian Engineering Conference”.  

The idea to form a society remained part of the conversation over the decades of the conference, but much talk never seemed to turn into something concrete. Whenever I was asked whether it was time for action, I observed that we did not yet have enough momentum nor sufficiently solid leadership across multiple institutions. However, there was also a more personal reason for my hesitance. 

My hesitation was because the vision of a Christian engineering society was not mine. It was the brainchild of my friend and mentor, Jim Bosscher. However, his health had declined and he was unable to participate in the conference after 1996. This was Jim’s idea, not mine. I think I was waiting for a new leader to rise up that would charge ahead, with much charisma and much organization. Although I had a modicum of organizational skills, I was not charismatic and didn’t quite feel I owned the initiative enough to have a strong passion to take the step to formally organize. It took an email from a Christian brother in Oklahoma to prompt this Michigan native to step into the role more boldly. After the 2013 conference, I received a pivotal email from Chuck Baukal. I suspect Chuck may not even remember he sent the email thanking me for organizing the conference, and I am sure he does not realize how much one phrase impacted me. He ended his note by saying “may God continue to bless you and your ministry.” I read over that last phrase several times. I woke up the next day thinking about it. Really? Was this my “ministry”? I had to admit I had not thought of it that way, yet when I mentioned it to my wife, Pam, she agreed that it truly was a ministry. This was a calling I had been pursuing for many years, though not the traditional definition of a ministry that was often reserved for a preacher. I was not preaching from a pulpit. I was not a missionary bringing the gospel to a new people group in a developing country. Nevertheless, I was called. More importantly, we are all called. We each have a ministry -- to witness, to act as God’s stewards of His creation, to love God and neighbor. This ministry is not despite our engineering profession, but through it and in it. This is the foundation and basis for our society. It is our raison d'être. 

In about the same time period, broader leadership continued to solidify. Melani Plett was the general chair for the 2015 conference at Seattle Pacific. A couple of months after that event, I contacted Melanie, indicating that I thought we may have finally arrived at the moment when it made sense to formalize a society. I asked her to pray over it and let me know if she agreed. A week later she emailed back in agreement, that it was now time to pursue the next stage. We then approached a larger group of eight more Christian engineers who had been involved in the conference multiple times, many in leadership roles of some sort. The unanimous advice was to proceed. 

We then worked toward the first slate of officers who would establish the legal framework for the society. Four people stepped forward from the leadership group to serve in this important role: Melani Plett, Bill Jordan, Gayler Ermer, and myself. We then were able to obtain pro bono legal help from attorney Brian Plachta, who had experience helping non-profit organizations with legal matters such as incorporation and achieving non-profit 501(c) status. This process took several months. The officers developed the society’s articles of incorporation and bylaws. We established a bank account and incorporated in the state of Michigan. We then applied for federal non-profit status, so that we could receive charitable donations that would be tax deductible for the giver. We received approval in May 2016. The first business meeting of the society was held during the 2017 CEC at Cedarville. The first new officers were elected during the business meeting during the 2019 CEC at Dordt.

The 2019 conference was novel not only for the election of new officers but also had a twist on the venue. During the early planning for the conference in 2018, for the first time, we were unable to confirm a suitable venue in the vicinity of the ASEE conference, which was held in Tampa in 2019. Despite several good leads and numerous suggestions, each possible location fell through, one by one. At this point, Justin Vander Werff stepped forward, gathered support from the rest of the engineering faculty at Dordt, and then graciously agreed to host the conference on their campus in Iowa. Although centrally located, I was nervous about a decrease in attendance if we didn’t piggy-back our conference with ASEE to help attendees minimize travel costs. However, a survey of likely attendees showed that we should still see reasonable participation. In the end, it turned out we had a fairly normal attendance. In addition, the Dordt faculty creatively added a one-day workshop option on engineering ethics to draw engineers from local industry, sweetening the deal by including formal Professional Development Hour (PDH) credit to attendees. 

During the 13 conferences over the last 28 years, we have had an attendance of 587, with many repeat attenders (304 unique individuals overall). The attendees came from over 100 different institutions and from at least five different countries (US, Canada, South Korea, Brazil, Indonesia). Over the course of the conferences, 147 papers have been peer-reviewed and published. God has blessed us as individuals and as a community of believers throughout these decades. I pray that he will continue to bless us as we step forward in faith, seeking ways to live out our faith as engineers who are disciples of Christ.


[The first part of this article is based on the conference history I presented in my paper “Twenty-Five Years of Christian Engineering: A Literature Survey” in the 2017 CEEC proceedings.]

2019 Christian Engineering Conference

by Justin Vander Werff (Justin.VanderWerff@dordt.edu)

The thirteenth Christian Engineering Conference was held at Dordt University in Sioux Center, Iowa, on Thursday-Saturday, July 11-13. The conference program was chaired by Dr. Randy Schwindt (Union University) and general activities were chaired by Dr. Justin Vander Werff (Dordt University). The activities began with optional industry tours on Thursday afternoon hosted by Link Manufacturing and the Pella Corporation, two manufacturing facilities located minutes from Dordt’s campus. The fifteen or so tour participants greatly appreciated the opportunity to see engineering in action and to hear a bit from Dordt engineering alumni on how they put their faith into practice in the engineering workplace.

The full conference commenced on Thursday evening with a banquet and inspiring keynote talk from Dordt engineering alumnus Mike Adams. Mike is the founder and CEO of Adams Thermal Systems (https://adamsthermalsystems.com) and founder and president of Adams Thermal Foundation (https://adamsthermalfoundation.org). Mike shared in an engaging and challenging way how God’s story has played out in his journey and how God’s plans were always ahead of his plans. In Mike’s words, “The Lord let me see a small portion of His future plans, and then He gave me the wisdom and the courage to take each step.” Thursday evening concluded with a wonderful time of music and worship.

Friday was packed with paper and panel sessions. Papers touched on a wide variety of topics ranging from engineering education, calling and vocation in engineering, and engineering industry and ethics. A unique portion of Friday’s program that focused on the engineering industry and ethics was delivered in a continuing education format that brought around 20 practicing engineers from the local area in addition to the 60 full conference attendees. This portion of the conference was particularly well-received and could provide a nice model to emulate or build from at future conferences. Friday evening included a panel session with Christians who serve in leadership roles in local engineering companies, another paper session, and a poster session that included 11 posters from several institutions displaying a variety of student, faculty, and industry work.

Saturday’s program included more great papers and a panel session on ABET accreditation. The conference concluded with another time of praise and worship in music followed by lunch. As always, the conference days flew by. Many familiar faces were able to reconnect and many new acquaintances were formed. The Christian Engineering Conference continues to be a wonderful time of learning, fellowship, and encouragement for brothers and sisters in Christ who care about serving the Lord in their engineering-related callings. The proceedings for the 2019 conference at Dordt are already published on the CEC Proceedings page along with proceedings from previous conferences (http://www.christianengineering.org/publications/cec-proceedings).

Finally, it’s not too early to be thinking about the CES dinner in Montreal on June 2020 and the next CEC conference which will be held at Azusa Pacific University on June 25-26, 2021. The 2021 conference will be a joint conference along with the Association of Christians in the Mathematical Sciences (ACMS). More information on both the dinner and the conference can be found on the CEC Proceedings page (http://www.christianengineering.org/publications/cec-proceedings). We hope you will be able to join us!

The 9th Annual Disaster Shelter Competition (April 23-25, 2020)

by John Brown University Construction Management Department

We will be holding our 9th Annual Disaster Shelter Design Competition at JBU during April 23-25, 2020. We will be updating the website and information over the next couple of weeks, but I wanted to give you all a heads up for planning purposes. The format and testing will be generally the same as we have done previously, but as usual, we will be changing the disaster scenario and adjusting some of the scoring criteria to meet scenario conditions. At this point, it looks like we will be using Cyclone Idai that hit Mozambique in 2019, but I will provide more details shortly. For any who have not participated in the event in the past, the website has videos and photos from past years that I think would help to understand the event. The website is here: http://www.jbu.edu/shelter_contest/

Please let us (MTerrill@jbu.edu) know if we can answer any questions. Also, if you know of anyone interested in this type of event, please pass this news along.

CES Board Member Election Results

The CES members elected Justin Vander Werff and Ted Song as new board members. Congratulations! Also, here are the bios of new members. 

1, Justin Vander Werff

Justin Vander Werff is an associate professor of engineering at Dordt University, where he has served since 2008. He currently serves as assistant department chair, and his teaching roles include structural steel, reinforced concrete, soil mechanics, foundations, structural analysis, mechanics of materials, and introductory statics. Justin is passionate about recognizing Christ in all of life. The desire to wrestle with the implications of this recognition in engineering is largely what brought Justin to Dordt and led him to get involved with the Christian Engineering Society. Justin is a member of the American Society of Engineers (ASCE) and serves as faculty advisor for Dordt’s ASCE student chapter.

Prior to Dordt, Justin served for several years as a structural design engineer for a consulting firm in northwest Indiana, primarily serving clients in heavy industry. Justin received his undergraduate engineering degree from Dordt and his MS and PhD degrees in civil engineering (structural emphasis) from Iowa State University (ISU). He continues a limited amount of research with ISU related to seismic load distribution studies, bridge connection details, and accelerated bridge construction methods.

Justin loves to spend time with his wife, two daughters, and two sons, doing things like playing board games, watching movies, camping, biking, gardening, fishing, swimming, and reading. He also serves in various ways at his church, plays piano and organ, and enjoys working on home improvement projects.

2. Ted Song

Ted has been teaching at John Brown University (JBU) since receiving his Ph.D. in Electrical and Computer Engineering from The University of Texas at Austin in 2012 and is the recipient of the 2018 JBU Faculty Excellence Award. This summer, Ted also started serving as Director of Innovation, seeking to develop ways in making Christian higher education more affordable at JBU through internal and external collaborations. Ted and his wife, Michelle, live in Siloam Springs, Ark. and have two daughters, Leanne and Erin. They are members at Siloam Springs Bible Church where Ted leads College Ministry and serves as an elder. Ted recently received his M.T.S. degree from Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary and is currently pursuing the M.Div. degree.

Ted became a Christian Engineering Society (CES) member in 2013 and has been serving in the organization as Newsletter Editor since 2014. One thing that he values about CES is the community it provides. Ted enjoyed attending every CES conference since 2013 and organizing the CES dinner gatherings in 2016 (New Orleans, La.) and 2018 (Salt Lake City, Utah). Within CES’s mission, Ted particularly is interested in pursuing two objectives: (1) connecting more Christian engineers and engineering programs for collaboration and (2) encouraging and supporting individual members in their integration of faith and work. Ted, with other Board members, would like to work on these objectives to further promote the mission of CES, “using our skills as engineers in ways that build God's Kingdom.”

Newsletter Sign Up and Article Contributions

This newsletter is a publication of the Christian Engineering Society, distributed no more than once per month. You can sign up to receive an email notification when a new newsletter is available. Ted Song of John Brown University is the moderator and editor of the newsletter. Sometimes email filters will block mass distributions like the newsletter announcement, so be sure you whitelist the address "ces-announce@calvin.edu" to allow the newsletter announcement to get through. If you have questions about the newsletter, send an email to Ted at tsong@jbu.edu. Additionally, if there is a project or activity at your institution/organization that relates engineering with faith, missions and/or service, we’d like to include it in a future CES newsletter. Society members are always encouraged to submit announcements and contribute articles! (Editor reserves the right to make the final decision on inclusion of all content.) CES also welcome members to contribute articles or suggest new books to be added to this growing body of literature. If you are interested, please contact the CES resource curator Dr. David Che at ched2@asme.org.