Increasing the Engineering Circle of Influence

As we begin our 2022-2023 member year on July 1, our incoming Board Chair shares his vision for the path forward.

The following is the speech given by Keith Foxx (FOXXSTEM), our ACEC/MW Incoming 2022-23 Board Chair, at our Annual Conference on June 10, 2022.

I'd like to thank Linda [Darr, ACEC National President & CEO] and Robin [Greenleaf, ACEC National outgoing Board Chair] for their leadership on the national level and more importantly their advocacy. I will speak to the importance of that in a moment.

Jim Hoffman [Summer Consultants, ACEC/MW outgoing Board Chair] talked about our organization's strategic goals of Educate, Engage and Advocate. These goals are outlined well in our Strategic Plan that can be found on our website.

We have done some good work over the course of the last year, and we will continue to build on our successes and adding value to our programming.

Now, to many of you who are my co-workers, peers, allies, sponsors, advocates, and friends all working together to change the world through infrastructure and provide access to the opportunities that it provides, I stand here before you today humbled and honored. 

I am grateful that you've entrusted me with the responsibility to follow in the footsteps of some of our previous presidents and chairs of this great organization. 

I'd like to thank past president Mike Jelen for meeting me in 2017 for lunch and asking me to Chair the Legislative Committee.  I'd like to thank past president Rizwan Siddiqi for inviting me to a position on the Board in 2019. I'd like to thank past president Mike Retton for being a mentor. And thank you to past presidents Andrea Ryon, Pedro Capestany and Jim Hoffman. If you are a past president, please raise your hand so I can acknowledge you.

Lastly, thank you to Mac and Anna who are the backbone and faces of the organization. I want to thank them for providing the guidance, the talking points, and all of the support. Today, I did not use Mac's Talking Points.  
I would like to recognize our Committee Chairs who play an important role in our leadership. Norelis Florentino (Water Infrastructure), Jacqi Glover (Facilities), Kathleen Linehan (Legislative), Jenny Bowers (Programs), Sean Rousseau (Transportation), Mike Perotta (Maryland Municipal), John McDowell (Virginia Municipal) Arpan Patel (Small Business).

I have a few more things to say here.  The gravity of this moment is insignificant for some, but it's not lost on me.

Those that know me know that I'm passionate about inclusion, mentoring, advocating and deliberately providing a hand up (not a hand out).  I recently read a quote from Howard Shultz's book.  He is the founder of Starbucks.  He said “Sometimes solutions are more art than science.”  Many of us are leaders at our firms and with that comes significant responsibility. We've got a tremendous amount of talent, wisdom, and experience in this room. You are the decision makers, you are the mentors, you are the change agents.  Yes, we are making incremental progress, which I recognize, but I as a leader am not satisfied with the pace. 

For example, in the past 16 years we have had only 2 women presidents of ACECMW.  Today, our Board is filled with highly talented qualified woman who are ready to lead, but this did not happen by accident, it was intentional.  Leadership made the necessary efforts to identify the talent, advocate for them and put them in positions to succeed.

I have great mentors, like Andrew Bonds, who has been in this engineering business since the 1980's (and he is always in my ear) and continues to fight for economic inclusion and continues to inspire me to expand my leadership.

As someone who strategically has not been very vocal on the issues of diversity, equity and inclusion in the professional environment, I would be personally disappointed if I did not respond to our current climate regarding the social and political tensions and the divisions that we see today.  We have to do better and we must do better. It starts with the leaders in this room. 

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. said “the ultimate tragedy is not the oppression and cruelty by the bad people but the silence over that by the good people.”

I ask you “good people” to integrate and embrace the principles of diversity, equity, and inclusion and policy at your companies. One thing the pandemic has taught us is that we can pivot successfully to new normals. 

A new normal can emerge from the leadership in this room that identifies a sustained pathway to equity that permeates all that we do.  A new normal ensures hiring and promotions will be reflective not just at the lowest levels of the company but at the highest levels of the company as well. The quality of our workplaces will be enriched as bias is minimized and unacceptable norms are challenged, and leaders are developed with these principles at heart. 

A new normal will expand the benefits related to project delivery and project development and who benefits from these projects. A new normal is dedication to opportunities for equitable employment in populations that are not well represented in the workforce. A new normal is demonstrating a commitment to diversity, equity, and inclusion by getting new ideas, from new people, new friends and new faces. When I talk about inclusion and representation, I speak about all of those categories: lifestyle, gender, age, discipline, socioeconomic classifications and it does not exclude anyone.

So, what I am asking you to do to support these priorities in creating pathways to equity through inclusion is: help produce and foster a culture that identifies, advocates, trains, and empowers individuals. Bring them to our organization's meetings. I'm not asking to exclude others, I'm asking to also bring underrepresented populations whether it's age, gender, life preferences, ethnicity, or race. 

Be intentional on expanding opportunities. If we aren't intentional, it doesn't just happen.  I want to use the example of our current Board composition again.

So, join me “good people” as we use this extraordinary opportunity with the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law to build sustainable infrastructure and stronger American communities. The Infrastructure bill is bold in its attempts to spread opportunities that build prosperity and communities of wealth while delivering first class infrastructure.  We can do both.

I want to leave you with this quote from John Fowler, who was a 19th century agricultural engineer.  He says “Engineers are not mere technicians and should not approve or lend their name to any project that does not promise to be beneficent to man and the advancement of civilization.”

This message was inspired by a mentor, AASHTO President, Dr. Shawn Wilson. 

Consistent with these goals mentioned above and our already successful foundation programs and activities, this coming year, ACEC/MW, will: 
  • Engage and advocate for unconnected communities and introduce them to the beauty of engineering by 1) participating in a high school mentoring program and 2) sponsoring a young person for a STEM summer camp.
  • Enhance our client relations and community relationship building. We will do this by meeting and collaborating more frequently and consistently with our clients and thus educating ourselves on client issues and educating clients on the business of engineering. 
These goals are specific and measurable.
Thank you again for the opportunity to serve as your Chair.

From left: Jim Hoffman (Summer Consultants), Keith Foxx (FOXXSTEM), Robin Greenleaf (ACEC National Outgoing Board Chair)

Keith Foxx, P.E. is a graduate of Howard University's School of Engineering. He has practiced as a civil engineer, a certified project manager, certified construction manager and program manager for infrastructure projects throughout the Washington, DC region. He is now Principal of FOXXSTEM, which provides planning, civil engineering design, construction management/inspection and program management services for transportation, water and energy infrastructure projects. He serves as the Chair of the Board of Directors for the American Council of Engineering Companies of Metropolitan Washington (ACEC/MW) and is a Board Trustee for the Fairfax County Public Library System.


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