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ASHRAE Journal Podcast Episode 34

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Billy Austin, P.E., BCxP, BEAP, BEMP, CHD, HBDP, HFDP, OPMP, Fellow ASHRAE, Society Vice President; Sarah Maston, P.E., BCxP, Member ASHRAE; and Erica Powell, CEM, Associate Member ASHRAE, President, Southern Piedmont Chapter

Paths to Leadership in ASHRAE

It can be hard to know how to get involved when you’re just starting out, but the rewards that come with finding out can be exponential for your personal and professional development. Join Billy Austin, Sarah Maston and Host Erica Powell as they discuss their own experiences, paths to ASHRAE leadership and how to make the most of your first TC meeting.

Have any great ideas for the show? Contact the ASHRAE Journal Podcast team at podcast@ashrae.org

Interested in reaching the global HVACR engineering leaders with one program? Contact Greg Martin at 01 678-539-1174 | gmartin@ashrae.org.

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  • Guest Bio

    Billy Austin serves as ASHRAE Society Vice President. He has served as an HVAC design engineer for 37 years and as principal of Shultz Engineering Group since 2007. His areas of expertise include HVAC, plumbing, and fire protection systems design for health, fitness, retail, industrial facilities, church buildings, hospitals, office buildings, schools, senior living and labs; including design documents, specifications, commissioning, energy assessments, energy audits, energy models, cost analysis and project estimating. Billy has worked on 14 projects that have won the ASHRAE Excellence in Technology Award. He graduated Cum Laude from the University of North Carolina at Charlotte and is a member of the Tau Beta Pi Engineering Honor Society as well as MENSA. Billy is registered as a PE in 36 states.

    Additional Licenses:
    H-1, H-2 and H-3 Mechanical Contractor’s Licenses in NC, Charlotte-Mecklenburg Building Standards Department Mechanical Journeyman in Refrigeration, Ductwork, Mechanical Fuel Burning, Pipe Fitting and Gas Piping, Certification for Transition and Recovery of Refrigerants

    Other Credentials:
    ASHRAE Fellow
    LEED AP BD+C (Leadership in Energy Efficient Design Accredited Professional – USGBC)
    BCxP (Building Commissioning Professional – ASHRAE)
    BEAP (Building Energy Assessor Professional – ASHRAE)

    BEMP (Building Energy Modeling – ASHRAE)
    CEM (Certified Energy Manager – The Association of Energy Engineers)
    CHD (Certified HVAC Designer – ASHRAE)
    CPD (Certified Plumbing Designer – ASPE)
    CPMP (Commissioning Process Management Professional – ASHRAE)
    HBDP (High Performance Building Design Professional – ASHRAE)
    HFDP (Healthcare Facility Design Professional – ASHRAE)
    OPMP (Operations and Performance Management Professional – ASHRAE)

    Sarah E. Maston was an ASHRAE Vice President from 2021-2023. She has also served Society as chair of the Technology Council; coordinating officer of the Development Committee; and as a member of the Board Subcommittee: Composition and Leadership Structure, President-Elect Advisory Committee, Treasurer-Elect Advisory Committee and Finance Committee. Sarah was also a corresponding member of Technical Committee 7.9, Building Commissioning. She is a past director-at-large on the Board of Directors; former chair of the Planning Committee; former chair of the Conference and Expositions Committee; and former member of the Technical Activities Committee (TAC).

    Sarah has more than 25 years of experience in mechanical/ HVAC systems evaluation, troubleshooting, design, startup and commissioning for a variety of project types. She currently serves as director of commissioning & energy services for Colliers Project Leaders in Boston, Massachusetts. Sarah is a Registered Mechanical Engineer (PE), Building Commissioning Professional (BCxP) and LEEP Certified Professional, with facility experience in hospitals, laboratories, universities, schools and office space. She is also a lecturer at the University of Wisconsin for its Commissioning Process for Delivering Quality Constructed Projects course.

    Maston graduated from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (RPI) with a Bachelor of Science degree in Mechanical Engineering and a concentration in Energy Systems.

    Erica Powell received her chemical engineering degree from Clemson University. Upon graduation, Erica entered the workforce as a sales engineer for Trane Technologies in their Charlotte commercial sales office. In this role, she learned valuable skills like building relationships and learning about HVAC Systems. After two years, she switched over to working as an energy engineer with Trane for their Federal Development Team helping to implement Energy Savings Performance Contracts for government facilities focused on improving mechanical systems.

    Currently, Erica works as an energy sustainability manager for Lincoln Property Company working on the Atrium Health account. She manages their non-acute care facilities, medical office buildings and office space in the Charlotte market and Wake Forest totaling nearly 6.5 million square feet.

    Erica has acquired a love and passion for providing sustainable solutions to her customer by helping them reduce their utility bill costs and energy consumption resulting in a smaller carbon footprint and less strain on the utility grid. She currently has her Certified Energy Manager (CEM) certification and is pursuing her Professional Engineering (PE) license in 2024. Erica is an ASHRAE Associate member since 2021 and is the current chapter president of the Southern Piedmont chapter.

  • Transcription

    Erica Powell:

    Welcome to this month's edition of the ASHRAE Journal podcast. My name is Erica Powell, today's guest host. I am a certified Energy Manager and EIT based in Charlotte, North Carolina, working in the world of energy management. I've been involved with ASHRAE for the past three years, and I am the current chapter president of the Southern Piedmont Chapter. Today we are very fortunate to have some ASHRAE veterans who will help guide our discussion, Billy Austin and Sarah Maston. Why don't you two introduce yourselves? We'll start with Sarah.

    Sarah Maston:

    Thank you, Erica. So my name is Sarah Maston. I'm the Director of Commissioning and Energy Services for Colliers Project Leaders in Boston, Massachusetts. My team serves all of Massachusetts, Rhode Island and Connecticut. As an ASHRAE volunteer, I recently rolled off of the board of directors after being a vice president for two years and a director at large three years prior to that. Some of the other committees that I really enjoyed serving on included the conference and expositions committee as well as technical activities committee or TEC.

    Billy Austin:

    And I'm Billy Austin. I'm Principal with Schultz Engineering Group in Charlotte, North Carolina. I currently serve on ASHRAE's board of directors as society vice president. I've enjoyed being involved with ASHRAE since 1989 when I started as a student activities chair.

    Erica Powell:

    Wonderful. Thank you guys both for those introductions and thank you both for being here. So the purpose of today's podcast is a little different than the average technical edition. Today we'll be discussing how best to get involved in ASHRAE as a young engineer or someone who is new to the industry. As a young engineer myself and someone who is new-ish to both ASHRAE and leadership positions at the chapter level, I think a lot back to when I first started and even now, how overwhelming and large ASHRAE as an organization can seem and it can be kind of difficult to know where to start or even how to start. So that is why we're so fortunate that you two are here with us today to try and explain a little bit about your pathways into ASHRAE and your experiences, and hopefully those will be able to help some others. So without further ado, I'll start with you Billy, you're in the hot seat. Why don't you tell us how you first got started within this industry and who introduced you to ASHRAE? Is there anything specific that sticks out?

    Billy Austin:

    Okay. Well, one of my first jobs out of school, my boss said “Billy, we're going to an ASHRAY meeting tonight.” And I didn't know what that was, but my boss told me we're going to an ASHRAE meeting. So I went and I went to the meeting and had dinner. I didn't know anyone in the room there, but my boss did introduce me to a lot of people in the room. A lot of what was talked about technically in the meeting I didn't understand, but my boss facilitated me continuing to be involved in talking with people. And actually I think it was after the second meeting I went to, he told me that I was then the education committee chair of the chapter and I said, "Well, what does that mean?" He said, "Well, you're running a committee for the chapter." And I said, "Well, okay. Well, what do I do there?"

    And he said, "Well, you're going to go to these board of governors meetings." I said, "Okay." And so I went there and I met a lot of nice people and they basically gave me some feedback on what I'd be doing and just did what I was told, basically. Again, it was a steep learning curve, but very shortly after I got involved and got involved with these positions in ASHRAE, I got to where I really enjoyed both the work and the people that I met. Everyone is so kind, so nice. All of us are trying to give back to our society and make our world a better place. And it didn't take me long to get to where I just really wanted to continue on in ASHRAE in that position and others.

    Erica Powell:

    Great. We'll just switch it over to Sarah to talk about her pathway.

    Sarah Maston:

    Excellent, thanks Erica. So I had a bit of a false start when I first got involved with ASHRAE. So similar to Billy, I was fresh out of school and had my first job in the industry and my boss said, "Well, the company will pay for your ASHRAE membership, but you need to attend a certain number of meetings per year." And it was like, okay, that's fine. So I also started going to some local meetings and that really for the first couple of years was really the extent of my volunteer experience. I showed up, I had dinner, I got to meet some people. I started out as design, I was in the design field, so I got to meet some vendors and figure out product cards and who was who, and who could help me if I had questions, again, particularly for equipment.

    And that was good. And then I started with another company and that boss, Howie McHugh, was really involved with ASHRAE at a society level and he happened to be the Handbook Coordinator for TC. And he approached me and some other members of our commissioning team and said, "Hey, we need to update and improve these five chapters, and I have some ideas about how this is going to go. And it's been a while since this has been done, so this is going to be a fairly significant rewrite." And myself and another member of our team signed up for that. And so we said, "Okay, what does this entail?" And he said, "Well, if you do this work, you have to do it on your own time, but once we get through this, the company will pay for you to go to the conference and you'll get to see the Technical Committee vote on your changes."

    So we thought that was pretty cool. We'd never been to a conference really. So that was about two years the review process. And then we went to the conference and we went to the Technical Committee and we're sitting back there and we're kind of nervous, because we're not really sure what this vote entails if people are going to start picking apart our work or what is going to happen. Because like Billy said, I didn't know anybody in the room except my boss who was sitting there and the chair of the Technical Committee got up and he said, "Oh, we happen to have the authors of these two chapters here." And they acknowledged us and we thought that was pretty cool.

    And then he pretty much put it up for the vote and within two minutes it was over. So two years of work kind of culminated in a thirty-second vote and that was kind of like, wow, all right now what? And so after the meeting, my boss was talking to us and just said, Hey, if you want to continue to volunteer and to get involved in the Technical Committee, then the company will continue to support your attendance. So that was pretty neat.

    Erica Powell:

    Wow. Those are both some very similar stories. I see some similarities in there that you both kind of seem like you guys both had a champion that kind of helped guide you a little bit, but you went up through the Technical Committee path, Sarah, and you went up through the grassroots path, Billy. And for those of the listeners who might not be aware, grassroots from what I understand is getting involved at the chapter level. Is that right, Billy?

    Billy Austin:

    Yeah, that is correct. Yeah. And if okay, I could kind of delineate between the two a little bit and Sarah maybe could follow up with that as well. Does that sound okay?

    Sarah Maston:


    Erica Powell:

    Sure. Go ahead.

    Billy Austin:

    Okay, so grassroots. So you've got your local chapter and like I said, my experience got involved with the local chapter and became the Education Committee chair quickly, which now is called Student Activities. It was education back then. And then from there you get involved with other chairs or committees within your chapter. And then again, this is grassroots from there. Each of the chapters belong to a region. So my region has seven chapters in it. And so I went to some regional meetings and actually got some regional positions and from there had a regional position. We met at the ASHRAE international meetings and got to know a lot of people internationally. And so went up through that route where I came up through the chapter and through the region versus what Sarah did, getting involved quickly with the Technical Committee aspect.

    Erica Powell:

    So I'll switch it over to Sarah then so that she can discuss a little bit more about Technical Committees. We did just have our winter conference in Chicago, which is held in conjunction with the AHR Expo. And I know that those annual conference times are when Technical Committees have opportunities to meet in person. Could you actually talk a little bit more about the TC structure similar to what Billy just explained with grassroots and maybe what some young engineers should be looking for when they are looking for a Technical Committee to join First?

    Sarah Maston:

    Sure. So we have actually over a hundred Technical Committees within ASHRAE and that can seem a little overwhelming, but those TCs are typically broken down into I'd say 10 subcategories if you will. And we call them sections within technology console. And so those subheadings, if you will, or sections are fairly loose. For instance, one of the Technical Committees Building Commissioning that I got involved with is TC 7.9. And so all of the Technical Committees will have a number and that first number is the section that they belong to. And then the second number is kind of random, but it depends on when the Technical Committee was formed. They're fairly somewhat in order, but a lot of people who've been Involved with the Technical Committees for a long time, we'll just rattle off numbers and you're like, what committee is that?

    So it does get a little getting used to, but Building Commissioning 7.9, that I've been involved with, that one, section 7 is kind of building operations, if you will. There's some stuff about O and M or operations of maintenance, but Section 10 has refrigeration in it. Actually sections 10 and 3 have some semblances of refrigerants or refrigerations. Section 1 has a lot of building controls. So if you have the 365 app on your phone, and if you haven't really been to a society meeting before, you might not, but you can get it on either like Google or Apple. You just look up ASHRAE 365 and you can download the app. And through there it is just a plethora of information. All the Technical Committees, all the different seminars that happen in a particular conference, there's a lot of information there that you can digest. But as far as where to start or how to get involved, if you will, where to start is to think about what you find interesting, whether it's directly related to the job that you do now, or I used to dabble a little bit in building modeling.

    And so I went to some of those TCs, TC 9.7 happens to be Educational Facilities. At the time in my career, we were working on quite a few schools. And so I went to that Technical Committee for a little while to see what the conversation was all about. But you don't actually have to go to a conference to participate in a TC. You can get right on ASHRAE's website and if you look under Technical Committees, you can register to be what we call a provisional member. And so you can sign up for one TC, you can sign up for five. And it's a two-year membership. And what happens then is once you're kind of on the roster, you will get the meeting notifications because one of the things that we learned actually through COVID when we couldn't meet in person is that a lot of these Technical Committees started meeting between the conferences virtually just to kind of keep the discussion going, whether it was research or programs or whatever was of interest to the members of that Technical Committee.

    So a lot of these Technical Committees do meet virtually between the conferences. Some even meet virtually leading up to the conferences just to discuss what is going to go down at the conference. But yeah, it's a great way to get involved in technical subject matter. And like I said, you don't even have to attend the conference to go, but it is an opportunity to meet people, like-minded people who are interested in maybe some of the same things that you are, what new technologies are going on in that kind of technical subbase and really just to keep on top of new technologies and to meet more people.

    Erica Powell:

    Yeah, Technical Committees are, I'll second that they're very easy to join. I signed up for three at the same time, but I followed the pathway of, I picked one that I currently worked in, so I was familiar with it. And then I picked one that I was really interested in learning about, and then I picked another one that I didn't really know much about, but I was also kind of interested in learning more about that topic. And I did just recently get moved to a corresponding member on one of those, but it does not happen automatically. I found I had to ask and show that I had been attending and then they moved me up and that's kind of how that worked. And Billy, I think you've already spoken a little bit about your grassroots pathway, so we might move on to the next question.

    I previously mentioned we did just have our winter conference in Chicago, and I'll spit a few facts at you about how large that conference can get when it's in conjunction with the AHR Expo. ASHRAE released an article right after the conference occurred summarizing all these metrics. They had almost 4,000 attendees in 125 separate technical sessions for the conference itself. And then when you include the expo, there was over 500,000 dedicated square feet for exhibitors, over 1800 exhibitors and an estimated 50,000 people that attended the expo over the course of three days. So you can imagine how as a first timer going to an event this is extremely overwhelming. I just went for my second time and it was still overwhelming. It still was pretty scary to go. So can each of you speak a little bit about some of the unique opportunities that are available when a young person or someone new to the industry gets the opportunity to attend a conference? What should their schedule maybe focus on? Are there any tips and tricks that you guys have that will help them make the most of their time there?

    Sarah Maston:

    So I would say any opportunity that you can actually take advantage of to get involved, and like Erica said, it is sometimes overwhelming, particularly if it's your first time. The first conference I mentioned earlier, I had a bit of a false start and the fact that I did go to a conference before I went based on my handbook and TC experience, it was like two years before. It happened to be in a location where I had family and my boss at the time said, "Well, I'll pay for the registration, you have the hotel and we'll go from there."

     And so I went, I didn't know anybody, I wasn't involved, didn't know the first thing about what was going on. I attended a couple of technical sessions and that was about it. And I kind of left and I was like, well, I learned a little bit kind of thing. But particularly between those technical sessions, it feels almost like the hallways in a high school. Everybody lets out of the room at the same time, everybody's in a hurry to go to the next place and you're just trying not to run into the person in front of you or behind you.

    Erica Powell:

    That is so true!

    Sarah Maston:

    Right, Erica? Yeah, exactly. But just even going to a Technical Committee is such a different experience and again, it can be as little or as much as you want to make out of it. Literally the second meeting I went to, similar to what Billy said about being at his chapter meeting, is I got roped into being the program sub-chair for the Technical Committee. I barely knew three people in the room, but the guy who was doing it was the current subcommittee chair, was stepping off to do something else and they needed a volunteer. And one of the terms we also use a lot in ASHRAE, and I'm sure you may have heard it in other things that you do in your lives, but is called volun-told. So sometimes you get volun-told for an activity and sometimes that might be because you raised your hand or maybe it was that everybody else took a step back. All of a sudden you kind of find yourself in the front and you're not really sure how that happened.

    But similar to what Billy said, everybody's really nice. They're not out there to make it more difficult for you than it needs to be. Like I said, the guy who rolled off of the position when I rolled on was just like, gave me his business card, he's like, "Give me a call. We'll go through it, we'll talk about it." But there's just so many opportunities. The Technical Committee is a pretty low bar, if you will. Because like I said, you can just go and sit in the room, you don't have to do anything. But there's a lot of other committees at the society level that are always looking for members and all of the meetings are open.

    So if you're just interested, you don't have to be a member to attend most meetings either. The only exception is you might see a sign on the door that says "executive session," and in that case you can't go in, but that's usually for a very short period of time. But like I said, almost every meeting is an open meeting. Anything on that 365 app that shows up is open, you can just walk right in.

    Billy Austin:

    Yeah, I remember my first society meeting, and again, I came up through the grassroots. So I was the regional vice chair of Membership Promotion. So I was used to working with Membership Promotion in my chapter and then working with the other Membership Promotion chairs in my region. And so looking in that direction at the chapter in the region, and then I went to society and it's like I'm looking in a different direction. Okay, there's a society here. There's actually an ASHRAE society. I'm used to my chapter, I'm used to my region, but here's another entity that's way bigger and way more far-flung than what I've been involved with before. And it's just really eye-opening. And I will say there's a psychology to ASHRAE. There's kind of two things that stand out, particularly when you get involved in any new position. One is you're always on a learning curve. You feel like, boy, I don’t know if I know enough to do this position. I’ve been asked, I’ve been placed in this position, but just seems like other people know more about it than I do. I don’t feel fully prepared. And by the time you get halfway through your term or so, you get to where, hey, I understand what I’m doing. I understand this actually. I can see some things that we could do better. And it’s really fulfilling to come into these positions and have that initial feeling and then have the feeling of accomplishment that, oh, I do get this and I can do this. And in conjunction with that, there’s also this feeling of kind of imposter syndrome that you have. Okay, am I going to be found out? That I’m really not supposed to be here kind of feeling. And so you get that kind of feeling as well.

    But actually after you’ve done it a couple of times, you realize that that’s a really good, healthy growth related feeling that you have. And you'll find that going to a society meeting and drinking through the fire hose, what you'll do, you'll see all these people from all over the world talking about all kinds of things that you barely know anything about. And taking that as, hey, this is a good place for me to get to know all these people and get a feeling and an understanding of what they're talking about. This is an opportunity for me to grow. And when you take that attitude toward ASHRAE, you'll find it to be very fulfilling. You'll find the personal growth just comes naturally to you and it will carry over to other areas of your life, get to where you think, okay, here's a new thing. Here's a new thing. I've done this in ASHRAE. I've taken on new things in ASHRAE. Here's a new thing in my job or personal life. And it is really a great way to grow personally.

    Sarah Maston:

    Can I piggyback on that, Erica? So Billy made a really good point as far as just getting to know people, being where the action is, if you will. After two years in the industry, I got laid off and I really didn't know what my next step was. I didn't really know anybody. I didn't really know where the opportunities were. I didn't know if, I was in a design consulting firm. I wasn't sure that I wanted to stay there in that particular part of the industry, whether I wanted to do sales, what were my options? And I had had just enough of experience at ASHRAE to know that building my network there, building my technical network was really where it was. It was kind of a job security thing for me and knowing what options are there, and as Billy said, you're going to meet people all over the world, so whether you want to stay in the town that you live in or you want to look for opportunities in another state, there's so many people that are there and that are involved and literally know things that you might not know.

    But having that network of people, it was about eight years so far in my career that I owned my own company. I did commissioning. I was a party of one, and I was never really nervous about it from a technical standpoint because I knew building commissioning providers all over the world. And so if there was something that I was coming up against that I had never experienced before, I wasn't really sure how to tackle it. I had that network of people that I could reach out to. And so really kind of building that network has really been my life's work.

    Erica Powell:

    You guys have both really touched on the network of ASHRAE and how involved you can be at the conferences and all the opportunities that are available to you. But I know in my own conversations with others that some people struggle with that registration cost sometimes or the travel or maybe their company hasn't been super supportive of their involvement. Do you guys have any sort of advice for people who have some of those struggles? Are there any ways that you can reduce the cost of attending a conference as a young person or someone new to the industry?

    Billy Austin:

    Well, there are things that you can do, such as the chapter at times will help you financially with the costs. Sometimes the region will as well. Definitely talk to your chapter in regional leadership about what hardships you might be facing, because often there are funds to help with things like that. Also at the meetings, there are opportunities such as being a monitor, running a society meeting takes a lot of people, and ASHRAE is always looking for volunteers to help in various aspects of the national meetings, the international meetings. So they were looking for volunteers. And in turn, when you're a volunteer, there are opportunities to have at least some of your costs, comped along those lines.

    Sarah Maston:

    And one of the things that I've done for years is I actually have an ASHRAE roommate. So there's two different things that you can do. So when a conference comes to town, there's a host hotel and there's typically a room block. Sometimes there's two host hotels depending on the size of the hotels themselves. But ASHRAE has a room block, and so if you get in early for the room block, that's an opportunity. There's also other hotels that are nearby that sometimes have cheaper rates, again, depending on the size of the city that we're in. But once you get to know a couple of people, asking people if they want to split a room. The individual that I've been rooming with forever, Rachel Romero, shout out to Rachel. We tried to decide in Chicago how many years we've been doing this, and I think it's around eight, eight or nine years.

    So the host hotels sometimes are a little bit more expensive than the neighboring hotels, but if you have somebody to help split the cost, then it definitely makes that more feasible. So yeah, so like Billy said, the monitoring, some of the society level committees that you can get involved with sometimes have travel expenses comped. And then like I said, if you find somebody to room with, I actually know some people that have three or four roommates, younger folks that don't have as many personal space issues apparently. But yeah, no, those are definitely some ways to cut the costs.

    Erica Powell:

    Those are some great ideas. I have heard people talk about ASHRAE roommates just this past year, and I had never heard of that, so I thought that was pretty interesting. And then I actually did volunteer to be a monitor one year, and that covers your registration costs. You just volunteer for a few hours to sit at the front of a technical session and check people in. Something that you guys haven't mentioned yet, but I was just a part of was one of ASHRAE's leadership programs. I know that there's a few available. There's the Leaders Program, so that's at a regional level. I followed the director and regional chair for my region, Region 4. Shout out Bryan Holcomb, thanks for letting me tag along with you for a few days. And I got to attend all the different meetings that he attends at the society level, regional level, Technical Committees. I even had some time to go to some technical sessions of my own, and my registration and hotel and travel was covered for that. And I know that Leadership U, which Billy might be able to speak to a little bit, since he's a current society vice president, they have people who are interested following them around during the conference. And you get to see even an even higher level of meetings that are going on and you get to see all the different things and people who make up the background of ASHRAE and make sure that it's working efficiently.

    Billy Austin:

    Those two programs are very similar in what's involved, the Leaders Program for board of directors people and then Leadership U for following the vice presidents. Pretty much the same thing as far as what you experience.

    Erica Powell:

    Yes, I highly recommend. And then kind of just piggybacking off that last question in relation to maybe someone doesn't have the support of their company to get more involved in ASHRAE, not just going to conferences, but maybe at the chapter level, helping to pay for their membership or paying for meetings. Do you guys have any advice for someone who maybe doesn't have some of that support but want to get involved?

    Billy Austin:

    Well, I would say just get in touch with your chapter leadership, tell them what your situation is. ASHRAE is always looking for new volunteers, and we will look for creative ways to help make it work out for you.

    Erica Powell:

    So you guys have talked about ASHRAE at length and you've also given some of your personal stories and successes. Is there anything specific that sticks out to you that contributed the most to your success or professional development that you were involved in? Was it a certain Technical Committee position? Was it a certain grassroots position? Was there anything that was really a turning point in your career for you?

    Sarah Maston:

    I'll start. So one of the committees, and I talked about it just really briefly earlier On, that I got involved in was a Conferences and Expositions Committee. So that kind of stemmed from, like I said, my work as a program subcommittee chair for a particular Technical Committee. And so what the Conferences and Expositions Committee does is it's really involved in these biannual conferences that ASHRAE puts together as well as now the topical conferences that are becoming more and more popular. And so that committee is, well, for those of us who have served on it before, we like to say that they work hard and they play hard. So during the conferences themselves, they run speaker's lounge, so they're checking in speakers, they're making sure presentations have been reviewed and are ready to go. It's a pretty significant time commitment, particularly during the conferences, people sign up for slots and you're there pretty much most of the conference itself.

    But that's also one of the committees that because of that commitment, there is some compensation for your transportation. But it's like anything, you spend a lot of time with somebody or a small group of people and you really get to know them. So we had meetings all the time. We spent a lot of time together in the speaker's lounge. Being a member of that committee, you also meet a lot of people. I mean, you're meeting all the speakers that are coming in, most of which are subject matter experts, right? They're speaking on particular topics and there are some that do it fairly regularly. So you kind of get to know them a little bit better, figure out what those subject matters are that they're really knowledgeable about. But you really just get to, like I said, you meet a lot of people. And so I feel like that experience for me, like I said, was a pretty significant time commitment.

    But it made me a better organizer. It made me a better communicator. I served on that committee for almost seven years. So a lot of the society committees have a three-year time commitment, if you will, three year appointment. That committee has one, it is technically four years now, I believe, because there's just so much to know and so much to learn with the software that they use and the different things they felt that three years that somebody was really just kind of figuring it all out and then they rolled off the committee. But yeah, I eventually rose to be the chair of that committee. And just again, so many moving parts, keeping people organized, letting them know where they needed to be, making sure that they were trained properly, all of those things, it just made me more comfortable in my own skin. And again, like I said, being better organized, a better communicator were really my big takeaways.

    Billy Austin:

    Erica, I actually, I know you asked for one, but there's kind of three areas that kind of all kind of work together in my ASHRAE background. And one is membership promotion. That was my first national position, international position in ASHRAE where I was on the Membership Promotion Committee and rose to chair that committee. And I just found it exciting. What are the things we can do to make ASHRAE more attractive, to gain new members, to gain more young members? When I was first involved with ASHRAE, it was pretty much one demographic, older white males. And if you go to an ASHRAE meeting nowadays, you see everyone there. You see everyone. It is really encouraging to see a lot of young people, a lot of women, a lot of different races there. We've worked really hard on that. I just really enjoy strategizing with smart, again, nice, smart, energetic people, trying to figure out how we can make our society that we are volunteers with better.

    And so membership promotion was a great initiation into the society level. Also have been heavily involved with research promotion as well. Again, a lot of the same things. How can we tell our story to people that would give money to ASHRAE for research projects and things like that. And I found that there's a lot of people in a lot of areas of ASHRAE that are willing to donate to good causes, to good research causes. And that's been really motivating to see the things that we've been able to do research on most recently with the COVID epidemic and the task force that we've come up with to address decarbonization as well. Those are all at the forefront of things that ASHRAE is doing, and it's been real fulfilling to tell our story to others and raise money and bring in new members.

    And then thirdly, kind of gone down a rabbit hole with this in a way. I got involved with the Certification Committee and helped develop one of the certifications early on, the Building Energy Assessor Professional, and took that test and I thought, well, I think I'll take this certification test as well. Well, I guess I'll take this one as well. And I've taken all of them and I have all of the certifications now. And what I found was that all of those were learning processes, learning about an aspect of ASHRAE and what we do in the built environment. And now I've got a long string of letters after my name that sometimes it's respected, sometimes it's kind of a talking point, what in the world are all those letters after your name? And it can be funny sometimes, but those are the three areas that have just really been springboards for me in ASHRAE.

    Erica Powell:

    Yes, we do make fun of Billy's business cards and how they look like alphabet soup. If I could, I think we're getting to the end of our session here, so I am going to ask one more final question to both of you, and it's more of kind of a call to action question as well. So if someone's listening to this podcast and they want to get involved in ASHRAE and they want to take their first step, what's the first thing they can do tomorrow that would make the most impact? What do you guys suggest?

    Sarah Maston:

    I would say for most people, that first step is a short step and it's really right to your closest chapter. And for some folks it might depend on where you work versus where you live and what chapter may be closest. And in most cases, I think it would probably be fairly straightforward, but I know that some people do a fair amount of traveling for their jobs, so it might not be as straightforward. But if you don't, so again, for me, at the time when I first started getting involved, I lived about an hour out of Boston, and that's where our local chapter was. And sometimes that was feasible for me, and sometimes it wasn't. When my kids were small, and work was a lot, and I just could not justify driving an hour into the city to deal with traffic to meet with local folks. And sometimes it was a bigger lift than maybe it should have been. But if your local chapter is convenient to you, I definitely think that's the first place to start.

    Again, there's really good technical sessions that go on. You can start to meet people that are local to you, but if it's not, and Technical Committees seem to be interesting, and like you said, you don't even have to go to a conference. You can participate virtually and see where that goes for you. So I think either one is valid, just depending on the things going on in your life, we all try to balance that work life kind of equation and make sure that it works for you. But yeah, I would say I guess either one of those is the first place to start.

    Billy Austin:

    Yeah, I would agree with Sarah. So you go to your first chapter meeting and you'll get a feel for who the leadership of the chapter are at that chapter meeting. You'll see someone get up there and introduce the speaker. That's probably the chapter president, or it might be the vice president or whatever, either before or after the meeting, just introduce yourself to the leaders of the chapter. Just tell them, "Hey, this is my first meeting. I don't know much about ASHRAE." What you'll find guaranteed, you'll find this, is that they will be very kind to you. They'll introduce you to other people in the chapter. They'll ask you, "Is there anything you'd like to do in the chapter?" You're not going to be overwhelmed with a lot of work. They might say, "Well, if you'd like to maybe be involved, we can give you a position on this committee where you could help someone out and you could just get to learn how things work in the chapter."

    So yeah, make that introduction of yourself.

    Another one, which is a little bit more of a stretch, but if you can look for an opportunity to go to an international meeting, perhaps there's a meeting coming up soon that might be near where you live, and perhaps you can go to the meeting and just walk the show perhaps at the winter meetings and visit some Technical Committees and just sit in some meetings and introduce yourself to people there as well.

    Sarah Maston:

    So I'd like to piggyback a little bit. So Billy mentioned we have our next conference is coming up in Indianapolis. So if you happen to be in the region, Region 5, I believe, and you live locally, that committee that is pretty much running that conference is always looking for help. So I mean, if you happen to be local to the Indianapolis area and you want to get involved, I know that there are people that would love to take your phone call. And then as Billy said, the next winter meeting is in Orlando. And depending on where you live, Orlando in the wintertime is usually better weather. For myself living up in Boston, it's always better weather in Orlando. So yeah, if you find the opportunity or you live near Orlando, that again is another great opportunity to get involved.

    Erica Powell:

    Awesome. Those are all great pieces of advice. This conversation has been riveting. I really appreciate both of you for joining us on this podcast today. Just real fast, I want to highlight some of the links that we kind of talked about and resources that are available out there for you to get involved today, which is how to join a TC. So go to the ASHRAE.org website and go to their Technical Committee page and click on "Apply for a TC" and go through the list and find one that you like. Also, visit the Young Engineers of ASHRAE page on ASHRAE.org and go to their events and programs page, and you'll see the applications for those leadership programs that will take you to a conference. So to close this out here, I would also like to wrap up with a short anecdote about my own personal experience with ASHRAE.

    First, I want to remind anyone who is new to this industry or has just graduated school and is approaching ASHRAE with fresh eyes that we have all been where you are. I've been where you are. Sarah, Billy on this podcast have been where you are, and I'm sure society president, Ginger Scoggins would agree that we all had to start somewhere. If after this podcast you are still struggling for guidance and how to navigate ASHRAE, I would suggest just like Sarah and Billy mentioned to just make the ask. ASHRAE members are some of the nicest and most helpful people I've ever met.

    At my very first conference, I worked up the nerve to ask a pretty basic question in the middle of a packed room full of very smart people, much smarter than me, and it absolutely terrified me. After the session concluded, I had about four people come up to me afterwards. They introduced themselves, they asked me about myself, welcomed me to the conference and to ASHRAE and gave me their contact information, insisting that if I had any questions, I should reach out to them. And that story has really stuck with me.

    The important part of that is that I might've not had the opportunity to make those connections if I hadn't put myself out there first. And if I can do it, so can you. So my advice to you is explore the leadership programs that ASHRAE has to offer. Go to a conference, go to a local chapter meeting, or ask to help out on the chapter's board of governors with the goal of making just one new connection. ASHRAE is like a domino effect. As soon as you make that first connection, the rest will follow. So good luck and if you are feeling stuck along the way, you can always reach out to me. Erica Powell, Southern Piedmont Chapter, signing off.

    ASHRAE Journal:

    The ASHRAE Journal podcast team is editor Drew Champlin; managing editor Kelly Barraza; producer and associate editor, Chadd Jones; associate editor, Tani Palefski; and technical editor, Rebecca Matyasovski. Copyright ASHRAE. The views expressed in this podcast are those of individuals only and not of ASHRAE, its sponsors or advertisers. Please refer to ASHRAE.org/podcast for the full disclaimer.