Bob Lutz and Tracy Barnhart join us to talk about the 2023 AASHTO re:source Technical Exchange. Registration just opened, so learn what attendees can expect from this unique event.
AASHTO re:source Q&A Podcast Transcript
Season 3, Episode 31: Talking TechEX
Recorded: November 29, 2022
Released: December 6, 2022
Hosts: Brian Jonson, AASHTO Accreditation Program Manager; Kim Swanson, Communications Manager, AASHTO re:source
Guests: Robert (Bob) Lutz, AASHTO re:source Manager and Tracy Barnhart, Quality Manager at AASTHO re:source
Transcribed by Kim Swanson and MS Teams.
[Theme music fades in.]
[00:00:02] Announcer: Welcome to AASHTO resource Q & A. We're taking time to discuss construction materials, testing, and inspection with people in the know from exploring testing problems and solutions to laboratory best practices and quality management, we're covering topics important to you. Now here our host, Brian Jonson.
[00:00:20] Brian: Welcome to AASHTO resource Q&A. I'm Brian Johnson.
[00:00:23] Kim: And I'm Kim Swanson. And we have a very exciting episode today. Are you excited, Brian?
[00:00:29] Brian: I am because our boss is on.
[00:00:32] Kim: Yes, and it's always super exciting for that. We have two very special guests today. We have Robert Lutz and Tracy Barnhart. And what are they here to talk about today, Brian?
[00:00:44] Brian: Well, they're going to talk about the 2023 Technical Exchange, which is going to be held in Fort Worth, TX, March 27th to the 30th.
[00:00:55] Kim: Yes, thank you for being here, Tracy and Bob.
[00:00:58] Tracy: Thanks for having me.
[00:00:59] Bob: Glad to be here.
[00:01:01] Kim: So, this is not a new event for AASHTO resource. How long have we been doing this, Tracy?
[00:01:07] Tracy: This is actually going to be our 6th event. I wouldn't say our 6th annual event because in 2020 we all know what happened and we had to cancel our event due to COVID just I think it was a couple weeks prior to that event. So technically it would have been seven, but this is #6.
[00:01:28] Kim: Bob, why did we start this event?
[00:01:30] Bob: We started this event really with a kind of a simple mission, which was to bring people from the industry together and bring questions and answers together and just talk about them in and share. But you know, I heard something on your Thanksgiving episode, in which Gary Pasquarell - Hi Gary - said something about the Technical Exchange, and he said something along the lines of he's thankful for the camaraderie that we're building in the industry and that was awesome to hear. And what a compliment that was never really our mission. And if he thinks we're accomplishing that and others do, I'm thrilled. I think we're all thrilled. Because that's even more than we wanted to accomplish. So, I you know, that's what we're shooting for, not only. Finding answers to problems and to questions but. Bringing people together, people getting to know each other and learn from each other and network and all that.
[00:02:37] Kim: And Tracy, what can attendees expect from the 2023 event?
[00:02:42] Tracy: We have a lot of great sessions planned for 2023 to expand a little bit on what Bob was saying. We used the term exchange and Technical Exchange because we want people to exchange best practices, ideas, suggestions, et cetera with each other and with that in mind, we have created a draft agenda. I think we have about 33 sessions planned for this event. We have some returning favorites that we typically include every. Every year or every other year, and then we also have new sessions. Some of the new sessions we have planned are trends in the asphalt industry, control charts for equipment, Quality manager 201. We've done a 101 before, but we've never done a deeper dive into a 201. We're planning an employee retention and engagement panel. And I think something that a lot of people would be excited about is how to audit to AASHTO R18. So, we're excited about those sessions.
[00:03:43] Brian: Tracy, you mentioned a panel what, what kind of different sessions do we have? So we've got regular just you sit there and you listen to what the speaker has to say. You've got panels. What else happens?
[00:03:55] Tracy: We have workshops as well. We try to stray from the typical conference session where someone's just standing in the front of the room, the presenter and they're presenting on a particular topic and everybody's kind of bored and not engaged in what's going on. We do encourage all of our speakers to get the attendees engaged in the conversation and the topic at hand. So again, it's really an exchange that focus on an exchange where the speaker is always asking questions of the attendees in their sessions. We're going to be having people work in small groups on things and some sessions in a workshop type setting. A little bit of everything for different types of learners. Some people prefer lecture format, some people prefer more of a workshop form workshop format, so it's going to be a mixture of those.
[00:04:40] Brian: And how many of the presenters are our staff?
[00:04:44] Tracy: I think it's about half. I think we have half AASHTO resource presenters and the other half are industry experts, subject matter experts.
[00:04:54] Brian: And how many of the staff presentations are you and I giving this year?
[00:04:58] Tracy: Well, not as many as in 2022. If anyone was there, Brian and I seemed to cover about half of these sessions in 2022. In 2023, I think I'm only doing maybe a couple, Brian, I think I think you're doing maybe a couple of them.
[00:05:13] Brian: I think we cut back. You know what, though? I enjoyed it, I enjoyed it and one of the my favorite things as a presenter at Technical Exchange are those sessions where you look around the room and you try to find people who haven't been involved in the discussions and you just know that they probably have some things that they want to say but they maybe they require somebody to ask them directly for them to feel comfortable enough to get involved. And then it usually seems like those people come out of their shell. Almost instantly, once you start getting, getting them going and it's great to see them at these meetings and participating.
[00:05:52] Tracy: Yeah, I love that too. Definitely just kind of gauging the room again. It's a totally different format from a typical type of conference that you may have attended in the past where we're encouraging you a lot to participate in in what's going on, but that's fine if you are too shy to do that. But I agree with you that people do come out of their shells. They're passionate about the topics that we're discussing. They want to learn more from their peers, and they want to contribute to the conversation.
[00:06:21] Brian: And along those lines we we've got other presenters from the industry, right, what sectors do they come from or what type of presentations can people expect to see from non-staff members?
[00:06:34] Tracy: We have Benjamin Trujillo uh returning to do a session on the Quality Manager 101 session, as well as his new Quality Manager 201 session. He's been working in quality forever. He now has his own consulting company. We have Gary Pasquarell returning to give a presentation on special inspections and Bob mentioned Gary at the beginning of the podcast. Michelle Wolf, from the US Geological Survey, she's also a returning presenter. She's going to talk to us about quality tools, so we have lots of different people from the industry with different perspectives.
[00:07:15] Bob: I'd like to mention Tom Taylor. The returning he's been with us from the very beginning. He's a lifer and he'll be doing Lab Manager 101 and 201. And we have to give a shout out to Kyle Kluchewski as well. Our favorite Canadian who will be there and will be heavily involved as always.
[00:07:36] Kim: So, looking at the at the draft agenda that we have posted and listeners can go to aashtoresource.org/ events and then click on the link for the event and you can see the draft agenda and schedule. But Tracy mentioned we have panelists and workshops, but what can attendees expect from the roundtable sessions on the draft agenda that we have showing?
[00:07:59] Bob: Well, the neat thing about the roundtable sessions is that they're really are attendee led, so it will have staff there or a guest speaker or whoever, and the discussion will go wherever the attendees want it to go. So, it won't necessarily be a specific topic. It may be a specific program, for example like the. Proficiency, sample program, and John Malusky and Ryan La Quay will show up and just have an open Q&A. Whatever is on people's minds, whatever they want to ask, wherever the conversations go, that's where they will go and round and round, we go.
[00:08:40] Brian: I had a roundtable session last year. And it was great. The people that showed up. They completely took over the conversation. You know, I was supposed to lead it, moderate it. I didn't have to do anything. Now, that wasn't what I liked the most about it. I liked the conversation that they had. But it was it was so organic. And it was so interesting. And the people that came got a lot out of it. So, I would encourage everybody to check out those roundtable sessions this year.
[00:09:10] Tracy: Yeah, Brian. And remember, we did a corrective action session last year together and had a lot of engagement from our attendees. And I know next year in 2023, you're actually Bob and Maria Knake. They're actually planning a roundtable for root cause analysis and actually separating that out from the corrective action session. And they'll get into a lot of those organic conversations that you mentioned. I think that sessions going to be really helpful and fun for people to work through some problem solving.
[00:09:40] Bob: I'm glad you mentioned that Tracy. I'm excited about this too, because we're going to ask attendees to bring their problems to us. They're lab problems. That is the any type of lab issue or problem they're having. And we're going to go through the root cause analysis process and the corrective action process together as a group and try to solve some of these real-world lab issues together. I think that's going to be pretty cool.
[00:10:12] Kim: So there sounds like there is a lot of sessions planned for everybody in the lab. Tracy, who's really the ideal attendee? Who should be registering for this event?
[00:10:23] Tracy: This event is actually great for all of our customers, laboratory managers, laboratory directors, quality managers, anyone that's supervises people in a laboratory, technicians, people new to construction materials testing. Maybe you just started working in a laboratory and you'd get a lot out of our 101 sessions like Quality Manager 101, Laboratory Manager 101. Really, it runs the gamut of any organization. I think everyone would get a lot out of attending the event. And as we mentioned, it's actually a lot of fun too. You don't a lot of people you go to a conferencing, don't expect to have fun. But I think we have fun together – the AASHTO resource staff - with and with our guest speakers and then we liked the attendees to have a good time as well. And I'm not just talking about our offsite events or our receptions, but during the actual sessions, there's a lot of laughter. It's very light, but we're tackling serious issues and working through serious problems. So, it's a great unique event.
[00:11:24] Kim: So, you mentioned some of those more fun events and other networking opportunities that are not just in the sessions. Bob, do you have any insights of what attendees can expect for some of those off-site events and things that are not necessarily part of the agenda?
[00:00:00] Bob: That's my favorite part. So, we will start on Monday night with an ice breaker welcoming reception. And that's always a great way to kick things off, to see who's there. And maybe, since we're going to be in Fort Worth in late March, maybe we can even be outside because I'm. I'm hoping for, whether it's maybe in the 70s, nice and warm and sunny. So that'll be a fun event and a great way to kick things off. We always have. Or so far, anyhow, we've always had an off-site event on the Wednesday night during the week and these have always been a big hit and talk about fun. We've had a lot of fun and so we're planning something for 2023 as well. An offsite event. Don't know exactly where it's going to be at or exactly what we're going to be doing, but I can promise you because Kamasha Hendrickson is involved and Tracy's involved, that they'll be planning something really special and a good time for everybody. A lot of times there's music and sometimes there's dancing, so that's always a fun and awkward time to look forward to. And then we, so we had a meeting earlier today too. Tracy leads us on some weekly planning meetings for this event. And she mentioned then you can fill in the details, Tracy, if you want, but we might do something in addition to those events, maybe a. Ohm Ohh scavenger hunt. That's the word I was looking for something fun that people can do on their own, or I guess they can do it as a group but participate if they want. If they don't. But I think it would be something fun to do, but also at the same time get to know a little bit more about Fort Worth and check out the area. I have not ever been to Fort Worth, so I'm really looking forward to it, especially that time of year. But I do know that Tracy was there a few years ago for an event and really enjoyed herself and enjoyed Fort Worth so. Maybe she can speak to that a little bit more.
[00:13:53] Tracy: Yeah, I had never been to Fort Worth either, until I went to a conference there a few years ago and I absolutely loved it. The downtown areas, very charming and has a great vibe and lots of restaurants and shops. And I came back, and I said to Bob and Kamasha our meeting planner, I said we really should consider Fort Worth. I think people would really enjoy this. So, I'm excited that that panned out.
[00:14:18] Kim: Brian, I have a question for you. You've been a part of all of these events and seeing how attendees have interacted and things like that, what are some of the networking opportunities that attendees have at the technical exchange? You want to talk about that a little bit?
[00:14:33] Brian: Sure. And network opportunities abound at the Technical Exchange from breakfast to the different sessions to the breaks to the evening events. It's constant and you're, you know, if you mix up your agenda, you have an opportunity to engage with all kinds of different people who are in different sectors in our industry. You might be talking to a calibration provider or a somebody who specializes in training or certification. You could talk to DOTs. You could talk to other agency people or producers of materials or equipment suppliers, LIMS providers, is it like a development? You know IT development type folks and plenty of people from our staff as well. So, there are a lot of different answers you can get to questions or just experience. And of course, just talking about things outside of the industry is always meaningful and interesting. And callback calling back to what Bob was saying earlier about Garry’s input, but is it really has created an opportunity for people to make friends in the industry and to build meaningful connections with people and those are long lasting connections that can help them, grow and learn and solve problems when they run into them later.
[00:16:12] Kim: I'm going to shout out to a previous episode where we talked about authentic networking. If you want to have some insights about networking and things like that and how to get started and how to build those connections as well. So just a little plug for that.
[00:16:23] Bob: Kim, I just want to follow up briefly on what one of the things that Brian mentioned regarding network and that is we have sponsorship and vendor opportunities available for this event and these have been really great events for those people. We make a very intentional effort to give them space where they're going to get a lot of traffic and we really encourage people to visit the vendors. We do things that motivate people to go talk to the vendors and from all the conversations I've had with our vendors and sponsors that they have been well received, they've gotten a lot of traffic, a lot of good connections, networking so. If you are in that category and would like to be a sponsor or somebody who's in some sort of vendor who would like to have space to exhibit at the 2023 Technical Exchange, please reach out to us and we'll put you in touch with the right people.
[00:17:28] Kim: If you go to the event website where you would register, there is a tab for sponsorship, so to exhibit and sponsors. So, you can find details there. Or again as Bob said, you can reach out to any of us, and we can direct you to the right people.
[00:17:42] Brian: So, after hearing all this exciting information about the 2023 Technical Ex change, I'm sure people are wondering how do I get signed up and how do I get signed up soon enough so I don't miss out on registering before we hit the registration limit. Tracy, do you want to give us some details on that?
[00:18:00] Tracy: Think we're shooting for and expecting about 250 people at this event. It is our intention to not have a huge number of people attending the event because then you lose the intimacy of the small group discussions. We will have three sessions going on at one time but we don't want to have 200 people in one session because again, it's hard to answer questions and network with that many people. But I think we'll hit that goal. We're excited about it and the we just keep focusing on continual improvement with the event every time we have the event, we ask for feedback and we implement the feedback where we can and hopefully that'll motivate even more people to try it out.
[00:18:48] Kim: Speaking of feedback, every year we end the Technical Exchange with a session with the Q&A session. Bob, do you want to tell a little bit people what they can expect about with that last session and what kind of the good things that we've talked about and have come from that in the past?
[00:19:04] Bob: It's a wrap up session. First of all, just to talk about the 2023 event or in this case the 2023 event and ask people what they thought, what they liked, what they didn't like chance for them to ask questions, maybe that they didn't get answered during the week or new questions that they have. We also asked them for their feedback and their ideas about the next year is meeting and in 2024, which by the way will be held somewhere in AASHTO Region 1 which is the Northeast. So, keep that in mind for 2024. And last but not least, we have our prize drawings too, so we always have some prizes we give out, usually one big, exciting prize. And then we adjourned. And that it's usually wraps up around noon on Thursday. This will be Thursday, March 30th. And that gives people the opportunity to either get home that day if they want to or to hang out and check out Fort Worth a little bit more before they have to go back home.
[00:20:07] Kim: So. Looking on the registration website now and I know I know the difference of these, but I know it can be confusing for some of our attendees when they register. We have two registration prices listed on the website, one for member and non member Tracy. Do you kind of want to explain the difference of that?
[00:20:29] Brian: Sure, a member is a member of AASHTO, which would be a State Department of Transportation employee. Nonmembers would be anyone else who might attend. So, people from private industry f or example. The one exception would be people who are presenting, if you're a speaker and you have put together a presentation for the technical exchange, yourregistration would be comped. So, if you are thinking about 2024 and you have something that you might want to present and that idea of having your registration comped might make it a little easier for you to get approval. Uh, you can let us know, and maybe we can find a slot for you in 2024.
[00:21:24] Kim: Yeah. And just to go back to the non-member versus Member, I know I get questions about it. AASHTO Accredited Laboratories are not considered AASHTO members. And so that is a distinction that we want to make sure that that you're registering the correct way because we will have to go through and correct that registration if you select the wrong one. So, although AASHTO accreditation has many benefits, one is not a discounted price at the technical exchange. So I just wanted to throw that out there too, because I know I've gotten questions about that as well.
[00:21:57] Brian: I know that some of the people that listen to the podcast reside outside of North America and I, I would say if you are interested in some of the topics that we cover, I encourage you to try to get to the Technical Exchange and meet us and meet some of the people in the industry and the United States. And I think it might be a rewarding experience for you. So if you're not sure about any of it and you're listening to this, feel free to reach out to me. Or you can send an e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org, operators are standing by. We'd love to hear from you and we'd love to see at the Technical Exchange.
[00:22:38] Kim: Is there anything else that we missed about the event that you want to make sure people are aware of, Tracy?
[00:22:43] Tracy: I just want to say that honestly, we absolutely love this event. It's a tremendous amount of work, a lot of planning goes into it. It does stress us out on that end, but once we're there, we just love seeing our customers and attendees interacting with each other, with us, having these networking opportunities that that Brian discussed. The energy is just really positive, and we love the feedback that we get from the event, and we do take the feedback very seriously and we always do what we can to improve the event as we go forward.
[00:23:18] Kim: Bob, do you have anything that you want to add?
[00:23:21] Bob: I do this podcast is going to be dropped in early December and as of that date, we are still looking for the right person who's willing and able to be our keynote speaker. So, I thought I'd throw that out there. It's a short gig, maybe only 20 minutes on the opening morning of the meeting on March 28th and it doesn't have to be somebody from the construction materials testing industry, but it should be somebody who's excited about learning who's excited about maybe workforce development issues, diversity issues, somebody who likes to talk and somebody who can bring some energy and inspiration to that opening morning. So, if you are that person or do you think maybe, you know that person? Please again reach out and try and put us in touch.
[00:24:15] Brian: I did want to say something too, about how people can prepare. I think that the most important thing when you show up for the Technical Exchange is just be prepared to be open and share information with those around you. It really is. I mean, I know you hear this sometime in different meetings, but it really is a safe space to talk about what's going on. And yeah, there might be some competitors there or other people that maybe you're embarrassed to share some information with. There's things that about things that are going wrong or things that you wish were little different. But I can tell you in all the years that we've done it, I've seen nothing but positive discussions when people are open and honest about the issues that they face, and they always find people who are happy to help and help them solve those problems. And I feel like the more time goes by, the more positive the response has been about some of those open and honest discussions that people have had in those sessions. And that includes us too. People do ask questions about things that they weren't happy about sometimes or things that they wish they were different with our processes. And we're happy to be open and honest with everybody in there. And I think that's one of it from our perspective, that's a real benefit. I love when people talk about hings so that we can either. Express what is going on our side to explain. Maybe some complications people didn't understand or gives us the opportunity to solve that problem. But we're, we'll, we'll, we'll own up to it for sure. If there's an issue.
[00:25:50] Tracy: I agree, Brian. I think we try to be very transparent always, especially at the Technical Exchange. And we admit our mistakes and explain how we corrected them. You know, we make mistakes just like everyone else does and we're not afraid to share that information. And I think that helps create that safe space. Not only are we expecting attendees to share information, but we do it ourselves.
[00:26:15] Kim: Those are good points by all to wrap up in case we didn't say it enough, the 2023 AASHTO resource Technical Exchange will be March 27th through 30th in Fort Worth, TX. I will say Monday the 27th is the pre-conference sessions. There are two preconference sessions. They start at 1:00 o'clock so you have time to get in in the morning if that is what you want. But the full kick off it will be on Tuesday, March 28th so and then we end on Thursday, March 30th around noon. So, if you need a plan accordingly for that. Thank you very much for being our guest today, Bob and Tracy.
[00:26:57] Tracy: Enjoyed talking about it.
[00:26:58] Bob: Appreciate it. Thank you. See in Fort Worth.
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