We are giving listeners a sneak peek into the planning of the 2024 AASHTO re:source Technical Exchange and sharing details about what they can expect from this unique industry event.
AASHTO re:source Q&A Podcast Transcript
Season 4, Episode 28: Sneak Peek into TechEx 2024
Recorded: November 13, 2023
Released: December 5, 2023
Hosts: Brian Johnson, AASHTO Accreditation Program Director; Kim Swanson, Communications Manager, AASHTO re:source
Guests: Bob Lutz, AASHTO re:source Director; Tracy Barnhart, Quality Manager, AASHTO re:source
Note: Please reference AASHTO re:source and AASHTO Accreditation Program policies and procedures online for official guidance on this, and other topics.
Transcription is auto-generated.
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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’s our host, Brian Johnson.
00:00:23 BRIAN: welcome to AASHTO Resource Q and A I'm Brian Johnson.
00:00:25 KIM: And I'm Kim Swanson.
00:00:26 BRIAN: Today on AASHTO Resource Q&A, we're going to talk about an upcoming event, our 7th Annual AASHTO Resource Technical Exchange with us to talk about this event. Are Bob Lutz, the director of AASHTO resource and can I say you're the brain behind this event. The founding idea originator is that giving you too much credit?
00:00:52 BOB: I think that sounds wonderful to me, founding Father. Brains. That's perfect.
00:00:57 BRIAN: Alright, we'll go with that. And we also have Tracy Barnhart, who handles a lot of the planning and. Organizing and poking and prodding that is required to make this event happen, Tracy is our quality manager and reluctant guest on AASHTO Resource Q&A. Tracy, welcome [TRACY: Thanks Brian.] The 7th Annual Technical Exchange is going to be held where Tracy?
00:01:23 TRACY: In Cambridge, MA, just across the river from Boston.
00:01:27 BRIAN: And that is going to be when.
00:01:29 TRACY: March 18th through the 21st.
00:01:32 BRIAN: 2024.
00:01:33 KIM: And you'll see all of our event information on the website and our social media does just say Boston, MA and not. Cambridge, now at the time of this recording registration for the event, has not quite opened yet, but it may be opened when you're listening to this episode. Either way, details can be found on our website, AASHTOresource.org/events, so be sure to check there frequently because we. Will make updates. To that link and to that page. As details are finalized, so be sure to check back often.
00:02:05 BRIAN: Bob, can you tell us what's the whole point of the technical exchange? What can people expect and why might they want to be attending this event?
00:02:13 BOB: The whole point is really just to get people together, to talk to their peers about common issues and. Problems we don't have all the answers, but I think collectively the industry does. And so that's the reason we called it an exchange, an exchange of information related to, yes, technical things, but also a lot of quality management related topics, accreditation topics and over the years. We've expanded even way beyond that. So we talked about things like workforce development and project management is going to be one of the new sessions that. We're having this year, but. Again, just to to bring people together, to to talk and learn from each. Why actual resource? Why are we making that attempt to bring these people in our industry together, Bob? People see us as a resource and they see us as a problem solver. We have a lot of contact with people in this industry in various forms.
00:03:18 BOB: But there's never been. A meeting like this there, there are a lot of related industry meetings, but nothing that brings this group of people together, laboratory managers, quality managers, engineers, even owners of companies, training managers. It's just not out there. So why us? Because we saw the need in our customers. Saw the need. So we thought, look, if we don't do it, looks like nobody else is going to do it. So we decided that it was also a good fit for what we're trying to do with our mission. So back in. 2017 we gave it a try for the first time. And it's been successful beyond what we really could have imagined.
00:04:04 BRIAN: Yeah, it has been successful. We've had. Great attendance every year.
00:04:09 KIM: Speaking of attendance, I was looking back at the numbers and I saw that in 2017. When we had our first technical exchange, we had over 160 participants. But I know last year we had quite a bit more, Tracy, how many participants did we have last year?
00:04:27 TRACY: I think we were pretty close to 270, maybe plus or minus a couple on that. We were thrilled with the turnout in in Fort Worth, TX, that was by far the most attendance we've had in person. We did have more attendees than that at our virtual event in 2020. The one but beyond that for the on site, we broke all of the records in Fort Worth in 2023.
00:04:51 KIM: And what are we expecting for the 2024 event in Boston?
00:04:56 TRACY: I would say we are shooting for around 250 attendees. That's what we are planning for and we hope to get there and possibly exceed that number.
00:05:04 KIM: Is there a reason? Why we're aiming for 250.
00:05:07 TRACY: When we first started this event, we anticipated not having an enormous amount of people attending because as Bob mentioned earlier, it's about an exchange of information. We want to keep the group relatively small. We typically have 3 tracks of sessions going on at a given. Time to break up the group into thirds, but we didn't want to have 500 people at each session because it would be really hard to network with your peers at a session that large 250 is is kind of a round Number for us that we shoot for for that reason. Sure, we'd like to have a few more people than that, but we don't ever. Anticipate or even want to have 1000 people attending this conference.
00:05:49 BOB: Tracy and I don't always agree. Generally we do. I would love. It if someday we had 1000 people at this meeting because that would mean that the impact of this meeting is reaching farther and farther into the industry and and hitting more and more people. So if that happens someday, I'd be, I'd be thrilled. I just don't want to be the one planning it.
00:06:13 TRACY: We'll both be retired when that happens.
00:06:15 KIM: To what Tracy said, that part of. The uniqueness of this event is that it's small and it is not so big. So I think with the challenge of 1000 person event, let's say you do would lose something in the networking possibilities or it would look much different. Not saying that's impossible. So I think it would definitely change the way it looks and what the agenda is like if it was much bigger.
00:06:40 BRIAN: Let's get into how we accomplish these things that Bob was talking about earlier. You know, we have these goals and reasons behind why we hold the AASHTO resource technical exchange. How do we make it happen? What's the process on our end to facilitate these meetings?
00:06:57 TRACY: Process begins with a post event survey that I send out to all attendees of the previous technical exchange, and I hound people to get as much feedback as I possibly can. And big part of the feedback that's important to us is what should we put on the agenda for next year. So I will put 40 or 50 topics on the feedback form and ask attendees new topics that we haven't discussed before at the technical exchange and ask attendees which of these are of interest to you. And then we take a look at that data and start from there. When we're planning a draft agenda, we start with topics that are of the most interest to people. And it also helps us weed out topics that maybe we really don't need to consider, including on the agenda when we begin planning for the event. And then around, I would say around August of each year, Bob and I.
00:07:53 TRACY: Uh, get together and have a meeting and for about a couple of hours and we just create a draft agenda based on that information. We're also including some topics on the agenda each time the same topics, because we realize that there are quite a few new attendees that have never attended the technical exchange in the past. So we want to make sure that we include the basic topics that we've always included accreditation 101 sessions on AASHTO R18, things of that nature, but we also want to include at least 50% new topics that we haven't included before or new ways of presenting the topics. Maybe it was a presentation. Before in this time, we're going to handle it with a workshop or a round table discussion or a panel. So that's where the planning begins. And then Brian and Kim, as you know, we start having weekly planning meetings for the technical exchange. We meet every Tuesday around 1:00 with the planning team and we go over the agenda and start plugging people into each session. Who do we want to be the speakers.
00:09:02 TRACY: The guest speakers, the guest panelists, and start talking about sponsors and things of that nature. So that's kind of where we are now some. Things could possibly change, but we think we have the agenda pretty well set the way we anticipate it looking in March.
00:09:19 BRIAN: Yeah, I know. We still have some work to do because I'm one of the people who is also helping with trying to figure out who's presenting and trying to get them signed up. And we still have a couple of slots to fill for speakers, but. You know, as far as professional conferences are concerned, one thing that I would say that we do a pretty good job of is finding those people who are actually experts, not just expert presenters about things, because then you get some real world experience, right? How do we find these people?
00:09:53 TRACY: A lot of it is the connections that we have in the industry we're familiar with so many people in so many different roles. In the industry, from dot to private industry, we just reach out directly to people who we know are subject matter experts and ask to see if they want to participate or people who have attended the technical exchange at least once in the past. Definitely people have attended many times. As you mentioned, some people maybe aren't even comfortable. Being presenters, they are subject matter experts, so we may ask them to be on a panel instead of actually giving a formal presentation. And they're usually a little. Bit more comfortable. With that, where they would just sit in the front of the room and answer some questions rather than have to prepare a formal presentation. I also ask on that post event feedback form if anyone is interested in participating in any capacity in the technical exchange and we do some reach out based on that information as well.
00:10:49 BRIAN: Yeah, that seems to work pretty well. Now, Bob, can you tell us about some of what Tracy was just mentioning with it? You know, we have panels, we have presentations, how do we mix it up in a way that an attendee can get a good sampling? Of all of the different types of meetings and the different subjects that we have to offer, because I think it was mentioned that there are several tracks, meaning that there are several options in each time slot for people to attend different sessions.
00:11:17 BOB: As Tracy mentioned exactly that one of. The things that. We do is have three simultaneous tracks and for the most part one of those tracks is technical matters. One of them is quality related or accreditation related, and one of them is. Is other for lack of a a better term. In each time. Slot we try to provide variety, but we also try to provide variety in the in the type of format, the type of presentations going back to 2017. I think most of the sessions were pretty much presentations. Like a single speaker talking to the audience with a lot of slides, of course. Although they from the very beginning, we did try to make it interactive. But that's really been a focus over the years, is trying to make it more interactive. And as this event has evolved, we have found success and interest in other types of formats like round tables and panel sessions. So that's another way that we've tried to mix it up and give people a variety.
00:12:24 BOB: We probably are going to have more panel sessions this year coming up in 2024 than we've ever had before because. People really seem to respond well to that. It gives us a chance to attract some other people from outside of our organization. They don't have to do as much prep work, they just need to bring themselves and bring their expertise. And we moderate and try and ask good questions to get the conversation going. And I think people really. They like that Glenn. They do want to hear from us as presenters and speakers, but they also want to hear from their. Years, especially on certain subjects, you know, we're still trying to find our sweet spot, but I think we have found a really good blend, not only of the types of sessions, but the different formats as.
00:13:07 BRIAN: Well, yeah, Tracy, you know, you you're you're always coming through this feedback. What kind of issues or interest that people have in in coming to see people from our staff. Speak at the technical exchange. Why do they want to come? And see us.
00:13:20 TRACY: People love meeting the staff from AASHTO Resource. Most of the people that attend this event never really see us. They just hear from us via e-mail or maybe talk to us on the phone. They love the in person interaction with us, putting a face to the name, for example. All the customer feedback forms for the laboratory assessment program come back to me in the mail. They see my name on an envelope, but they have never actually met me before. So they enjoy that interaction. They really do. Love that they love hearing from us. They love that we are moderating the sessions as Bob had mentioned. And they feel very comfortable asking us questions about any issues that they might have. We are typically hanging around at the booth, the ashtray resource booth, in between and during sessions, and people can just come on over and and talk to us and really ask us anything that they would like to ask. And then we have a closing session every time we do a technical exchange.
00:14:22 TRACY: Where they can do just that, they can ask us anything at all about anything that they've learned during the week at the technical exchange or any questions that they have about our programs and services. And they see that we are actually real. Nice, normal people that want to be helpful and are eager to answer their questions.
00:14:41 BRIAN: I was not so sure about.
00:14:41 KIM: I mean, I was gonna say normal.
00:14:42 BRIAN: That one, they're not.
00:14:45 KIM: I don't know about that, but we are nice. I can guarantee that we are nice, normal, maybe not.
00:14:51 TRACY: That's subjective, so yeah.
00:14:54 BRIAN: It is and and I know I've moderated quite a few of the round tables and I. That's kind of a unique experience for attendees too, in that they are basically the star of the show. We often get very positive feedback from attendees that go to the round tables because they get to ask their peers whatever they want, and there's all sorts of great stuff that comes out of that. Sometimes going in. And I might be a little nervous thinking. Well, I don't know if anybody's going to even want to talk about this, because, I mean, it seemed like the last people that it's ended last year wanted to, but they might not be the same ones that show up this time. How's it going to go? And it always goes really well. So I'm really pleased with that. And I'm looking forward to more of those round tables. Not just because it's easy for me to prepare for because I don't have to prepare anything, but it's also probably the most enlightening sessions that we'll have. Where you just get a lot of real world experience being shared by people who aren't necessarily there to present. They're just there to share and exchange ideas and thoughts like Bob was saying earlier.
00:16:05 TRACY: You know, one of the most popular round tables. We do is. With Lab Manager 101 and 201 that Tom Taylor has done. Us people love that they're presented with a problem and they work together at their table to work through the problems and talk about how each of them handle that situation differently in their own facility. And it's just great for the information exchange that Bob mentioned. That's what they're there for, that exchange of information, it's it's a robust exchange. Of information on all topics that they encounter in their laboratories.
00:16:39 KIM: I think that exchange of information is really great for attendees on a couple different fronts. Yes, they're learning. About what other people have to say, but then I've always found it when you're sharing and you're looked upon as an expert, even just in a round table, kind of discussion, and someone's listening to what you have to say. It does build your own confidence of like I do know what I'm talking about, because I think everybody has some slight. Imposter syndrome there occasionally. Of like I don't should I share this like I don't know. What if people think I'm wrong? I think you know, just knowing like, hey, I don't even know the answer. And just like sharing that you don't know will help you relate and build those relationships with people and expand your professional network in that way of being authentically yourself and answering the questions the best you know. Wow. So I think that exchange is really what we're looking for, even if. You're not a. 100% sure or 100% confident. I think that's all. Is bringing yourself and to into the conversation. Is always a good idea at these events.
00:17:43 TRACY: Absolutely. And there's a tremendous amount of networking going on at this event as as Kim touched on there, people absolutely love that aspect of the event as well. They feel really comfortable talking to other people. They love meeting other people that are doing the same type of work that they're doing and you'll see people off on side conversations. All over the place during the event and during our off site events and our. And at that closing meeting and and people really make really good connections that they keep with them throughout their careers and they they walk away knowing that they have somebody that they can talk to about problems that might come up in the future. Now that they've made some significant networking opportunities there.
00:18:25 BRIAN: Yeah, let's talk about those outside events and things outside of sitting in a conference room. What kind of events can people expect at in AASHTO Resource Technical exchange?
00:18:36 BOB: One word fun and I I. Would not limit that, Brian. Just to the offsite events. I think another thing that makes this event a little bit unique is that we try to have a little bit of fun within the sessions too. Not goofy, but we do try to keep it light and we do believe that learning can be and should be fun and interesting as well. But beyond that? You know, we start day one with an icebreaker reception, which is a great way to to kick off the event, and in the light fashion we'll we'll get together Monday night for about an hour and a half inside the hotel. There just to get. To know each other in a very relaxed setting. But even before that, we always have we call pre conference events that afternoon for people who are interested. And Tracy and Trudy last year did a a great event that they're going to repeat, but just called it a beginners.
00:19:36 BOB: Guide to ask to resource and how the tech X. So if you've. Even if you've been, but especially if you've never been to tech X, that's a great way to learn about the event really before it. It starts and to get to. Know some of the people. We always have a signature off site event to on Wednesday night. I don't know where that's. Going to be. In the Cambridge, Boston area in 2024. But if history is a good predictor of what's going to happen, I can guarantee you it's going to be interesting. And fun you are likely to see people singing, dancing, being silly, letting loose a little bit. So we're gonna have some fun.
00:20:16 TRACY: I would like to say that you will not see Brian dancing.
00:20:19 BRIAN: No, no, you won't. I'm a, you know, I I like to have a good time here and there, but I am not a cut loose, singing, dancing and all that business. Yeah, no, I'm glad that you mentioned the ice breaker. That is one of the if you're coming to the.
00:20:32 KIM: Not yet, anyway.
00:20:39 BRIAN: Exchange. I recommend you do not try to just land like while that's going on. If you're flying in or arrive while that's going on and then not go to that when people are comfortable, they do a better job participating and engaging the following days and I found that to be the case even in regular sessions. You can kind of see. Things change throughout the week, so like at the beginning, some people are a little unsure of how much they want to participate. By the end they're talking about like when are we gonna do this? And you know, we're having a good time. We're meeting people communicating. So I I would really recommend that people jump right in when they show up to the technical exchange and take full advantage.
00:21:19 KIM: So as we're talking about these networking events and some of these off site and after hour events, is there additional cost for those kind of events?
00:21:29 TRACY: The registration fee will cover, of course, access to all of the content in the technical exchange every session, including the pre event sessions. The beginners guide to AASHTO Resource how to techx as well as the. Workshop on documenting your. LMS it also will include two breakfasts, 3 lunches and. At least two. : Evening receptions where we serve heavy horderves.
00:21:59 KIM: You mentioned that the attendees get all of the concept from the sessions included in the cost of. The event we do. Offer PDH's or professional development hours for attendees, so that's an added benefit, and you may use those for your different licensing or certifications. You may need those, and so those are available.
00:22:17 TRACY: And people love that because they can turn that into their work and and show that they've actually gotten even more bang for their buck by attend. The event.
00:22:27 BRIAN: Yeah. And you don't get copies of all the presentations because I know people always ask that.
00:22:32 KIM: No, no you can't. But Brian mentioned earlier what he's looking forward to most for 2024 and that was the round more round table discussions. But Tracy and Bob, what are you most looking forward to for these upcoming event?
00:22:50 TRACY: I'm looking forward to some of the sessions that we have planned that are. Brand new to the technical exchange to see how they will be received. I know we have planned a workshop on day one. It's a pre event workshop that Benjamin Trujillo is going to conduct on documenting your QMS and writing SOP's. That's something that we've not covered during the previous. Conferences and I think that will be a really popular one. We're doing a panel on project management. Again, that's something that we've never covered before. Dennis DeVos of ASQ is going to do a session on total quality management. So we're doing some things that are outside of the box that we've never presented on before or had on the agenda before. And I'm looking forward to seeing how those sessions are received and that that will help us for planning the following year's event.
00:23:48 KIM: Bob, what about you? What are you most looking forward to? As of now.
00:23:52 BOB: Well, the Wednesday night event of course, is that's the highlight of the week for me always. I am looking forward to a couple of things first of. All we we have. Several stars of our show that I always look forward to seeing and hearing, Tracy mentioned Tom Taylor. Benjamin Trujillo. I want to give a shout out to Gary Pascorell. All three of them are amazing and I think have been with us pretty much since the beginning. I'm excited that Jennifer Hall. One of AASHTO's deputy directors and chief of staff is going to be with us to do. Keynote and also participate in a panel session about change management. I'm really looking forward to that one as well. And lastly, I would say I I think we're gonna have more member involvement in our sessions than we've ever had before. And when I say member to. Ask to that means. State DOT's, those are our members. And we have some several people I think lined up, including some people who have never been to tech X. So I always look forward to seeing what the first time attenders think about the event and how they react and how much they enjoy it.
00:25:00 BRIAN: Now, Bob, I I noticed I didn't make the list of stars of the show, but I will let that go. But you talked about some of the people who will be presenting and some of the people who are attending and and if I'm listening to this or I'm looking at descriptions and I'm not sure if I'm the right person to attend this, who are the right people? Who's the right audience for the technical exchange?
00:25:21 BOB: If you're listening. To this podcast. Then you definitely should be a tech X woman. If you're listening to the hash to resource Q&A podcast. Then you've definitely come to the right place. When we first started this event, we were thinking pretty much the lab technicians and lab managers for the most part. But we have seen quality managers, training managers, owners, engineers, educators. A wide range, I would say that if you are in this industry at all, then this event has something for you. The feedback that we get from the attendees continually blows me away. I on. I'm so proud of what we've done. But to to hear that feedback like this. This is. The best event that. I ever go to all year and and I. Love it, I think if. You have anything to do with the industry you should consider coming. I'm surprised too last year or I guess it really was this year, 2023. Earlier this year we have had a couple of our Members stay the whole week. Todd Whittington from North Carolina dot.
00:26:31 BOB: Jeff degrees from Iowa dot. They stayed the whole week and were very engaged. And to be honest, I wouldn't think that somebody in their position and with their experience would get much out of tech X that they both said to me that they. Got a lot. Out of tech X. So I really do believe no matter what your role is in this industry. That this can be a meaningful event for you.
00:26:58 TRACY: Another thing for people. To consider is possibly sending more than one person from their organization to the event. Not that we're trying to drum up additional business, but we do hear this a lot in the feedback where people say wow, I wish I would have sent my quality manager to this or my laboratory manager to this or they'll say I'm planning on sending three or four people. Next year. There, there were three things going on at the same time that I wish I was able to attend all three and I wasn't able to so it. I think it makes it a little bit easier to get the biggest bang for your buck is to send more than one person so you can have people going to alternate sessions at the same time and that's something that we encourage as well, especially for the larger organizations.
00:27:42 BRIAN: Yeah, I'm glad you mentioned that, that and that we are not just trying to drum up business. I know this sounds like a an infomercial. But Bob, what is our objective? Is this a money maker for AASHTO? Is this is the goal to bring in extra revenue for the technical exchange?
00:27:59 BOB: Absolutely not that. That never entered the conversation at best. And I mean. At best, this event is a break even event. It's strictly about getting people together to discuss common issues and learn from each other and continual improvement as that's part of our vision. But if you've ever planned one of these kind of events and I and I gotta give a shout. Out to Kamasha our. Meeting planner who is amazing having an event at a hotel is. Very, very costly, which leads me to my next really important point, and that is the importance of our sponsors and our vendors. They're really critical to this event to they add so much. We've been really, really fortunate. To have increased attendance from vendors, so I I hope that's.
00:28:51 BOB: Going to be. True in 2024 as well, we appreciate them being there. They're a vital component in the conversations as well, not just during the breaks at the booths. But they get involved in the sessions as well and they contribute so much to this event. We really could not pull off this event without the support of our sponsors and vendors.
00:29:15 TRACY: And we actually had a record number of. Sponsors for the 2023 event we had 17 sponsors which was fantastic not only for the event itself, but for those who are attending the event, who got a lot of positive feedback on that feedback form I mentioned from attendees that all of the vendors were providing products and services that they would actually use in their. Laboratory and the vendors get a. Lot out of the. Event itself just by talking to everybody, and we make sure that they get plenty of traffic. In that vendor area and we incorporate games and such so that, you know, people are always stopping by and asking about their products and services.
00:29:56 KIM: I would encourage everyone just to go to AASHTOresource.org/events and then click on the link for the registration site because you can. Get a full. Draft agenda there as well as information on if you want to be an exhibitor, you're hearing this you like? Actually, I think my organization would be great at this. And would love to sponsor the event or exhibit at the event. We would love your participation in that. And again, you can find all of that information at AASHTOresource.org/events and it will be on our social media. I can assure you of that and we'll be in the show notes to this episode as well.
00:30:32 BRIAN: Thanks for wrapping it up. Source technical exchange is March 18th through the 21st 2024 in Cambridge, MA, which is essentially Boston, MA. So hope to see you there. Thanks again, Bob and thanks Tracy for having a conversation with us today.
00:30:53 TRACY: You're very welcome.
00:30:54 BOB: Thanks, Brian and Kim for having us.
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