He's the Voice of Civil Engineering: Patrick Natale Named Outstanding NCE Alum

Patrick Natale, executive director of the American Society of Civil Engineers, was named an Outstanding Alumnus by NCE.

Patrick Natale is one of the nation's leading advocates of civil engineering.

As executive director of the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE), Natale represents 140,000 civil engineers. He directs a staff of 250 employees as well as 6,000 volunteers. The society advances civil engineering on several fronts: It develops codes and standards; publishes journals, magazines and books; runs continuing education classes and lobbies the federal government on how to maintain the nation’s infrastructure. Every four years, the society also publishes its Report Card for America’s Infrastructure.

Natale, recently named an Outstanding Alumnus by NCE, is passionate about the role that civil engineers play in safeguarding America’s environment.

“Civil engineers design the buildings and bridges, the roads and reservoirs, the tunnels and airports as well as the water and sewer systems without which our economy could not function,” says Natale, who earned a civil engineering degree in 1970 and a master’s in engineering management in 1975 from NJIT.

Natale has been executive director of ASCE, the nation’s oldest national professional engineering society, since 2002.

“The public only notices infrastructure when it fails,” he says. “If your road is smooth it’s fine. If a bridge works it’s fine. If the water in your house is clean it’s fine. But when these things fail, everyone notices.”

In Natale’s role with ASCE, he must explain to the public, and to Washington, the importance of investing in infrastructure. It’s also his role to explain that civil engineers possess the technical and design skills to watch over the infrastructure.

Maintaining the nation’s infrastructure is kind of like maintaining the roof on your house, explains Natale. You don’t notice the roof until it leaks. You take the roof for granted. But if your roof springs a leak and you ignore it, the roof goes and your house is hurt. Yet if you fix the leak right away, you preserve your roof and safeguard your house.

“Civil engineers can tell us when our infrastructure needs attention,” he says. “They are the stewards of our environment.”

Before ASCE, Natale had another job promoting engineering. He was the Executive Director of the National Society of Professional Engineers (NSPE), a national group of 60,000 licensed engineers from all fields, not just civil.

And prior to that, he had a long career as an engineer and manager at the Public Service Electric and Gas Company (PSE&G) of N.J. During his 28-year career there, he managed sales, marketing, strategic planning and customer service. He also led PSE&G’s effort to develop the systems to deregulate New Jersey’s energy market.

The work he did at PSE&G earned the company millions of dollars of revenue while also convincing consumers to switch to more environmentally friendly fuels. “It was a win-win situation,” he says.

By Robert Florida