Volunteers have been the backbone of the Society since its founding in 1920. Whether it is by inspiring and providing resources for youth to pursue STEM careers, mentoring young professionals, or giving back to their communities through service projects, volunteers make up the lifeblood of SAME. During 2021 National Volunteers Week, we look back at the countless volunteers who have donated their time and resources over the last 100 years of the Society’s history and made a lasting impact on SAME’s efforts to help secure America’s future, together.
GUIDING THE NEXT GENERATION
One of the most lasting ways volunteers have made their impact on national security through SAME has been the establishment and continuance of Post scholarship programs that cultivate and nurture engineering talent. After World War II, there was a critical shortage of qualified students to take up the engineering mantle of the next generation, and so a grassroots movement of scholarship programs grew up across the Posts of the Society. “Industry and government should grant aid to college undergraduates by arranging to furnish summer employment, entering into more co-operative training programs with engineering schools whereby the students unable to pay their way may alternate short periods of employment and schooling,” Col. Lenox R. Lohr, USA, wrote in TME in 1954. Posts such as the Okinawa Post answered the call and distributed the details of their program through TME to serve as a foundational model for other Posts.
Since the 1950s, Post scholarships programs have continued to evolve, growing to provide over $1.1 million annually in scholarship funds to future engineer students. The longest-running Post scholarship program, the Scholarship Fund carried out by the New York City Post, celebrated its 65th year of service in 2020. Led by noted volunteers such as Col. Joseph Markel, USA (Ret.); Max Urbahn, FAIA; and Col. F.H. “Bud” Griffis, Ph.D., P.E., F.SAME, USA (Ret.) the fund has provided over $5 million over its lifetime in funds to engineering and architecture students.
Alongside the financial support Post scholarship programs provide for future engineers, volunteers at Posts have been instrumental in supporting local STEM organizations to inspire the next generation. Through contributions at science fairs, school clubs, and other volunteer organizations like MATHCOUNTS, members provide support with their time and resources to help carry out volunteer-fueled events. Over the years, these events have ranged from Cape Canaveral Post sponsoring a student project to track John Glenn’s flight in 1962 to members of the San Antonio Post visiting schools for school career days to offer insights on the architecture, engineering, and construction professions. Last year, SAME members spent over 16,500 hours conducting STEM outreach and donated more than $350,000 to area STEM programs.
MAKING A LOCAL IMPACT
SAME Posts serve not just as places for engineers to gather and share ideas about how to tackle the biggest engineering challenges facing our nation today, but they have also served as a trusted resource over the last century for community leaders to reach out to, both in times of peace and in the event of an emergency. In March 2019, for example, after the Platte River overflowed, a team of volunteers from the Omaha Post assessed the levee breaches in support of the Nebraska Emergency Management Agency. Posts have generously donated time, energy, supplies, and expert knowledge in response to everything from flood and extreme weather events to man-made emergencies such as the bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City to public health emergencies like the COVID-19 pandemic.
Volunteers have also given back to their communities in times of peace as well through service projects such as food drives, Toys for Tots, and cleaning up parks, rivers, and other community assets. As members of the engineering community, volunteers at Posts often find ways to put their particular skillset to use for their community, such as in 1958 when Corps of Engineers collaborated with local organizations in Monterey County, Calif., to construct a boys camp for underprivileged youths, or the project in 2019 carried out by the Philadelphia Post to replant and renovate a garden at Washington Crossing National Cemetery as well as drill holes for flagpoles along the Avenue of Flags.
Assistance to veterans and wounded warriors has been a particular focus for volunteerism across the Society. In 2019, Posts contributed 5,000 hours supporting veterans and wounded warriors; provided nearly 11,000 hours of community service; and gave $130,000 to wounded veteran initiatives.
SHARING OUR KNOWLEDGE
Mentoring has long been recognized as a critical activity for those looking to ensure the stewardship of the A/E/C profession. It provides an avenue for lessons learned and leadership development to be passed along to future generations. However, while many members gave willingly of their time and energy to mentor future leaders, it had long been an ad-hoc and informal process. In an article from 2001, Brig. Gen. Raphen Locurcio, P.E., USA (Ret.), and Kara Mitvalsky, P.E., called for a more structured approach for the Society’s mentoring program, citing it as a critical need for national security and the continuance of the engineering profession. “We simply haven’t taken the time to make a plan and get organized,” they wrote.
Since then, many Posts have taken to create more structured mentoring programs to ensure this vital need is addressed. In the 2025 SAME Strategic Plan, Goal #3 focuses on developing leaders for the profession, and includes an objective to promote a structured mentoring continuum. The Gerald C. Brown Mentoring Award, named in honor of the founder of the SAME Academy of Fellows, Brig. Gen. Gerald C. “Jed” Brown, USA (Ret.), recognizes those volunteers who have given outstanding efforts to provide mentoring to young and upcoming professionals in the A/E/C industry.
As a volunteer organization, “the vitality of the Society is totally dependent on volunteers; people who give their skills, energies, time, and financial backing to fulfill purpose and to conduct activities so as to perpetuate the organization,” as a report in TME in 1995 put it. This week, and every week, we celebrate all those volunteers who have given their time and energy over the last 100 years to help SAME deliver value and carry out its mission of fostering industry government engagement to strengthen national security. As Col. Sal Nodjomian, USAF (Ret.), SAME’s 2017 President, wrote, “As a 100 percent volunteer organization, it is our collective responsibility to ensure the time we commit generates tremendous value for our individual members, our Sustaining Members, our Posts, our military, and, most importantly, our nation.” SAME couldn’t do it without all of you!
The Society of American Military Engineers is celebrating 100 years of service to the nation in dedication to national defense. Its official Centennial book, SAME: The Second Century Begins – Preparing for the Future by Building on the Past will release in Spring 2021. Filled with a combination of unique archival material from the past century of engineering history and an unprecedented look at tomorrow, this book is the perfect commemoration of SAME’s past, present, and future. Pre-orders are available now.