Keep Making It Happen: An Interview with SAME President Mark Handley

During Virtual JETC in May 2021, Rear Adm. Mark Handley, P.E., F.SAME, USN (Ret.), was sworn in as the 102nd SAME President. Currently Senior Vice President – National Governments with AECOM, Handley served 32 years in the U.S. Navy, where in his final assignment he commanded the First Naval Construction Division (Seabees). A member of the Society since 1995, he was invested as a Fellow in 2017. He has been a National Vice President, Chair of the Energy & Sustainability Community of Interest, Hampton Roads Post 1st Vice President, and was a founding member of the SAME Investment Committee.

Bricks and Clicks recently chatted with Handley on the value his membership has provided him both in and out of uniform, the progress being made on his initiatives, and opportunities he sees in the near future for the engineering profession and the Society.

Bricks and Clicks: How did you first become involved with SAME, and how has membership provided you value?

Handley: Like most junior officers, I was dragged to my first SAME meeting. However, as I continued to attend meetings at my local Post, I began to see the value offered—both in the technical aspects I needed in my job and in the people I met. Through the Society, I built my network with contractors, A/E/C professionals, and others.

When I transitioned from the Civil Engineer Corps to the private sector, that is when I found the most return. For me, it was an opportunity to contribute to thought leadership at the national level through the Energy & Sustainability Community of Interest (COI) and later as a part of the National Leadership Team.

Bricks and Clicks: Can you discuss the three initiatives you outlined at the beginning of your term and the progress being made?

Handley: My goal was to build on the work of those who came before me through three primary initiatives that, together, will help enable our Society to strengthen its impact into the future.

Supporting Industry-Government Engagement through Thought Leadership. Early on in my career I was attracted to the exposure SAME provided to new technologies and new ideas. By supporting IGE through thought leadership, we can maximize our positive impact in support of military engineers.

This year we have engaged with the COIs to leverage the many disciplines of our broad membership and increase our reach across the profession. We also adjusted our governance structure to prioritize and codify initiatives, specifically IGE. The Executive Committee now reviews and prioritizes IGE topics, enabling us to focus on the most critical issues facing our constituencies.

Strengthen SAME through Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion. I have always believed our Society and our nation is strongest when we have a diverse set of leaders with different backgrounds—but with a shared set of values and principles. The Membership COI established the Diversity, Equity & Inclusion Working Group a few years ago, and it is doing a tremendous job surveying members and focusing our work in this realm.

We are now developing a National Action Plan to improve awareness and make near-term progress on achieving balanced representation of leadership at every level. Our Immediate Past President, Heather Wishart-Smith, has been directly engaged on this effort. This initiative will enable us to embrace diversity in all forms—not only traditional diversity of gender and race, but professional diversity as well.

Continue the Key Leader Development Commission. We have seen tremendous progress in promoting and highlighting leadership opportunities at all levels within SAME. This year, the Key Leader Development Commission also has taken a proactive look at diversity, equity, and inclusion to help widen the Society’s pool of leadership candidates.

I encourage everyone to take on a volunteer leadership position in SAME, and confident you will benefit personally and professionally.

Bricks and Clicks: What have you enjoyed the most as SAME President, and what has been its biggest challenge?

Handley: It is a great honor and privilege to be Society President. I have enjoyed the experience immensely, but the aspect I have enjoyed the most has been the opportunity to engage at Post events. The diverse nature of our members and the professional expertise, leadership, and passion is truly inspiring. My greatest professional satisfaction is being able to engage a member and help them find a leadership role in SAME.

The biggest challenge remains the pandemic. When I was sworn in last May, COVID numbers were low and dropping. That changed when we found ourselves facing the delta variant and now omicron. Through everything we have faced, the resiliency, adaptability, and agility of our Posts and COIs, the National Office, and especially our members and stakeholders has been absolutely inspiring. While I remain positive on our outlook, we will remain vigilant and adapt to whatever comes our way.

Bricks and Clicks: How is SAME progressing on the 2025 SAME Strategic Plan?

Handley: Our Society was founded with the primary purpose of fostering IGE, and it is this goal where we have made the most progress this year. We re-energized the Executive Advisory Group and are identifying the top issues facing military engineers and agency partners through our engagement. On a local level, Posts and Regions have done a terrific job keeping IGE at the forefront.

Further progress needs to be made on Goal 5, Prepare Servicemembers and Veterans for the A/E/C Industry. But some bright spots exist. The upcoming Career Transition Workshop is a tremendous event, and the Academy of Fellows provides a mentoring resource for transitioning members as well. I myself was helped, as I know many others were, by one of SAME’s icons, Col. Ed Gibson, F.SAME, USA (Ret.), whom we sadly lost just recently. The medal which bears his name, the Ed Gibson Veteran Transition Medal, carries on his legacy by recognizing those who exemplify the best aspects of mentoring for our veterans.

Bricks and Clicks: What opportunities do you see ahead for the Society?

Handley: There are times we are presented an opportunity to make a substantial contribution to our profession and our nation. This is one of those opportunities. With the infrastructure stim- ulus bill now a reality, we are going to see extensive investments to advance our built environment. To successfully execute these projects will require critical support from uniformed engineers, government civilians, and industry. Through this collaboration, we can make a significant difference and deliver for our nation.

I am very optimistic about the future. Though the workload ahead may be great, I am constantly inspired by the resiliency, persistence, and professionalism of our members. Let’s continue to take the initiative, overcome challenges, and Make it Happen!