The past year has been one of disruption and rethought plans, of pivoting and re-tooling, of patience and perseverance. For SAME’s Posts, the need for social distancing due to the coronavirus meant that in-person meetings and networking events needed to shift to virtual. While this opened up some new possibilities, it was not without its challenges.
The seven Posts of the California Region (Inland Empire, Los Angeles, Orange County, Oxnard-Ventura, Sacramento, San Diego, and San Francisco) embraced the Society’s positive approach to the pandemic, taking advantage of the virtual environment to widen their impact. Bricks & Clicks recently chatted with Jeff Davis, California Regional Vice President, for his insights on what have been the keys to maintaining engagement, where he sees the future of online programming headed, and tips for other Posts and Regions looking to enrich their virtual offerings.
Bricks & Clicks: How have Posts in the California Region successfully maintained member engagement since the pandemic began?
Davis: Many Posts continue to plan and conduct monthly general meetings, networking socials, and other programs by utilizing virtual platforms such as Zoom and Microsoft Teams. The virtual environment mitigated geographic limitations and allowed members from all the California Posts to attend each other’s events. Together, the Posts collaborated to cross-promote meetings, allowing broader event participation. In addition, the Sacramento and Orange County Posts conducted golf tournaments—following all local COVID protocols—to maintain member engagement and contribute to their scholarship funds.
Bricks & Clicks: Can you share some specific examples of virtual events/ programs the Posts have hosted the last several months?
Davis: The Sacramento Post hosted its annual Sustaining Members Forum in August with 13 federal and state agencies presenting their respective upcoming FY2021 engineering programs. The event raised about $14,000 in support of the Post’s annual scholarship program. In addition, its Young Professionals conducted an innovative “Post-Holiday Mixer” in January 2021. The event involved a series of online virtual icebreakers as well as games like an origami folding competition, scavenger hunt Bingo, and movie audio clip game. There also were door prizes and a silent auction. All registrants received a box of “party favors” prior to the event that included materials for the games, snacks, beverages, and information about the sponsors. The evening raised $1,500 each for two local charities—Fisher House and St. John’s Program—and an additional $5,000 for the scholarship program.
The Orange County Post conducted its annual Small Business Forum in September 2020 and annual Federal Business Opportunities Symposium in November 2020. Also, its initial meeting of 2021 was a joint meeting with the Los Angeles Post, which began with the installation of both Posts’ Board of Directors by the Society’s President-Elect, Rear Adm. Mark Handley, USN (Ret.). Following the induction ceremony, multiple representatives of USACE Los Angeles District presented on small business opportunities as well as the district’s outlook for the upcoming year. The San Diego Post hosted a virtual social and officer induction featuring SAME President Heather Wishart-Smith. It also held a Small Business Forum and presentations on the USS Mercy COVID Response, Navy’s Old Town Campus Development and Revitalization, NAVFAC Southwest’s yearly outlook, and 5G and the Internet of Things. And, it celebrated SAME’s Centennial with a fall networking social. In addition to the programs offerings, San Diego held extremely successful virtual drives donating $8,000 worth of hand sanitizer and N95 masks to the local Veterans Affairs hospital, a Toys for Tots drive to support underprivileged children, and a blanket drive for homeless veterans in coordination with Veterans Village of San Diego. The Post realized that through advertising and conducting these drives virtually, they were even more successful in collecting donations than when items were brought in person during monthly luncheons.
Bricks & Clicks: Any upcoming events/programs within the Region that you are looking forward to?
Davis: The California Region is looking forward to continuing virtual monthly general meetings, networking socials, and other programs with the hope of returning to more traditional in-person events by the end of 2021.
The five Posts in Southern California (San Diego, Orange County, Los Angeles, Inland Empire, and Oxnard-Ventura) are looking forward to conducting the 15th Annual Camp Pendleton Day as a joint event in June. The forum is being planned as primarily virtual with a focus on resiliency, but it may include some face-to-face industry-government engagement opportunities related to a Young Professionals activity or an on-base project/site tour.
Bricks & Clicks: From your perspective as Regional Vice President, what are some ways Posts (and Regions) can work together to deliver even more value to their members?
Davis: We conduct a quarterly California Posts Leadership Call with the purpose of facilitating collaboration to discuss upcoming events, lessons learned, and ways to enhance value to our members throughout the region.
The results have been fantastic. It has fostered a broader sense of community with leaders getting to know each other, sharing information and ideas, hearing about other Post events, and reaching out to each other for additional information to capitalize on the success of other Posts.
Society-wide, Posts can learn from one another and they can learn across Regions. While a Post’s geography often means that its members are aligned with certain agencies and types of projects, the types of requirements that small, medium, and large Posts share is more common than it is different. Also, the Post Leaders Workshop (www.same.org/plw) each year is a great way for Posts to stay up to date on the best ways to provide value.
Bricks & Clicks: What goals and objectives in the 2025 SAME Strategic Plan are the California Posts most focused on supporting?
Davis: All of them! Seriously, our Posts conduct events and programs that address all five of the Society’s strategic goals, although some do focus on one or two while others incorporate all of them. It is really about finding what the members are passionate about and where they can make a difference.
Many events and programs address Goal 1, Strengthen Industry-Government Engagement, by having local agencies present upcoming capital programs and issues. They also address Goal 3, Develop Leaders for the Profession, by having a Young Professionals networking event that includes leadership and career development topics. The upcoming Camp Pendleton Day typically tries to address all five goals in the same event.
Bricks & Clicks: What do you see as the challenges for Posts to increase participation in virtual events and programs?
Davis: “Zoom Fatigue” and the lack of in-person interaction are the biggest challenges. The Posts are pressing forward under the current circumstances, filling the need for socialization and networking while not physically being together.
The San Diego Post has continued to host Networking Socials and Young Professional Socials with “light” elements such as drink lessons, charades, trivia, and scavenger hunts. These have proven successful, though it takes a creative and energetic person to lead them. In fact, the Post is even considering creating a committee position entitled “Post Comedian and Entertainment Director”!
Bricks & Clicks: How do you see virtual events and programs evolving in 2021 and beyond?
Davis: Fully virtual events and programs will likely be the norm for the next several months. But I suspect as summer rolls around there will likely be small in-person events and programs that become more prevalent through the latter part of the year.
We may not return to larger, pre-COVID, gatherings until sometime in early 2022. With that said, the pandemic surely has accelerated the adoption of virtual platforms and I see, even when things return to “normal,” many of the larger events and programs will integrate virtual components/breakout rooms to make live content and networking available for those unable to physically travel to them. All in all, our industry and our profession will benefit from the COVID experience.