by Jenny Schultz

Do you know what contributes most to the lifespan deterioration of precast concrete parking structures?  Are you able to identify the culprit behind cracking throughout your parking structure rehabilitation projects?  Preventing and remediating cracks within parking structures requires a thorough understanding of the different ways in which concrete sections respond not only to gravity loads, but also to the unique environmental loads that affect these types of structures.

In the April 2016 SE University session, Evaluation and Repair of Precast and Post-Tensioned Concrete Parking Structures, Otto J. Schwarz, PE, SE, from Ryan Biggs | Clark Davis, presented an overview of typical cracking in concrete parking structures and some guidelines to help correlate the locations and root cause of these cracks.  The following 3 minute video clip includes more information about these common failures in concrete parking structures.


by Kristine Kussro

You never get a second chance to make a first impression.  We have all heard this before and know how important first impressions are.  This holds true for presentations as well.  As a leader, you need to deliver your presentations and messages with great precision.  What we do in business often comes down to how we work a room, how we engage with people, and how we communicate to get our message across.  So what is the art of making an engaging and memorable presentation?  Here are just a few key points to help you make that great impression when making a presentation.

Begin With the Unexpected

The first 30-60 seconds of a presentation are the most critical.  The audience is critically scrutinizing you right from the start.  You need to quickly set the expectations for yourself.  You need to capture the attention of your audience immediately or you will be fighting an uphill battle for the rest of the presentation trying to engage your audience.  A great example of grabbing your audience is Steve Job’s Commencement Address at Stanford University in 2005.

“I am honored to be with you today at your commencement from one of the finest universities in the world.  Truth be told, I never graduated from college, and this is the closest I’ve ever gotten to a college graduation.” 

Create a Strong, Clear Story

When you open with a personal story that relates to your topic, the audience is instantly drawn in.  Everyone wants to hear a personal narrative of how you succeeded or even failed along the way, and how you rose above all adversity to get to where you are today.  Steve Jobs continued his commencement address captivating his audience with his enthralling personal narrative.

“Today, I want to tell you three stories from my life.  That’s it, no big deal-just three stories.  The first story is about connecting the dots.  I dropped out of Reed College after the first six months, but then stayed around as a drop-in for another eighteen months or so before I really quit.  So why’d I drop out?  It started before I was born…”

Less is More

Do not overwhelm your audience with an abundance of slides!  Sometimes as engineers we tend to think that more information is better.  The more slides the better!  In the corporate world this is known as “death by slides”.  This creates blank stares, people checking their phones, and sometimes an afternoon nap for your audience.  Also, nothing kills a slide as much as clutter.  Eye charts are not allowed!  Make your slides clear and concise.

Know Your Audience

Do your homework.  It is important that you spend time finding out who is in your audience.  What are their main interests?  Why are they coming to hear you speak?  What are you giving them to take away that is of value?  If you know your audience you will surely engage them.  Make eye contact.  The difference between a good presentation and a great presentation is when your participants feel like you are speaking directly to them.  Give them a reason to come back.

Call to Action

So you have delivered a great presentation to an auditorium full of people and they are impressed!  What now?  Always allow several minutes for questions and answers.  Take the time afterwards to stay and talk to people individually.  And always make your twitter, website, and email address available for questions and comments that come up later.  Always leave your audience wanting more!

Steve Jobs closed his commencement speech with the words “Stay Hungry.  Stay Foolish.”  This is great food for thought.  It leaves the audience with a challenge.  Never be satisfied and always push yourself.  Strive to do things people say cannot be done.

Obviously, few of us will get the opportunity to give commencement addresses at places like Stanford University, but the basics of presenting still apply.  If anyone has any unique attention grabbing presentation openers or creative ways to keep your audience engaged, please email them to me at [email protected].

To see Steve Job’s entire inspirational commencement speech, visit the following website:

by Cathleen Jacinto, SE, PE

Springtime tends to yield several project deadlines as construction season comes into full swing. In the midst of a busy season, QA/QC and project checking may perhaps fall to a lower priority to meet critical deliverables.

During these times, one of the most basic organizational tools – the simple checklist – can improve the proficiency of teams and individuals performing complex tasks. Effective checklists can form the backbone for a project’s success, a team’s communication, and an engineering office’s QA/QC standards. Checklists establish a higher standard of baseline performance, while protecting against or minimizing failures.

Below are a few tips to implementing engineering design or construction checklists:

  • Prioritize the completion of checklist items by deadlines – Schematic Design, Design Development, Permit, Construction Documents, etc. Add internal dates for completion of tasks
  • Assign team members to address specific checklist items
  • Use checklists as a teaching tool – A way to transfer knowledge from experienced engineers to a junior team of engineers
  • Set a recurring appointment on your calendar to commit perhaps an hour biweekly to review your or your office’s checklists
  • After you experience any ‘lesson learned’ on a project, add this to your checklist to avoid repeating the same mistake
  • Set a good example – If a project manager uses checklists, it is more likely his/her team will practice the habit of using checklists

However, the challenge is committing time to develop and implement checklists within aggressive project schedules. There are checklists available as part of our SE University subscription (and part of the SEU Resource Center) that will hopefully reduce your time in developing standards. We encourage the use of our checklists as a template to fit your office and project priorities. A few checklists released thus far include a Coordination Checklist for Elevator Design, Structural / Architectural Coordination Checklist, and a Steel Shop Drawing Review Checklist. Please see this link to a full summary of SEU Resource Center Documents available when you log into the SEU Resource Center.

The first 25 people to e-mail [email protected] will be given a checklist of their choice.  Simply let Brian know which one you would like.

We hope you will find the tips above and the resources we offer helpful for you and your office!

by Cathleen Jacinto, SE, PE

Don’t trust your memory. If you listen to something valuable, write it down. If you come across something important, write it down. And here’s what’s important about your journal. It’s all the ideas you took the meticulous time to gather. It’s one of the greatest proofs that you’re a serious student.”

The above quote by Jim Rohn refers to the importance of documentation – the accumulation of our knowledge and experience. As engineers, practicing good documentation will not only build your own efficiency, but also minimize future errors.

Below are a few tips to document your work:

• After a project deadline – but before clearing your desk of the project – add one more helpful task. Create a new document and summarize the various structural elements you designed (i.e. deep grade beams, seismic loads with R>3, end-plate connections, etc) and include tips to remember next time you design these elements. (you might also want to create this document during the course of the project and add information as you progress through the project.)

• Start a document of lessons learned – Write down the cause of RFIs or field issues that resulted in a good deal of rework. Why repeat?

• Start a library of sample calculations – it can be organized by design element and material.

• Start ‘cheat sheets’ on a variety of design topics (or contribute to already established lists). For example, document software model settings, what to include in Specifications, shop drawing review checklists, takeaways from webinars, etc. It does not need to be comprehensive. It can be one bullet point long until your next lesson learned.

There may come a day when you need to refer to your ‘professional journal’ when a colleague asks a question, or even for a resume. This is an accumulation of your experiences. Consider how valuable this documentation will be after 20+ years.

The checklists recently released as part of our SE University subscription (and part of the SEU Resource Center) is an accumulation of experiences from structural engineers. We invite you to utilize these checklists to build your own ‘professional journal.’ (See the SE University Blog for more information on these checklists.) Feel free to share any of your own lessons learned with us by emailing [email protected].

We hope this will help you and your office grow your accumulation of experiences. Jim Rohn tells us to ‘Be a collector of good ideas for your business, for your relationships, for your future.’

During the April 2013 SE University session, Otto Schwarz from Ryan Biggs Associates, PC discussed how engineers can manage the process of special inspections for their projects. One of the key items discussed was the type of paperwork that is required, and how to create the necessary documents.

Otto pointed to a few SEA groups that have made documents available for download. One of these was the Structural Engineers Association of Georgia (SEAOG). SEAOG has created a Program of Special Inspections, working together with building officials. Part of the Program of Special Inspections is a Special Inspections package that is based on IBC 2006. The listing of forms is available at

While there may be modifications needed to these forms to bring them up to date for the latest codes, they provide a good starting point for creating a library of special inspections documents that can be used by your firm.

We hope you find this information helpful. If you have other sources you have used to create special inspection documents, please let us know in the comments.

During the February 2014 SE University Session, Kim Olson discussed gapped and overlapped truss connections. She talked about the “Hidden Toe” partial overlap condition, and welding requirements for the hidden toe. Kim noted that welding of the hidden toe is not required if the components normal to the chord differ by 20% or less, and a question was posed by an attendee wanting to know what comparison should be made to evaluate the 20% difference.

Kim explained that the comparison is between the components of the branch forces normal to the chord member. This is also explained in two Modern Steel Construction articles linked below.

Overlapped connections were discussed in the “shop and field issues” column Special Treatment, written by Tom Schlafly, Director of Research at AISC, in the March 2008 issue of Modern Steel Construction (MSC). In the June 2010 issue of MSC, a question about whether the hidden toe should always be fully welded was posed as part of the Steel Quiz (see Question 4). In the answer, it states “[full] welding is only required if the normal components of the two branch forces differ by more than 20%.”

We hope that you find this information helpful. If you have any questions you would like to see answered, please leave us a comment below.

If you are designing a building with concrete beams and columns, how do you determine a starting member size, or the amount of reinforcement required? While many engineers will use a spreadsheet or computer program for the final design, what simplified methods can be used to arrive at a preliminary design for a beam or column?

In an article in the April 2013 issue of Structure Magazine, Jerod Johnson, PhD, SE, from Reaveley Engineers + Associates in Salt Lake City, Utah, writes about Simplified Methods in Reinforced Concrete Design, and discusses not only what these simplified methods are, but also shows how these approximate methods relate to a more rigorous analysis.

Included in this article are tips for determining initial sizes for beams based on span-to-depth ratios, calculating an initial required area of steel for beams, and developing an interaction curve for columns based on two points.

Do you use other simplified methods or “rules of thumb” for concrete design? Share your favorite tip in the comments below!

In performing engineering calculations, there are often times when you have to interpolate between values to get an answer to use in an equation. We know that similar triangles can be used to find that intermediate value, but how can we automate the process?

In Excel, the Trend function works well when you are trying to identify a number along a straight line. As long as you have your known X and Y values, and the new X value, you can easily determine the new Y value.

The format for the Trend Function is: =TREND(Known_y’s,Known_x’s,New_x)

As an example, when determining the seismic base shear, the Fa value must be calculated. This value is found through Table 1613.3.3(1) in IBC 2012, and is based on the site category, along with the Short Period Acceleration. If your Acceleration does not match one of the table values, then you need to interpolate between the adjacent values in order to determine Fa. The Trend function can be used to do this directly by using the Ss values bounding the actual value, and the corresponding bounding Fa values based on the Site Class.

Example in Excel for using the Trend Function to Calculate Fa for Seismic Load

he formula as written in cell C5 is: =TREND(G5:H5,G4:H4,C3)

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