January 3, 2023

In today’s ever evolving world, the newest occupation seems to be an “Influencer.”  People even cite influencing as their life’s career goal. For the Academy of Coastal, Port & Navigation Engineers (ACOPNE) who might those influencers be? I give you the Romans of two millennia ago! Ours may well be the oldest profession existing, well at least the oldest technical profession. If we look at the lifestyles then, dependence on marine transport was everything. There were no roads or bridges, and certainly no airports. The only significant movement of goods or people was by water. To achieve that man had to learn how to battle and defeat Mother Nature and the Sea. Two millennia later we can still see the remnants of their attempts and good works. We find harbors scattered around whose plans and designs are very sophisticated and clearly constructed in a robust way, evidence that our forebears knew and understood what they were doing and why things worked and did not work.

So where are we now? Basically, our modern industry really did not begin to grow and mature until after World War II.  In fact, if we look at the preponderance of research and design methods, nothing in our modern basis of knowledge predates 1930, whether it be at a port, somewhere offshore, in a river system, or along the shore. Short of the space program, then, we are also the youngest profession. I guess you could say our profession’ “bookends” society as we know it. Working in the unexplored and uncontrolled marine environment means we need to use all the theory and knowledge that it took to put a man on the moon, but then basically solve the problem with a pile of rocks and a shovel full of sand. As we move into a new era of engineering with nature, solving problems in a way that mimics natural processes and uses natural materials seems to be the right way to go.

So, what does this all mean for ACOPNE and its mission? Just because we now have programs to compute things to eight decimal places, does that make the answer any more correct? No, we need to recognize the difference between precision and accuracy. We can have an answer computed to those eight decimal places and it can still be wrong. That is the precision but not the accuracy. We pretty much landed the man on the moon using a slide rule with only two decimal places to work with, and when the computer failed Neil Armstrong on the first lunar landing, at the last minute he had to even engineer a solution using his best judgement. Similarly, I see the primary characteristic of a board certified ACOPNE Diplomate in coastal, ocean, port & navigation engineers to able to develop and demonstrate the wisdom that must be implicit in problem solving. This wisdom does not come just from books. It comes from doing. Making a few mistakes, seeing others make mistakes, and then making sure not to repeat them. That same wisdom opens doors for new and elegant solutions to previously unsolved problems, actually understanding what is going on.

The role then for ACOPNE is to be the vehicle to recognize and elevate that level of thinking. It takes time and commitment to achieve that. It takes exposure to a multitude of different challenges. It takes recognizing risk and being prepared for the unexpected. This is an important distinction for the individual who has strived to achieve that recognition of excellence, for the organization that wants to promote the highest level of quality, and ultimately for the end user who expects no less than the best. ACOPNE will continue to serve as that leadership role to see that our profession remains populated by professional engineers who have learned from our influencers, and in turn will become the influencers of the future.

I have been honored to lead ACOPNE this past year and see the future of our profession remain in good hands with all of you, who have sought and achieved your Diplomate board-certified status.

Jack C. Cox, P.E., D.CE, D.NE, D.PE, M.ASCE
ACOPNE 2022 President