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First female presidentelect aims to widen membership criteria

NewsJean Venables was elected by Council last week to be the first woman president of the ICE. Her current duties as vice president include implementing the new membership framework. Ruby Kitching reports.

EFFORTS TO make the ICE more open and inclusive moved forward last week when its council elected vice president Jean Venables to take up the post of president in 2008.

She will be the first woman to hold the position in the ICE's 187 year history.

Venables is already at the heart of the Institution's efforts to broaden its membership. Her current responsibilities include introducing the new membership framework, which will give anyone in an engineering team the opportunity to become a member (see ICE news page 24).

As part of her work within the professional development and professional conduct committees Venables has already reduced the number of rules of professional conduct from 16 to 6 and introduced advisory notes on ethical practice. It is part of her philosophy to scrutinise the status quo: 'Why do we do it like this in this day and age- Do we have to do it this way-' 'Whenever you make changes, people will be nervous about the implications, ' says Venables on the subject of the new membership framework.

But Venables is used to handling change, partly, she says, because civil engineering as a profession has changed over her own 36 year career.

'It includes many more issues - sustainability and the environment; new laws and public opinion - you need a greater range of skills in an engineering team to get the job done now.' Venables runs her own environmental consultancy. She says many of the water engineering and fl ood risk management projects she works on rely on hydrologists, environmentalists and ecologists as much as on civil engineers.

Under the new membership framework, anyone working in the civil engineering field regardless of their degree - MEng, BEng, BSc or BA - can apply to become a member of the ICE (MICE). This allows civil engineers who started out with, say, geography or law degrees to become members.

'I don't want people to feel they can't apply because they did the wrong degree. It's about what experience you have and what you have learnt, ' she says Other technical members of the engineering team without degrees can also fi nd a home at the ICE as associate members (AMICE) - the new grade of membership for specialists 'associated' with civil engineering.

But not all ICE members welcome the changes and Venables is working hard to convince them that the new membership framework is for the best.

Some members consider the AMICE grade junior to MICE and are disgruntled that has been made easier to move from AMICE to MICE status. The existing 3,300 associate members need now only submit evidence of three years of continuing professional development to become MICE.

But Venables feels strongly that the MICE title should be available to everyone who is working in civil engineering to allow them to 'progress to a level which matches their competence and expectations', regardless of what subject their degree was in.

Last week she gave an hour long presentation to Council explaining the benefits of broadening the ICE membership to make the institution more robust and relevant in the future, while maintaining standards.

Members will have opportunity to vote on the new membership framework at the end of May and Venables is keen to get as many as possible to take part in the ballot. If the vote is in favour, changes to bylaws are expected to be passed by the Privy Council later this year.

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