AI President’s Message: STAR

By Pete Grass, P.E., CAE

The Asphalt Institute Foundation held its first STrategic Asphalt Research (STAR) Symposium in Colorado Springs, Colorado in 2017. Through a nomination-selection process, just over 100 individuals representing a cross-section of industry, government and academic professionals and with diverse geographic representation (32 states, the District of Columbia and eight countries) joined to engage in this unique symposium.

Not meant to develop complete research needs statements, nor to solely focus on technical matters, the symposium’s vision from the onset was to create the catalyst for leapfrog thinking for the discussions which would lead to breakthrough ideas and research for an exciting tomorrow in our industry.

The facilitated agenda for STAR was broken into four separate areas; economics, performance, sustainability and worker. While there was some overlap between sessions, these areas provided opportunities for participants to go where they wished to participate and to join in the conversation.

To get the creative juices flowing, the keynote address was delivered by Michael Rogers, Practical Futurist®. Rogers opened with the observation that it is quite unusual for an industry to spend time thinking about the future and subsequently doing something about it. He applauded the foundation for the vision of STAR.

Challenging the audience, “The futurist in the room gives you permission to think well into the future” without worrying about tomorrow or the next quarter. He urged our industry to consider three important trends:

• The virtualization of the world
• Sustainability, resilience and climate change
• Demographics; what our customers and employees will be like

Four breakout sessions (with two running concurrently), a fifth session catch-all utilizing two separate facilitators, 118 very active participants merged with an external social media and email audience. These components made for a lot of conversation and idea generation over the three-day program.

Asphalt Institute staff members worked hard to capture these ideas and themes in the STAR Symposium Report, released in December 2017, and now available as a free eBook or PDF download.

The conversations held in Colorado Springs provide invaluable insight into the future of our industry. As such, these conversations, as outlined in this report, provide an opportunity for further presentation and discussion at industry events. The Asphalt Institute Foundation Research Committee is doing just that and you may have the opportunity to hear a presentation on the STAR outcomes.

What’s next? Turning some of these emergent themes into research and eventually into practice. There are lots to choose from. The report should lead to the development of research need statements in many ways. Some of the concepts discussed in the report are sufficient to succinctly develop a research program and others will need exploratory work in advance of a full-scale investigation.

We look forward to continuing the conversations started in Colorado Springs and urge our governmental and academic partners to consider the pursuit of these challenges. Tomorrow is well on the way. And if you’re interested, mark your calendars for the next STAR – expected in May of 2021.

Grass is the President of the Asphalt Institute.