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Edith S. Washington, president, Construction Specifications Institute
Edith S. Washington is the first Black woman to be elected president of the Construction Specifications Institute. CSI is a nationwide organization of more than 17,000 members involved in the design, building, and maintenance of schools, hospitals, offices, and other nonresidential buildings throughout the U.S. CSI members reflect every aspect of the design and construction process. They are: architects, specifiers, contractors, owners, engineers, and construction product representatives.
Washington, who took office on July 1, is also president of a specifications consulting firm that she established in 1994, the Stubblefield Group, Inc., in Toledo, Ohio. Perhaps one of the most well-known construction projects she has worked on is the Fifth-Third Stadium, home of the Toledo Mud Hens minor league baseball team. She has taught specifications and contracts at community colleges in Ohio and at the University of Toledo's College of Engineering. USBE Online spoke to her recently about her leading role in her field.
USBE: What is your job? Washington: I am a certified construction specifier. I write construction specifications that accompany drawings for commercial, institutional, and industrial facilities. These documents describe in detail the products, systems, and materials used to construct buildings. The "Project Manual" I prepare also includes the conditions of the contract for construction, bidding requirements, and other general requirements connected with the work. In order to do my job, I collaborate with architects and engineers. The documents I prepare reflect their design decisions and provide the information that is not provided on the drawings. For about 20 years, I was an employee for various engineering and architectural/engineering firms. Today, I own my own consulting firm and work with several different design firms as well as building owners and facilities managers. Prior to starting my consulting firm, I was chief specifications coordinator for SSOE, Inc., in Toledo, Ohio.
USBE: What got you interested in construction specification? Washington: I have always loved building and the building process. My grandfather was a carpenter, and he allowed me to tag along behind him and even play with his tools. I believe my childhood experiences planted the seed of curiosity that led to my exploring construction and design. I met two specifications writers while working at Rust Engineering and Construction in Birmingham, Ala. in the 70s. That's when I discovered the job and learned what it entailed, although I was working in the Technical Writing Department. When I moved to Arkansas, I met my mentor, Betty Hays, F.C.S.I., C.C.S. The years I spent working with Betty formed my professional foundation. She was my professional mentor. There is no college degree in specifications writing, so on-the-job mentoring was a vital part of my development.
USBE: What skills or education are needed to become a construction specifier? Washington: Many people who do my job hold degrees in architecture and engineering or have a background in construction. I majored in English and spent several years in commercial construction before moving over to the design side of the process. I had the privilege of working for a firm where "mentoring" was more than a word and it applied to everyone. The Construction Specifications Institute offers certifications in my field. To become a certified construction specifier requires a minimum of five years of actual experience and passing a national certification examination.
USBE: How does one go about getting an internship? Washington: I would suggest that the best way to go about getting an internship is to become active as a student member of one, or more, professional organizations such as NSPE [the National Society of Professional Engineers] or CSI. Be sure to participate in all the activities, not just student functions. Get to know people in the industry. One of my best job opportunities came while serving on a volunteer committee.
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