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Chapter President's Letters from FY2017

Jeremy Olsen, CSI, CCS, CCCA, AIA, LEED AP   

June 2017 

Over & Out

Well, this is it- my last installment of our President’s Letter. And while I am rather relieved that I won’t need to write another, I am feeling some mixed emotions about my tenure as chapter president drawing to an end.  I think we would agree that together we achieved a great deal of progress toward longer term goals this year, and that we had a blockbuster year of events (many conducted for the first time).  Here’s some highlights:

  • The newly minted Young Professionals Committee put on three entirely new social/learning events over the course of the program year that were very well attended by many new faces. 
  • We developed new or renewed relationships with several venues for our programs, and we hope those relationships can continue to grow.
  • The newsletter got a total makeover, with new formatting and feature articles.  Feedback has been very positive, and I believe it to be one of the best publications in the entire Institute. 
  • We are on the verge of rolling out our all-new website (hopefully in the next month).  
  • We assembled new, very professional-looking marketing materials for use in member recruitment and sponsorship/advertising opportunity marketing.
  • While we were at it, we put together new letterhead and awards certificates using our updated branding/identity
  • We inaugurated the Contractor Engagement Committee, tasked with increasing our presence in the contractor and subcontractor community
  • We adopted a formal Membership Growth & Retention plan, which will act as a road map for our efforts in this crucial arena for years to come.  
  • We aggressively pursued awards, both for the chapter and for our stellar individual contributors, both at the regional and institute level
  • We hosted a great, purely social/networking event in the form of Bowling Night in May- something the chapter hasn’t done in about 10 years. 
  • We established an online volunteer coordination system using to solicit and coordinate the many smaller but crucial volunteer opportunities.  Also we have established the new leadership position of Volunteer Coordinator to assist in managing this critical chapter function.    
  • We put on new roundtables, like the Meet the Reps roundtables & and the Summer Series roundtables .
  • We forged a new relationship with Rebuilding Together, a not for profit organization that arranges volunteer days to help deserving organizations improve their existing facilities or families improve their homes. 
  • We invested in new presentation equipment, office supplies, and branding materials.
  • We continued to grow and develop our outreach to students at local universities with the CSI Chicago Student scholarship competition and with an Architecture School-themed monthly chapter program.
  • We kept a balanced budget (take that, US Congress).
I am very proud of this list. None of this would have been possible without all the hard work of our many devoted volunteers and chapter leaders.  Take a look at just some of them at the awards dinner in the cover photo of this newsletter issue.  What a good-looking group! I am so thankful and proud of them for what they have accomplished. 

That is the real reason I say I have mixed emotions about departing the presidency- while I am happy and relieved to have my tenure draw to a close, I will miss the chance to so closely work with such a dedicated group.  And I also know of the many nagging things yet to be accomplished, and improvements yet to be implemented (digital archives, anyone?).  So, there is a sense of “work left unfinished,” which makes me feel a bit forlorn about the end of the year. 

But I am also thrilled about my successor, Melissa Gibson, and I am very excited to see what we will accomplish under her guidance and leadership. Melissa is smart, hardworking, graceful under pressure, and an excellent communicator and motivator.  I know that we are in great hands, and I am equally confident in her ultimate successor, Peter Grotenhuis, who will assume the presidency in FY 2019.  I look forward to the next few years being halcyon times for our chapter.   I encourage all of you to continue to support CSI and our chapter by volunteering when and how you can, by participating in our events and by promoting us to your peers and employers.  Together we can really do great things and improve the future of Chicago’s built environment. 

Have a great Summer and Best Wishes!

May 2017

May Is When We Say Thanks! 

May is my favorite month of the year- the days are getting longer, the weather is getting better, the world is greening, and my garden is starting to wake up.  I spend as many hours as I can spare puttering around with bags of peat moss, compost, grass seed & fertilizer in the yard and I get to talk to my neighbors without being harried by a freezing wind or rain about stuff like the Bears draft.  You get Memorial Day weekend with its All-American traditions, and 31 days of blissful May-ness.  Plus, my birthday is in May, so there’s that, too.  

May is also the time of year when we in the Chicago Chapter bring our program year to a close before things slow down during the summer months.  And it’s the time of year when we get to reflect on our accomplishments and say thanks to the many volunteers who made the year a success.  

Next Thursday on the 11th, we host one of the few purely social events in our calendar by going bowling together at the Lucky Strike in River East.  We still have a few bowling spots available and all are welcome, including friends and family outside of CSI.   Since its been a few years since I last bowled (at my daughter’s birthday party), you might have to spot me a few pins.   

We’re sending a contingent of chapter members to the Regional Conference in Madison this week to take part in all the great education and training that goes on, as well as attend the business meeting and annual Regional banquet and awards dinner- hopefully we can win a few awards for the chapter in recognition of the hard work of so many individuals.  A special thanks to Melissa Gibson, who headed up the efforts to prepare the awards packages for submission- not an easy job!   
And then on Wednesday May 24th, we put a big red bow on the year with our chapter’s Annual Banquet and Recognition Night, hosted at the Cliffdwellers club.  I can picture it now- chilling on the roof deck overlooking Millenium Park with a glass of wine in my hand….  And I’ll get to do what I’m guessing is going to be my favorite part of being president this year.  I will get to thank all of you who worked so hard to make our chapter what it is. 

In my letter to the chapter in January, I talked about the idea of “bucket-fillers” - people who recognize that the value of CSI is not merely in the “transactional” value of member dues in exchange for education or certification or a good magazine.  Bucket-fillers are people who have come to realize the value of getting to know one another professionally & personally, and who have developed a personal stake in the collective successes and failures of our CSI.  So, they contribute their time, energy, financial resources & clout to help us do all the little things that make our chapter so great.   And the Banquet we all get to celebrate them and their efforts & accomplishments.   I hope you can join us for what will surely be a wonderful night to cap off my favorite month. 

Take care, and Happy May!

April 2017

Checking Stuff Off the List

I am a compulsive list maker- so far in my life, it’s the only way I can keep track of what I need to get done.  And these lists can get quite lengthy, and frankly, overwhelming (e.g. “write the April president’s letter before Beth yells at me”).   As a result, I get profound satisfaction from being able to cross items off the list.  Here at CSI, we’ve been able to cross some things off the list this year, and I thought I spend some word in this letter to update you. 

  • Website Update – After a bit of a slow start, we are getting close to launching the new chapter website.  The CSI has rolled out their new website at the institute level, and we are currently the beta testers for the new chapter microsites, which the institute promulgates.  Our new site will look and work a lot like the new institute website, (check it out if you haven’t already), and we will be sharing content with them.  One of the great new features is the ability to have conversations with your peers via the new communities discussion tools.  We will be able to have a community of CSI Chicago members, and also smaller, more focused communities, so you be able get the most out of the experience.  Our website task force is in meetings now to figure out just how to tailor the microsite experience for our chapter.  We hope to be fully online by June or so.  
  • Young Professionals – The Young Professionals Committee is in full swing.  They have already put on two fantastic events at their new hangout, Jaks Tap, and they have their last event of the program year happening this Thursday, April 6th.  This time out, they are hosting rapid-fire presentations on “lessons-learned” by an array of industry professionals on the topics of their choice.  As usual (thanks to our very generous sponsors) beer & pizza are on us, so please come out for this fun and educational event.  
  • Marketing Materials – For a few years now, we’ve wanted to put a little more polished look on our marketing materials- things like our membership brochure, sponsorship and media kit package, and events flyers.  We just wrapped up getting these completed.  So, if you want a few hardcopies to share with your friends, coworkers, & business contacts, just talk to Beth and we’ll get you some.  They will also be available electronically (on the new website!).  We plan to send the events flyers out to firms and offices in Chicagoland to drum up even greater attendance for our events- keep an eye out for those, and let us know if you want your office to get one by dropping an email to Beth.
  • East Bank Club – It looks like we’ve settled in to having our monthly chapter programs at the East Bank Club.  They have been very good hosts and provide us a lot of amenities without breaking our bank account.  Please let us know if there are items or issues we ought to have addressed with them, as we look to book events there in the fall. 
  • Expanded programming – In addition to Young Professionals, we’ve rolled out two new subgroups of roundtables: “Meet the Reps” roundtables (thanks to the tireless efforts of John Birazzi) have been very well received and we think we can sustain it for future program years. And the Summer Series Roundtables will be back this upcoming summer with one meeting a month of product solutions-focused education by some of our trusted industry members.  
  • Expanded and easier volunteering – We’ve made an effort this year to “spread the load” of the many volunteer opportunities for the monthly production of the newsletter, chapter meetings, and special events by using, an online volunteer management tool.  By breaking seemingly daunting tasks (like putting together the monthly feature content of the Change Order newsletter) into smaller volunteer opportunities, we can effectively crowdsource the workload.  This means more people can help with smaller tasks, and we all stand to gain the satisfaction of ownership of the outcome.  If you’d like to help the chapter, but don’t want to commit to some damn committee for a year, going on and volunteering to, for example, write a brief article for Change Order, or being a door greeter at one of our chapter events, is a great way to help.  And we all appreciate it.
For us officers and directors with nine months on the job now, it feels so good to be checking items off the list.  Please feel welcome to join us in our efforts, and we’ll slowly but surely “checklist” our way to a better, stronger chapter.  And now I can check off writing this letter- check!  

Have a great April, and see you soon at an event.

March 2017

Vote Early Vote Often- the Chicago way

Hello Friends,

I imagine you, like me, are a little fatigued by the very notion of elections after the contentious Fall national election.  Even the Oscars results show us how messy voting for stuff can be.  But it’s March, which means it’s time to re-engage into our duty as members of a great organization and vote in the upcoming Institute and Chapter elections.  The CSI has had a long democratic tradition of electing its officers and directors to faithfully lead the organization.  

This year the Institute election will be held online, and all CSI members that were in good standing on January 1st of this year, with a valid email address will be invited to vote.  If your email address has changed, please be sure to update it on the website by visiting  Elections are being held for Institute Secretary, Director at Large, and for several of the regional directorships, including our North-Central Region.  Click here to see more information on the election and to see who is running for each position.  If you are an active follower of CSI goings-on, you will surely recognize many of the names of individuals who have volunteered to run for the various positions, including several folks active in our chapter.  Please read their biographies and candidates' statements available through the link above, and keep an eye out for the election email from the Institute.  

Similarly, it’s time for us to elect our Chapter leadership.  Please take a look at the slate of officers listed in the Chapter News section in the March 2017 newsletter.  As part of the nominating committee I am very proud of the work of our team to fill all our open positions with great, experienced candidates from a variety of backgrounds to ably represent the diversity of interests of our great chapter.  We will be presenting the slate to the membership at the March Chapter meeting, being held at the East Bank Club on Tuesday March 28th.  Per our bylaws, we will be accepting nominations from the floor for positions and, absent any, we will vote in the slate of officers by acclamation.  

If you have any questions about the upcoming election processes, please don’t hesitate to contact me or Beth Winkler, our chapter executive director, for more information.  If you want to get more involved in the chapter by volunteering for a committee or a chapter project or volunteer spot (the first stepping stone to becoming a Chapter, Region or Institute leader yourself), also please contact us.  

Happy March, and I hope to see you soon at one of our great events.    

February 2017

Happy February to you all.  We’re getting into that part of the program year where we deliver some of our signature programs that people from all over Chicagoland’s building community look forward to with eager anticipation.  This month we host our annual Building Enclosure Event at Maggiano’s restaurant downtown, serving up 2 hours of steaming hot continuing education along with a delicious breakfast buffet or a family-style lunch (you have your choice of sessions).  We always end up with a large and diverse audience, because we always bring in a great speaker.  This year is no exception, as we welcome John Runkle, a Building Enclosure Commissioning (BECx) expert from Intertek-ATI.  I’m looking forward to learning more about this increasingly important topic.  

In March, we host the CSi2eye event on Thursday the 16th.  We arrange brief one-on-one discussions for 21 of the top building product manufacturers, with around 30 architects and specifiers seeking to learn about new innovative product offerings in a “No BS” environment.  The manufacturers bring their in-house technical experts to answer meaningful questions of the real-world applications of the products, limitations etc.  I have participated a couple times in the past and each time I have gained a wealth of information and made great contacts with many sources that I now consider “go-to” resources when I am designing and specifying my projects.  I strongly encourage any architect, designer, specifier, or specifying engineer to apply to join us for a full day or half day.  You get to prioritize which vendors you most want to meet with, and our team sets you up on appointments with those vendors in a speed-dating style arrangement.  

Spring is also the time of year when we go on fun and educational field trips, and we have several great ones planned.  We have trips to UL Labs on Northbrook, Ozinga’s concrete plant in Chinatown, and a site visit to the new Chicago Blackhawks training facility in in the works for this Spring.    

Our annual Spring CDT (Construction Documents Technologist) certification exam prep course is in full swing at the offices of Norcon Inc, a general contractor firm in River West.  The CDT class meets once a week after work for eleven weeks to prepare participants for taking the CDT exam, offered by CSI in exam “windows” each Spring and Fall.  Each week the course content is taught by a seasoned expert instructor and involves a fun and lively discussion.  We have a bumper crop of smart, dedicated individuals taking the class this year, and we are sure they will do great when they take the test.  By wanting to obtain the CDT certification, they are demonstrating a commitment to advancing their knowledge and their reputation in the industry, and we at CSI Chicago tip our hats to them- Good Luck!

So please take a few minutes to read the newsletter and register for a couple of our hot spring events- they’re sure to speed the thaw!   Have a great month and I look forward to seeing you at an event soon.

January 2017

Happy New Year to you all, and here’s hoping you had a very happy holiday season.  I’m sure like many of you, at the turn of the new year I think a lot about the year past and the year to come.  And I typically put to paper a couple of resolutions in the hopes of focusing myself on goals for the new year.  For me, 2016 was a year that saw a lot of change in my life personally and professionally.  Due to time constraints, I have not had the chance to actuate a lot of the ideas I had coming into the presidency of CSI Chicago in July.  My tenure is now about halfway over, and I want to make sure that I do my best to make positive change in the chapter, in the hopes that I can leave the chapter on a better, stronger footing than when I started - I suppose this is and was the inherent desire for each chapter president and officer going back to the inception of CSI Chicago. So, one of my resolutions for 2017 is to focus more on making those ideas a reality.  It will take more time and effort on my part than I was able to commit last year, but I am hopeful that in 2017 I can find the time, energy and gumption to do it. I believe I owe it to an organization that has given so much to me over the years. 

When I first joined, I was focused on a transactional relationship with CSI- I give CSI my dues and CSI gives me a discount on certification testing and some good education opportunities.  After a short time, I came to understand that the transaction value I initially sought was not primarily the result of my dues, but rather it was the result of the significant contributions by many dedicated individuals who took time out of their busy schedules to help make CSI work. They organized events, made presentations at chapter programs and roundtables, taught classes online or at conventions and academies, worked on CSI committees for various standards and formats, wrote articles for their chapter newsletters, and so much more. 

I have come to think of these people, who do more than simply pay their dues in exchange for chapter meetings and dinners, as the “bucket fillers” of CSI.  They add value to our organization that we all benefit from.  In 2017, I resolve to do my best to “fill the bucket” of the chapter.  I hope that you each would similarly look to fill our bucket by volunteering in any way you may have the time, energy and talents to do.  If you are looking for an easy way to volunteer, check out our volunteer spot website to see a listing of upcoming volunteer opportunities.  Rather than asking for an ongoing, open-ended  commitment to do the same thing over and over, we have tried to make each task a “one-off” to ease the burden of volunteering.  Please take a look at the list and contact myself or Beth Winkler with any questions or comments. 

Here’s wishing you all a happy and healthy New Year, and I look forward to seeing you at a chapter event soon!

December 2016

Thankful for our Reps

Having just celebrated Thanksgiving, I have been thinking about aspects of our CSI Chicago Chapter for which we can all be thankful.  Of course, what immediately comes to mind is our great board of directors and chapter officers; and obviously I’m thankful for our outstanding Executive Director, Beth Winkler, who does so much of the heavy lifting necessary to keep us operational and successful.  But I was also thinking more broadly, and about our often un-sung chapter constituency, the manufacturer’s & product representatives.  They contribute massively to our organization’s success and to our collective future.  Let’s identify some of the ways:

  • Product representatives bring specialized knowledge: A good rep is an expert in the products they represent and in the portion of the built environment that their products inhabit.  For example, our roofing product reps have extensive knowledge in the capabilities of their roofing materials, as well as vast real-world experience in how their products are used (and misused) in the field.  Since most architects and specifiers need to have a broader, more generalized body of knowledge to do their work, we naturally can’t hope to have the specialized knowledge that a good rep brings to the table.  We therefore benefit greatly from having reps in our ranks- people we can call upon to help us with key specialized information when we need it.
  • Product representatives bring resources from their manufacturers: Obviously, building product manufacturers and service companies view CSI as a great venue to market their products and services to the essential decision-makers in the build environment – the specifying and designing architects and engineers.  As a result they equip product reps with often significant budgets to help spread the word.  While chapter membership dues remains our single largest income category in our annual budget, the combined income we receive from sponsorships, trade show presence, chapter meeting tabletops, etc. is a huge component of our income, and has been growing in recent years.  In addition to the purely monetary resources, the manufacturers equip the reps with learning opportunities & access to experts in the companies’ product development & engineering departments.   They often can offer a tour to uninitiated building designers of the actual facilities where products are designed, tested and produced that can give specifiers unique knowledge and insight, not just of the particulars of that company, but of the building product industry as a whole. 
  • Product representatives have communication & social skills we should all admire:  Since the kind of work representatives do is so dependent on great people skills, the good ones are naturally outgoing and great communicators.  We benefit greatly from the natural social lubricant our product reps bring to our meetings and programs. I have found the reps to be fun and engaging and interesting, and personally I think of them as a model to emulate when I meet new people.  My wife, a social worker, would probably say that I have remedial social skills at best- I can be shy and withdrawn, I am horrible with names, and I often don’t pick up on conversational cues that others more naturally do. These are all things that I want to personally improve upon, and I can honestly say that my time spent interacting with my product rep friends in the chapter is my best opportunity for honing those skills.  
  • Product representatives have a vested interest in our success:  Whether or not a product rep is working on some sort of a commission, their financial well-being is dependent on being successful in helping grow the market and market share of the products and manufacturers they represent.  Being one of the great venues for communicating that product value to consumers (as represented by the specifying & designing architects and engineers), the product reps naturally want to see CSI Chicago succeed.  So many of our reps are our most committed contributors to our chapter’s success.  For example, our membership committee exhibits a kind of zeal and hustle that we all benefit from, and three of the four key members of that committee are product reps (thanks to Chris Walsh, Bob Moretti and Missy Ruminski). Each month they send emails, make calls, & have face-to-face conversations with literally hundreds of existing, renewing and prospective chapter members. We are eternally grateful.       
  • Product representatives are great at spreading the good word of CSI to our peers throughout Chicagoland: When you combine the characteristics I’ve listed above, you have essentially designed the perfect vehicle (as a collective group) for helping to spread the word of the value of CSI Chicago to the Chicagoland built environment.  Product reps naturally need to go far and wide in the performance of their daily duties, meeting diverse groups of people- designers, specifiers, contractors, supply chain specialists, facility managers, building owners- you name it.  We want our product reps to be our ambassadors to the all these groups, communicating not only about the products and services they represent, but also about our great organization and the products and services we represent.  To that end, we have started making handout literature for our product reps to take with them when they are out meeting people, doing lunch and learns, going to trade shows etc. that communicate the value of CSI Chicago, as well our outstanding upcoming programs.  We want to equip our valuable product reps with the tools to help us grow the chapter. 

These are just a few of things I think of as we identify how important manufacturers and product reps are to our chapter.  And I give thanks to them for being a part of our committed group.  Please join me- let them know you appreciate them, too.

If you are a product rep and want discuss further the many little things you can do (even as a natural co-generation of your daily duties) to grow and strengthen our chapter, please contact me or Chris Walsh, Randy Chapple, Bob Moretti or Missy Ruminski, and let’s talk about it. 

Thanks for everything you do, and I look forward to seeing you at a chapter event soon!    

November 2016

As many of you know, the CSI has been experiencing a greying trend for quite some time know.  Over the course of the last couple decades, the average age of institute membership has steadily increased.  This puts a downward pressure on the Institute’s membership levels as older members retire or pass away.  I won’t get into a dissertation about the fundamental causes related to this demographic trend, but suffice it to say that it is evident at all levels of leadership in the organization (including at or chapter level) that we need to proactively resist this trend by aggressively seeking to attract younger members- they will be the next generation of our esteemed organization.

I’m happy to say that we are beginning to see positive results from several years of concerted effort on this front in our chapter.  Based on the tireless efforts of my predecessor, Elias Saltz, we were able to get a Young Professionals Committee established and off the ground in 2016.  They have already hosted their first event this past week, by bringing Trivia Night back.  They have two more events scheduled for this year, and the committee members have been very active in the regular work of the chapter.  They have also offered great ideas for more strictly social events to plug into our calendar.  Thanks to their suggestion, we will have a Bowling Night downtown in May or June. And the Young Professionals were a big part of our Rebuilding Together Volunteer event in September as well.  

We all need to support their hard work in any way we can.  Ways to do this include:
Active participation and attendance at the events they are putting together on our behalf.
Volunteering to sponsor their events.
Talking about the value of CSI generally to younger members of our offices.
Helping to identify the young talent in our offices and workplaces who may be possible candidates for membership and inviting them along to a chapter meeting or social event.
Encouraging the leadership at our offices and workplaces to offer time-off and dues reimbursement for younger people in our offices.
Getting to know the members of the Young Professionals Committee and letting them know that you appreciate and value their efforts.   
Having an open mind to new social structures and ways of doing things within our organization, to make our culture a more welcoming and conducive atmosphere for a younger audience.
Helping to identify what I call “The Next Big Thing”- the next challenge CSI needs to tackle to improve the built environment.  More on this in a future installment of my President’s Letter, but I think we need a new challenge that engages the younger cadre to make a meaningful contribution to building process- we can’t simply be about refining the process of managing specifications.  We need new challenges.  What are those challenges?

To quote Rod Stewart:
     We got just one shot of life, let's take it while we're still not afraid.
      Because life is so brief and time is a thief when you're undecided.
     And like a fistful of sand, it can slip right through your hands.
     Young hearts be free tonight. Time is on your side,
     Don't let them put you down, don't let 'em push you around,
     Don't let 'em ever change your point of view.

I’ll bet you didn’t see that coming.

As always, I’d love to hear your feedback, and I look forward to seeing you at an upcoming event!

October 2016

Well, What Do You Think?

Welcome to the first installment of the new and improved Change Order monthly newsletter of the CSI Chicago Chapter.  The Communications Committee has been working hard to update our signature mode of communication, and I think they’ve done a terrific job.  And I’m sure it will only get better from here.  Please take a good hard look, and if there are any ideas or suggestions, be they content-related, or format/graphic related, please feel free to email using the subject line “Change Order Suggestion” and the committee will consider your welcome input.  We want to thank the task force that put in a ton of work to make this happen:

  • Stuart Berger
  • Drew Clausen
  • Thad Goodman
  • Peter Grotenhuis
  • Elias Saltz
  • Beth Winkler

I especially want to thank Peter Grotenhuis and Beth Winkler, who spent a great deal of time trying to get the template format “just right” so future installments of Change Order will be easier to produce. Happy Reading!

Let’s Get Engaged

A few years ago, leadership within the Chapter identified a desire to increase our involvement and membership ranks amongst the general contractors and subcontractors in the Chicago building community.  We currently only have a few members of the chapter who primarily describe themselves as contractors, and those few largely are involved because they were trained as architects and want to maintain their licensure with our great continuing education.  We see a prime opportunity to strengthen our knowledge base and expand our influence in the built environment by getting more contractors and subcontractors involved in the chapter.  We have targeted contractor engagement as a key to growing and diversifying our membership base.  

Frankly, the chapter has struggled over the past few years to get this initiative off the ground- the kind of focused effort to make this change was too much for our existing volunteer chapter committees to handle. And we had not succeeded in finding that critical reason for contractors to want to get more involved with CSI.  

So this year, we inaugurated the Contractor Engagement Committee to focus all their efforts on making contractor engagement a reality.  The committee has been meeting to identify the following:

  • Benefits to the CSI Chicago general membership of a thriving subset of involved contractors and subcontractors
  • Key motivations why contractors/subcontractors should want to be a part of CSI Chicago.
  • Obstacles to their involvement
  • Avenues & methods of communication with them
  • Incentives we can implement to encourage contractor/subcontractor participation
  • Products and programming that would be mutually beneficial to both the existing and new chapter audiences.

I have been privileged to be a part of these initial meetings and I’m very excited about the prospects of success in this worthy endeavor.  We have an outstanding committee.  They are:

  • Heather Yario Rice (Chairperson)
  • Scott Conwell
  • Patrick Duffy

They have taken this task and are starting to run with it.  The board supports their tremendous efforts and we are looking forward to helping them in any way we can.  I anticipate that we will be calling upon seasoned members of the chapter to help us out by:

  • Attendingmeetings of contractor-focused organizations to project our presenceand willingness to get involved in contractor-related issues of theChicago building community.
  • Offering to teach seminars and courses in project delivery and construction documents to contractors and subcontractors.  
  • Spreadingthe word amongst our contractor friends and contacts that CSI Chicagois ready, willing and able to engage with them.  
  • Listening to those same friends and contacts about what CSI can do for them, then reporting it back to the Committee.

As far as we are aware, this initiative is unique amongst all the CSI constituent chapters. Once again CSI Chicago is blazing a path, and we hope that we can share successful strategies with other chapters of CSI in the future.  This effort will be new and experimental, and as such the committee is very open to any new ideas.  As a chapter we are willing to give just about anything a try.  If you have a suggestion about how to help us increase our engagement with the Chicagoland Contractor/Subcontractor community, please share it with a member of the committee or with me or Beth when you next see us.  Also, please feel free to email your thoughts to using the subject line “Contractor Engagement” and Beth will forward it to the right people.  This plea is especially directed to those of us who are contractors or subcontractors, or who work with them on a regular basis- you will have insight that those of us who work in architecture offices or A&D showrooms might not have.  

September 2016

Brace Yo-selves! Change Order is getting a makeover

Over the past year we have been working to digitize the many storage boxes of chapter archives so that we can all access them via our website in the near future. A large portion of the archives was printed copies of the Change Order periodic newsletter (don’t worry- we’re saving a bunch of the best examples for the future museum).  As we were scanning we couldn’t help but read them and noticed a lot of great features that we thought we should reincorporate into the current, electronic version of Change Order.

We created a taskforce to revamp and update the Change Order. That taskforce met over the summer and is gearing up to make big changes.  Here are the goals of the changes:

  • Optimize the layout for reading electronically
  • Make a stronger, clearer graphical identity with more consistency from issue to issue
  • Add or reinstate new feature content, like:
    • New Member Spotlight
    • Featured Member Spotlight
    • Chapter Meeting Recap and Opinion
    • Hot Tip of the Month
    • Reader comments section
    • Featured Project of the Month, titled “Closeout”
  • Make the cover page art, banner, and table of contents page more attractive and compelling
  • Improve advertisers’ return on investment by reconfiguring ad space standards
  • Speeding up production time by using proper desktop publishing software (Adobe InDesign)

We are on target to roll out the new Change Order in October.  We want to thank in advance all the members of the task force who are putting in the time and effort to make this happen:

  • Stuart Berger
  • Drew Clausen
  • Thad Goodman
  • Peter Grotenhuis
  • Elias Saltz
  • Beth Winkler

We need volunteers to contribute to the new feature content!  Please use our site to volunteer to contribute content- one article at time.  It’s a great way to help out the chapter without the ongoing obligations of committees or the board positions.

By the way- don’t be surprised if we re-publish some of the old photo gems we’re discovering in the archives in the new Change Order.  Some of it is funny and downright incriminating!

I look forward to seeing you all soon! 

August 2016


In ecological studies, one of the hallmarks of a healthy ecosystem is a broad diversity of plant and animal species.  Diversity helps ecosystems overcome shocks to the system due overreliance on any one species.  Similarly, I believe that for our local chapter to truly thrive, we need a broad diversity of membership.  Your chapter leadership is currently working on establishing a Membership Growth and Retention Plan.  The purpose of the plan is to establish goals for chapter membership growth & and retention and to identify methods for attaining those goals.

By “membership growth”, we are not talking only about our sheer numbers of members.  We are talking about broadening and diversifying our membership to increase our appeal and influence to the entire community of people involved in the built environment- Owners, Builders, Design & Engineering Professionals, Building Material Vendors & Manufacturers, Facilities Management Professionals- the entire gamut.   We believe that a diversity of people, each with their own perspectives, needs & desires for being involved in CSI, will strengthen our community as a whole, thereby making us a stronger ecosystem.  If CSI as a whole can establish and maintain its role in the built environment as an essential and trusted advisor on how to best design, build and maintain our built environment, then membership growth will happen as a natural byproduct of our utility to prospective members. 

Over the course of the next few newsletters, I want to share with you some ways that you can help in this effort to grow and diversify the chapter. This month I want to equip you with facts and figures of the economics of being a member, so you can talk to people (your coworkers, employers, friends you know in the industry) about the economic value of membership- both to you, and potentially to them.


Many of us who work in design firms are trying to make fiscally responsible choices in the commitments (both in money and in time) we make to organizations outside our work, personal & family obligations.  Licensed Architects and Engineers are obligated to maintain professional proficiency by performing and reporting Continuing Education to our licensing boards and professional Organizations.  As an architect, I am a member of the AIA. My membership in AIA facilitates the reporting and record keeping associated with my Continuing Ed obligations- AIA is considered an acceptable record keeper for my state licensing entity to prove I did my continuing education.  This member benefit has a real tangible value to me, and is one of the primary reasons I maintain membership in AIA, and I know that is true for many of my A/E brethren. 

Each year I pay $705 to be a member of AIA (national, state and local components combined).  I get all the usual membership benefits- like the continuing ed reporting, legislative advocacy, discounts on AIA resources like AIA contact documents, access to online resources and a really good magazine once a month.   There are also social and networking opportunities, which, frankly, I don’t advantage of nearly as much as I should.

To be a member of CSI Chicago (national, regional and local components combined), we each pay $395 a year.  Given the fact that our membership dues cover the cost of all our chapter meetings including dinner, this is a great value.  During this program year, we will be offering around 44 hours of continuing education, all free of charge to members.  Apart from simply meeting the regulatory obligation of continuing ed., our programs are disseminating high-end knowledge that you can really use.  Our programs are high quality, with lots of open-ended discussion with real experts in their field- no fluffy courses on things like “2016 color trends” for us!   Personally, I find that most of the time I get more out of the educational opportunities through CSI than from those put forth by AIA, and at a fraction of the cost (most AIA continuing ed. courses online cost $40 an hour, even to members!).  If I were to attend all of CSI Chicago’s learning events this year (I will only go to about half) I would be paying less than $9 an hour, and at least seven of them will include a multi-course meal!  And I’m not even touching on the available webinars from CSI National.

We CSI members gain access to a tremendous network of peers and trusted advisers that help us do our jobs better.  I remember a few years back when I was struggling to add comparable products (to create bidding competition) to a low slope roofing specification I was working on.  I sent an email to a half a dozen peers, and in less than an hour the most knowledgeable specifiers in the city each sent me their listings of comparable competitive products from their office master specifications.  Right then I knew that being in CSI has tremendous value. 

As a member, we have access to great resources to make the process of specifying easier and to make the challenging process of meeting specifications easier to understand and execute. For instance, we here in Chicago have access to the CSI Chicago Master Paint Specification- a document that has been created with vetted products that are reliably comparable across various paint manufacturers, saving a tremendous amount of time for people who don’t want to spend a significant portion of their lives learning all about paint products and names (ugh).  And of course we get great guidance on all the standards and formats that CSI promulgates in specifications and product information management.

We can enhance our credibility in our professions/industries by being members of CSI, and then being certified through the various CSI credentialing programs.  By extension, our credibility enhances the credibility of our employers and clients.  My former office touted in their qualification documents the fact that they had a quality management process administered by a CSI person (“Jeremy Olsen, AIA, CSI, CCS, CCCA, LEED AP BD+C” adds a little gravitas, apparently).  Marketing professionals in offices are always looking for the competitive edge that will make their qualifications statements and proposals better than the competing firms’- you can be that competitive edge!

Oh, and we have a really good magazine.

You would be doing your organization (and yourselves) a great service by taking advantage of any available opportunity to make the case for the value of CSI to your professional growth, productivity and credibility, and that it behooves your friends and employers to similarly take advantage of CSI membership.  When your office HR person talks about benefits, and lets you know that they will pay for your professional organization dues, ask them to tack on CSI membership, not only for yourself but for others.  Our earnest promotion of CSI to our coworkers, employers and friends is one of the most effective ways we have to grow CSI and enhance our built environment. 

Best Wishes for the rest of the summer.  See you at our next meeting!     

July 2016

I’m very excited to be assuming the role of Chapter President this month, and for a number of reasons I’d like to share with you:

  1. Chapter membership is growing.  Despite a trend institute-wide ofdeclining membership, our chapter has actually seen significant growth-7% last fiscal year alone.  We are looking to build on that growth thisyear by developing and implementing a more formalized membershipretention and growth plan.  We are looking to continue this trend with agoal for 5% membership growth this year, and for years to come.

  2. We are in great financial shape.  Thanks to excellent stewardshipby our Board and Treasurer Deb Burkhardt, as well as generosity fromour sponsors and the proactive work of our Sponsorship committee, wehave had several successive years of positive net income and a growingbudget. This happy situation allows us to invest more in programming forour membership and maintain our dues at a steady level, when those ofother organizations keep going up.

  3. We are growing our programming offerings. We have started a new“Summer Series” of technical roundtables over the summer months, whereour community can garner continuing education and fellowship with ourpeers.  John Birazzi will be starting a pilot program he has tentativelytitled “Meet the Reps” that will supplement the work of theroundtables.  And we have a number of new, largely social programs inthe planning stages for this year (Hint: Dust of your bowling shoes). We are looking for new opportunities to collaborate with alliedorganizations on putting on programming, which exposes our organizationto potential new members.

  4. We have an awesome lineup of programs in store for us. The listof topics that are currently under development - Chapter Programs,Technical Roundtables, Specifier Roundtables & Industry Roundtables –has me positively salivating at the great learning & discussionopportunities we have in store for us.  And we will continue to build onour marquee events, Building Envelope and CSI2eye, which promise to bebetter than ever this year.

  5. We are working to diversify our membership.  With plans to betterengage young professionals, students, contractors and subcontractors,and allied organizations, we are looking to broaden CSI’s appeal andinject our organization with new and invigorating thinking. 

  6. We are going to engage our members more fully. With initiativesto revamp the structure and look of the newsletter and the chapterwebsite, we want to make these communication paths more efficient fortime-compressed knowledge workers like you. We are going to bring backsome opportunities for members to contribute at chapter meetings though“Hot tips”, Member Spotlights, Op-eds in the newsletter, and more.

  7. We welcome the Young Professionals Committee to our ranks. Thisnew committee has three great program offerings for all members andguests spread through the program year. They are bringing back TriviaNight, a short-form rapid presentation night called Pecha Kucha, and a“Lessons Learned the Hard Way” presentation night.

So much of what I’m excited about is thanks to the truly amazing work of outgoing president Elias Saltz, who got the ball rolling on so many of the positive initiatives we get to build on this year.  He has been our MVP, and we continue to look to him for energy and leadership.  Beth Winkler, our dynamic and focused Executive Administrator, is a powerful force for good for our Chapter, and the Board & I look forward to working with her in this coming year.

But we need your help, too! We need volunteers to help with:

  • The Newsletter Revamp: We are forming a Newsletter Task Force,populated with members with diverse perspectives on what the newsletterneeds to deliver to us.

  • The Web Microsite Revamp: We a forming a Website Task Force, tofigure out how to make the site best meet the needs of our diverse andbusy members.

  • Digital Archiving: We are in the process of scanning years of olddocuments to make them accessible on the web and preserve them for thelong term.  We need folks to help in that effort.

Contact Beth at to find out more information and to volunteer.

Have a terrific rest of the summer, and I look forward to seeing each of you this fall.  It’s going to be a great year.  

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