An Interview with ASTM International’s Katerina Koperna
For more than 100 years, ASTM International has served as a definitive resource for standards professionals worldwide. After recognizing that many highly-engaged, experienced members were retiring—a familiar phenomenon in the organizational landscape—ASTM staff knew they had to develop a strategy that both addressed this succession planning challenge and ensured the continued strength of their organization and its mission.
To face this challenge head on, ASTM worked with McKinley Advisors to create a program specifically intended to bring younger members and future leaders into the “tent” as volunteers, fittingly called the “Emerging Professionals” program. The result? ASTM has already attracted and equipped dozens more emerging leaders to find their voices in the standardization process and start to guide the organization’s future.
McKinley’s Megan Maher sat down with Katerina Koperna, ASTM International’s Manager of Technical Committee Operations, to discuss the development of the program and explore the impact it has made in their volunteer recruitment efforts.
Megan Maher, McKinley Advisors (MM): Thanks so much for sitting down with me today, Katerina. I was hoping you’d tell me a little more about how the Emerging Professionals program came about—what its motivators were, how it’s structured and so on.
Katerina Koperna, ASTM International (KK): Of course, Megan. ASTM International’s Emerging Professionals program was born out of a single need—to bring in more voices from younger generations to our committees’ decision-making processes. Our recent member survey showed that we weren’t necessarily falling behind but we also weren’t seeing young professionals participating in our committees as often as we’d like.
With the baby boomer members nearing retirement, we feared that this could lead to a gap in committee leadership. We knew we had to create an opportunity where these younger professionals could truly take ownership in the evolution of ASTM and have a stake in the future of their specific committee.
In 2015, we launched a pilot version of our Emerging Professionals program. The premise was simple: to have our committee members nominate strong, young talent and then bring that talent together for both ASTM process training and leadership training. By getting them personally invested in our organization, we wanted to be able to include fresh voices and new perspectives.
MM: And when you launched that pilot program, what did you find?
KK: The experiences of our first, small cohort of five nominees were tremendous. They realized that they would get to interact with giants in their respective industries, develop their leadership skills, and make an impact in the future of both their fields and ASTM itself —these opportunities really got them excited and involved.
Seeing that success was inspiring. We knew we had to scale it up. After the pilot, we expanded the program to occur four times a year—twice in June and once in October and November—and it has really taken off ever since.
In a way, it’s not surprising. The newer generations are ambitious. They want to do things that help grow their careers and increase their impact in the field. When you give them the opportunity to affect the technical foundation for their industry and to meet others while doing it, they’re going to take advantage of that.
MM: In your mind, what does the future of the program look like? How do you plan to grow it? What lessons have you learned?
KK: To us, the sky’s the limit. We’re obviously continuing to build it up, and we’ve expanded the number of professionals we are able to support (we pay for 10 young professionals airfare and accommodations so they can participate in the program).
But to be honest, the thing we’ve learned most throughout this process is to listen. Now that we’re working with a much larger group of young professionals, we’re getting incredible feedback on what we could be doing better in different areas such as networking, training, and with our website and standards development tools.
This is helping us better serve existing members and it enables us to attract new ones who are searching for those same improvements while positioning us as an authoritative resource for it.
Another important thing we’ve learned is how much support it takes to get something like this off the ground. Putting together a program like this is an investment. It takes time, money and a lot of good people working together to pull off. If our leadership at ASTM hadn’t invested in this, we could have never piloted the program. If they didn’t believe in the results, we wouldn’t have been able to expand it.
In fact, our president just posted an article on LinkedIn related to the program. It’s called “What do Millennials Want?”
At ASTM, we all believe and are all heavily invested in the success of this program. And as we continue investing in this, our Emerging Professional participants do too. They become ambassadors for our efforts, they bring leadership and vision back to their jobs and they help bring our mission to life. It’s a win-win beyond what we ever really imagined was possible.
MM: That’s incredible. I know I speak for McKinley when I say that it has been rewarding to work on this program with you all. From your perspective, how would you describe our role in shaping this program?
KK: Of course. In a way, I’m not sure this would have been possible without McKinley. Jon (Hockman) has been a collaborator in this process since the beginning. He and McKinley are responsible for the leadership portion of our Emerging Professionals workshops!
Beyond that, McKinley has been invaluable at helping us scale out our program. Their out-of-the-box thinking, sweeping association expertise and partnership have helped us become far more flexible in how we evolve our own processes with what we learn from our young professionals.
MM: Thanks again for your time and for sharing more about ASTM’s approach to engaging the next generation through your Emerging Professionals program. It has been our pleasure to watch and participate in the evolution of this program and we certainly see ASTM as a leader and case study for helping other associations tackle their succession planning and engagement priorities in the future.
The future of your association lies in actively engaging the next generation.