Standardization News

A Conversation with Kathie

We sat down to talk with Katharine Morgan,  who became ASTM International’s president on Feb. 1 when Jim Thomas, who served in that role for 25 years, retired.

You have a degree in chemical engineering. What drew you to the subject?

In high school I was always intrigued with science and math, and they were strong subjects for me. Because of my aptitude I chose chemical engineering.

When I came to this organization, I was able to understand the way our engineer members think and what motivates them. That helped me to acclimate to the environment of ASTM.

How does it feel to follow in the footsteps of Jim Thomas?

Following in Jim’s footsteps is a humbling experience because he is an icon in the standards community. He’s a visionary, a fabulous leader, and he has been a mentor and a great friend to me and to a lot of people in our organization. I have been trained and mentored and coached by one of the best.

I have such great respect, too, for our senior leadership team. They are deep in their experience, broad in their knowledge, and unwavering in their commitment to the organization and each other. It is my privilege to share the journey ahead with them and a staff that is best in class.  So, I’m ready, and I’m thrilled to serve this great organization as its president.

When you were a staff manager, you were involved with the consumer products committee. Why was that important?

I have had the good fortune of working with several ASTM consumer product-related committees. What really made an impact was Committee F15 on Consumer Products. With their goal of improving safety, working with them was extremely gratifying.

We’re all consumers. We all use products. We want the products that we use to be safe. We want the products that our children and our grandchildren use to be safe. ASTM International and F15 are helping to make that happen.

Often, the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission brings incident data that occur in the use of consumer products to F15 subcommittees. The subcommittees create standards that address those incidents. Then we can look at the data, and if problems are reduced, we’re doing the job right. That’s very meaningful. Because of work that ASTM members did, children are being protected.

You’ve been involved with ASTM for 33 years. How have you seen ASTM change?

The biggest change I’ve seen is the introduction and use of technology in our processes and products.
When I came to ASTM in 1984, everything we did was on paper. For our standards development process, we mailed ballots — thick ballots sent via the postal system — in the U.S. and internationally. Our delivery system was also paper. We sold individual copies of standards or collections of standards in books.

Then, in 1995, ASTM had its first website, which revolutionized the way ASTM conducted business.

Now, ASTM offers a digital path for standards development — totally electronic from work item inception through to the publication of a standard — with automated tools to help reduce our members’ administrative burden and accelerate the process. We’ve been able to cut standards development time practically in half. We’re also able to deliver an integrated platform of all of ASTM’s technical information — standards, journals, technical papers — and we have a full suite of related services that help our users to apply standards and be more effective and efficient in meeting their objectives.

What do volunteer members bring to ASTM International and what does ASTM bring to them?

Members are the heart and soul of ASTM International. Everything that we do starts with them. Members donate their time and expertise to ASTM, and that has branded us in the global marketplace as an organization founded in good science and engineering judgment, an organization that produces documents of high technical quality and market relevance. Our members will always be at the core of what we do, and ASTM will always first and foremost be a membership organization.

We are committed to providing our members with the very best environment that we possibly can. One of our strategic objectives is to reduce members’ administrative burdens as they work to develop standards. We want them to be able to focus on technical issues and requirements. We do everything that we can to make our members’ jobs easier — from service, training, and technology-support standpoints — and help them accomplish what they’ve come to ASTM to do.

Members inspire the ASTM staff. Their dedication and energy is contagious; it’s what motivates us daily to do all that we possibly can to design and deliver the best standards development environment.

What advantages do you see in becoming involved in standards work early in one’s career?

For somebody who’s perhaps in his or her first job after college, coming to ASTM International must be one of the most professionally rewarding and learning-rich environments they will ever encounter.

When you come to an ASTM meeting, you’re surrounded by an incredible wealth of technical expertise. A lot of innovative topics are discussed, so you’re on the cusp of new technology.

I think our new members appreciate the technical debate. They learn from it. They learn how to articulate technical positions, to negotiate and persuade, and to develop skills by taking responsibility in an ASTM committee. It’s a great environment for technical learning and professional development.

Some say that committee weeks are the cornerstone of ASTM International’s activities. What is their importance?

I love committee weeks and committee meetings. They are essential to the operation of ASTM International.

Some thought that technology would replace face-to-face meetings and we would do everything virtually. What we have seen instead is an increase in attendance at ASTM meetings. We’re reaching more people, and they are finding value in attending ASTM meetings.

Getting together over the span of a week, and talking with your customers and suppliers and regulators and consumers and retailers and universities, is invaluable for our members. They value being able to look each other in the eye and discuss technical points, debate technical issues, and hammer out compromise and consensus. And there’s a social element — committees that have become families and friends, reuniting every six months.

Technology has done great things for ASTM, but I don’t think it will ever replace our members coming together to do standards work, to discuss issues and find solutions to the problems their industries face.

Why is it vital for ASTM International to be involved around the world?

If ASTM International is to remain a vibrant and market-relevant global organization, we need to continue to meet a global set of expectations. And we need a global population of technical experts to continue to develop ASTM content.

Our strategic objectives and tactical programs support those objectives with the overall goal being the broad-based use of ASTM standards.

We work with 100 different countries and regions around the world through memorandums of understanding with standards bodies. These MOUs allow technical experts to engage in ASTM standards development and give those countries access to the full portfolio of ASTM standards.

We promote membership internationally, partner with international organizations, and collaborate with other standards developers. We spend a lot of time working to eliminate political and regulatory barriers so that our standards can be used in an open and global marketplace.

Everything that we do in ASTM is done with an international focus.

You have traveled extensively because of this commitment. Tell us about it.

In the spring of 2016, I had the pleasure of going to Lima, Peru; Santiago, Chile; and Bogotá, Colombia, countries that use an enormous amount of ASTM International standards. A lot of ASTM’s work on construction, the built environment, and infrastructure is used in Latin America. We have a great footprint there, and we’re working to engage more Latin American technical experts in ASTM committees.

One thing we did was sign an agreement with the College of Engineers in Peru, the perfect audience for ASTM technical committees. We’re also fortunate that we have a wonderful team based in Lima; they do an excellent job of connecting ASTM programs with Latin American stakeholders.

We also traveled to the Gulf region last year. Our board of directors met in Dubai, and we had a day of outreach in Dubai and Abu Dhabi. We went to academic institutions and companies. We held workshops about amusement rides and sustainability in construction.

ASTM standards are very much used in the Middle East. Two growing industry sectors there are petroleum and construction, where we have a robust set of standards, plus training and proficiency programs.

One recent development is the plan to adopt a unified building code for the Gulf States. Our understanding is that the new regional code will be based on the suite of codes developed by the International Code Council. That’s exciting for ASTM because hundreds of ASTM standards are referenced there.

And I traveled to China and Korea in 2016. We have an office in Beijing, China, whose staff work hard connecting ASTM to government agencies and industry in Beijing and other regions in China.

We have quite a few Chinese and Korean experts who participate in ASTM committees. ASTM is really well received in both countries, and ASTM standards are important to industries there. We see a lot of new work items coming to ASTM committees from these regions.

Other ASTM products and services are of particular interest in Asia. For 2017, we’re planning an effort similar to what we did in Latin America. We want to show what ASTM can do, particularly with related services, and I think they’ll find that ASTM is a robust partner.

You’ve said that ASTM is an international standards developer both in practice and in principle. How so?

Let’s talk about practice first.

A lot of data demonstrate ASTM’s international relevance. More than half of ASTM sales are outside the United States. Our membership is international, with members from more than 140 countries. Seventy percent of ASTM student members are international. We have thousands of international laboratories participating in our proficiency testing programs. We have six international offices. We translate ASTM standards into many languages. We do training courses in languages other than English.

In principle, we’re also international.

The World Trade Organization has defined an international standards organization through a decision of its Committee on Technical Barriers to Trade. The decision identifies the principles of an international standards developer, not a list of organization names.

ASTM was founded on these same principles: openness and transparency, inclusion, effectiveness and relevance, balance, and an attention to developing countries, making sure that we make our portfolio available to developing countries and engage their experts in the ASTM process. ASTM meets all of those principles: By the WTO definition, we are an international standards developer.

Marketplace needs are changing, and we’re seeing new ASTM International committees in emerging industries. How does ASTM meet these needs?

ASTM is very attractive to emerging industries. Why? Because ASTM has a proven track record of leadership and experience in standards development. We’ve been branded as producing documents that are technically superior and market-relevant, and we have a whole suite of related resources that industries find valuable: training and laboratory services, proficiency testing, and certification.

Some of the new industries coming to ASTM are in aerospace. We began 15 years ago with light sport aircraft but have evolved to include standards development for general aviation aircraft. One new committee is working on standards for credentialing aircraft mechanics, and our board has approved a new committee on commercial spaceflight.

We’re also working on additive manufacturing. ASTM has been in this sector since 2009, and we’re partnering with ISO [International Organization for Standardization] to develop joint standards for this industry. It’s a high priority area for us, and we continue to commit resources to it.

We have a process and an infrastructure applicable to any standards need. We continue to solve problems for mature industries that rely on ASTM — cement, concrete, paint, petroleum, and more. ASTM was founded to solve a problem. We’re still solving problems; and doing it with a whole new set of emerging industries. That’s very exciting.

Where do you see ASTM International headed in the next few years?

ASTM’s future is bright. The success of ASTM International is not predicated on any one person, committee, or program.

ASTM’s success is predicated on a balanced effort among our members, the finest group of technical experts of any organization in the world; the governance of ASTM, which is committed to the betterment of the organization over any individual interests; and the staff, who remain highly energized and motivated to do all we can to help our customers and members achieve their objectives.

We’re here to understand what our members and customers need. They expect added value from ASTM. That’s why they engage in the process. That’s why they use our products. As their needs and expectations change, ASTM will change with them.

Technology will take us to great places. Technology has positioned us to be responsive. For instance, we know that there’s no industry sector that can rely exclusively on standards from one developer. But technology allows us to bring content from other developers into our platform in an interoperable way. We can provide a one-stop shop that has what our customers are asking for. They’re asking for easy access, interoperability, new functionalities, the ability to collaborate internally, and updates to their internal operating procedures that rely on ASTM standards when the standards change.

We will continue to be a standards developer. That’s ASTM’s core competency. Our integrated platform — and the services that we provide — increase efficiency, help with change management, and improve workforce capacity. That makes us a valued partner to organizations that rely on us. We’re committed to continuing to invest in those technologies and position ourselves to meet changing needs and expectations.

We’re all dedicated to a mission that rises above individual interests, a mission committed to making a difference in the world through ASTM standards and services.

That’s what will drive ASTM going forward. And it’s going to be fun!

Click here for Kathie’s full biography and links to recent interviews/op-eds from The Philadelphia Inquirer, USA Today, The National (UAE), and more.


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