“One of my favorite stories,” says Jim Cornell, “concerns a young architect on our staff who was trying to get his AIA license. He was taking the exams but kept failing. We made him the project engineer, responsible for construction execution on a project through to the punch list. After working in the field for a while he started passing all his exams. He said to me, ‘Now I get it.’” He’s now a licensed architect. That philosophy is what Jim Cornell, as chairman of ACI Committee 301, Specification for Structural Concrete, has tried to incorporate into the newest version of the standard released earlier this year.

The road to chairing a committee like ACI 301 is long. Cornell started as a member of ACI’s curing committee in 1990. Then-chairman Ken Hover was looking for someone to lead the charge on a new specification for curing and drafted Cornell. “I learned how to shepherd mandatory language documents [codes and specifications] through the technical writing, conversion to mandatory language, balloting, TAC review, and public comment phases. Then, I got involved with a specification for the formwork committee, ACI 347. So before I knew it I was a member of ACI 301, responsible for Section 2, the formwork specification.”

With all that background writing specifications, it’s little wonder Cornell was named chairman of 301, which culminated in ACI 301-16. “My pitch to ACI’s Technical Activities Committee was that I wanted synergy between the technical committees and the Specification,” says Cornell. He saw that the more construction-oriented committees, were adopting regional experience and flexibility into their guides but that some of that was not getting incorporated into the specification. “Getting the knowledge from the technical committees to feed into 301 is imperative,” he says.

Apart from ACI, Cornell is a general superintendent with the Beck Group, a design-build firm headquaretered in Dallas. One of the things Cornell is excited about now is his membership on the board of the Beck Community Development Foundation. “We are training adults in Mexico to become entrepreneurs and helping them get personal microloans. It’s been very successful and rewarding.”