Home   »   Careers   »   Professional Profiles


Dana Compton

Managing Director & Publisher, American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE)


Please tell us a bit about yourself (e.g. hometown, current locale, course of study).

I grew up in New York, originally in the city but primarily in Westchester County. I attended the University of Virginia in Charlottesville (WahooWah!) to study Foreign Affairs, Spanish, and French, with dreams of pursuing a career path at the UN or the State Department. Looking back and being honest, it was clear along the way that wasn’t really my passion. I got an entry-level job at Thompson Publishing Group, a business-to-business publisher—now Thompson Information Services, a division of Columbia Books & Information Services. Although the subject matter was pretty dry, I fell in love with publishing and never looked back. 

Describe some of your current responsibilities, and what type of organization you belong to.

I am currently Managing Director & Publisher at the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE). In this role, I oversee all aspects of our publishing program which comprises 35 peer-reviewed research journals, a robust books program including conference proceedings, consensus-based Standards, Manuals of Practice, technical reports authored by ASCE committees, and an ASCE Press imprint that operates similarly to a university press. I am responsible for the overall health and growth of our publishing operation, which generates substantial revenue for ASCE’s programs that advance the civil engineering profession.

What was your first scholarly publishing role? How did you get that job? What path led to your current position?

My first job in scholarly publishing was at ASCO as “Journal Administrator.” I got the job from the Washington Post back when you still circled postings in the classifieds section. (I KID!) I was working in B2B publishing at the time in a production role and was looking for a next step. I was hired during ASCO’s transition to self-publishing from a partnership with Lippincott Williams & Wilkins, as they were building up their in-house production team. In that role, I did things like check bluelines, update HTML pages, work with HighWire Press on site development, and so forth. Eventually I became Production Manager and got involved in developing an art program, worked on production for several books, partnered with HighWire Press to develop a production tracking site on BenchPress, and many other projects. 

From there I served as Production Manager and then Publication Director at PNAS. After almost 9 years at PNAS, I took the leap to consulting at KWF Consulting, where I worked primarily with society publisher clients on projects ranging from RFPs and contract negotiations to operational assessments, strategic planning, institutional pricing and sales models, and more. I returned to society publishing at ASCE in 2018.

If there was a pivotal moment or key person in your career development, please describe briefly.

Yikes, so many!! I’ve been incredibly fortunate to have a series of awesomely supportive bosses and mentors over the years. All of them are strong female leaders who have helped me develop and grow.

I once asked Vicki Vaughn, my boss at ASCO, why she hired me since I had absolutely NO journals experience. She told me she could tell I was “moldable,” and I’ve held that descriptor with me over the past 20 years as I try to continually learn and improve. Vicki also encouraged me to start volunteering with CSE, which many years later lead to my serving as CSE President—an accomplishment I am incredibly proud of. 

I owe so much to Vicki, as well as Diane Sullenberger at PNAS, Cara Rivera at KWF Consulting, and Angela Cochran. Angela lured me back to the society world from consulting and hired me as Editorial Director at ASCE in 2018. I’d known her for many years through CSE, but the opportunity to work directly with her was a dream come true! Ultimately, she left ASCE only a couple of years after I started. I miss her almost every day but am also incredibly thankful that she prepared me in so, so many ways for my current role, far beyond just publishing expertise.

What tools, websites, and organizations do you find most valuable for your career development?

Is it fair to say Google? I’m not entirely kidding—I truly believe that conducting a well-constructed Google search is an invaluable skill. But more seriously, organizations like SSP and CSE have probably been the most valuable overall, not only from an educational perspective but also in terms of developing a strong professional network, leadership skills and presence, and a reasonable comfort level with public speaking.

What are some of the surprises/obstacles that you’ve encountered during your career?

Umm, pandemic??!! The impacts of which are still unfolding as I write this! Transitioning in a matter of 24 hours from 100% in-office work to 100% remote work and then sustaining that for 20 months (so far) has been a surprise, to say the least. 

Taking on a leadership role overseeing our entire Publications division in the midst of all of this presented some unique challenges… building relationships with my new colleagues on the ASCE senior leadership team, establishing a leadership presence for our Pubs team solely through Outlook and Microsoft Teams, and generally learning the ins and outs of the position. With all of that said, these experiences have really transformed my relationship-building, leadership, and problem-solving skills in positive ways.

What do you wish you knew more about?

Technology! Digital technologies are changing so rapidly. I’m not naturally tech-savvy, so I find it a bit more of a chore to keep myself informed in this area. But it is increasingly important for all publications’ personnel to understand the newest technologies and be mini tech experts, so I just keep chipping away.

What advice would you give to people interested in a career in scholarly communications?

Certainly, I’d suggest reaching out to some individuals in the field to start building a network and identify a mentor or two. Most of us will be happy to chat your ear off about scholarly publishing for longer than you might like! Look into the various organizations out there such as SSP, CSE, ISMTE, STM, COPE, NISO… the list goes on and on. Review the resources on their websites, blogs, social media, etc, and build up your knowledge base. Join a free webinar or two. Bottom line, get ready now to be a lifelong learner, because there is never a dull moment. I’m 20 years in, and I’m pretty sure I still learn something new every day!