Ralph Shirts earned a Bachelor of Science degree in Civil Engineering from Union College in Schenectady, New York in 1979. A scholar, he graduated Magna Cum Laude with Departmental Honors. He enrolled in the Reserve Officer Training Corps while in college and was commissioned a second lieutenant in the Army’s Engineer branch. He attended the Engineer Officers’ Basic and Advanced Courses and the Army’s Atomic Demolitions Munitions Course, Airborne school and the Army’s prestigious Ranger school. In 1979, he was with the 23rd Engineer (Combat) Battalion, then part of the 3rd Armored Division, in Hanau, West Germany. Ralph later served at Fort Belvoir, Virginia as the Chief Instructor for the Bridging Branch and was honorably discharged at the rank of Captain.
Following active military service, Ralph’s career with Exxon began. Over the years he has held several positions of increasing responsibility and currently serves as ExxonMobil’s global asphalt technology and business support manager. Ralph began his involvement with the Asphalt Institute in 1992 serving as Exxon’s alternate director and on the AI Membership Committee. Then in 1994 Ralph became the AI primary director for Exxon which began his long service on the Institute’s Board of Directors in this capacity. Ralph has served the Institute in nearly every volunteer and leadership position as his record of industry service will attest. His passion is leadership – and he is among a select few who has served as the Asphalt Institute’s Chairman twice in contemporary times.
Ralph’s first service as AI Chairman was in 2009, just prior to the industry’s International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) monograph in 2011. It was during this phase of Institute history that strong and unwavering leadership was essential. Ralph’s vision, persistence and ability to achieve goals became a cornerstone for our organizational future. Further, in 2009, the Institute concluded the vital work to conduct dermal cancer assays on paving and Type III BURA asphalts – a keystone in our strategy for IARC preparation efforts. These signature achievements clearly marked the Institute as the leading financial backer of human health effects research in the world. Ralph’s leadership was essential in reaching this level of industry accomplishment.
In 2015, Ralph again served as the Institute’s Chairman. Significantly, the Board of Directors approved an updated Strategy for the Institute for the first time since 1999. Also for the first time in AI history the Institute attained a seat on the Eurobitume Health, Safety and Environment Committee – reaching full reciprocity for our two HSE Committees. This important achievement serves as an example of Ralph’s years of leadership helping ensure that the efforts of Eurobitume and those of the Asphalt Institute remain closely aligned.
The Asphalt Institute Foundation (AIF) was officially formed in 2014 and Ralph served as its first Chairman – and he was indeed the catalyst for the conversations which led to its creation. Since its brief inception, the foundation has completed two internship programs, its first major international event coined the STrategic Asphalt Research (STAR) symposium and annual golf fundraisers.
Ralph’s contributions to the Institute and its Foundation are greater than the duties of the office. His vision, tireless energy, infectious enthusiasm and genuine leadership have enabled these organizations to move the industry in a significant way. As Ralph’s career remains on an uphill climb, it is time to recognize his service, his achievements, and to try to repay a debt of gratitude from our industry. It is AI’s pleasure to present Mr. Ralph D. Shirts with its highest award of recognition – the Roll of Honor.