Engineering – The Lost Profession
I just finished reading “The Lost Symbol,” by Dan Brown. It was about the misunderstood meaning and purpose of the Masonic Order. A similar story could be written about the engineering profession.
Let me share with you two recent activities that emphasis the problems facing engineering – at least in the US. The first one comes from a Portland State University panel event with Intel’s CEO Paul Otellini and Energy Secretary Steven Chu. Here is a portion of that discussion, reported by Mike Rogoway of the Oregonian:
“Panelists broadly agreed Wednesday that engineering has gotten a bad rap in the U.S., lamenting with laughs that that there aren’t many TV shows that glorify the job. And they said that teaching methods need to improve, noting that large numbers of students transfer out of engineering programs.
PSU engineering dean Renjeng Su sounded a cautionary note on the forum’s goal Wednesday, warning that teaching 10,000 new engineering grads to truly innovate costs more than simply certifying that they’ve taken classes or passed a test.
Randy L. Rasmussen/The OregonianPanelists spoke to an audience of Portland business and civic leaders at Wednesday’s forum in Portland State University’s Hoffman Hall.
“I don’t think that can be done cheaply,” Su said. “There is an intense cost to be worked out.”
For his part, Otellini said cost is less of an issue than attracting and retaining engineering students. Foreign students are filling seats in domestic engineering programs, he said, because American students aren’t pursuing them.
“We have plenty of spots,” he said. “We just need to get more of the population into those spots.”
The second relevant data point in this quandry facing the engineering profession came from a conversation that I had earlier this summer with Terry Bristol, President of the Institute for Science, Engineering and Public Policy. Terry, a long time advocate for the engineering profession, called my attention to this article: “Public Understanding of Engineering: Consequences and Solutions.” The gist of this story is that the decline of the number of engineering and technology graduates throughout the last decade must be addressed to avoid serious problems in the future. This paper called for specific changes in the way engineering is taught, as well as a serious campaign to improve public awareness.
The recent PSU talks and the paper on public understanding caused me to reconsider the plight of the engineering profession. Why have engineers lost their respect and appreciation in the public eye? The marvel of semiconductor technology created by engineers at ever decreasing cost to the consumer seems to have done our profession more harm then good.
Perhaps a massive public relations effort is needed to remind the average American that without engineering, science is of little worth. It is time for all of us to rediscover the lost “importance” of the least appreciated profession in the US.