Engineers and scientists have a profound impact on society. The businesses that utilize STEM careers are the tools that build the gross domestic product of a country. Their inventions and innovations change the way the world does things all the time.
However, in the modern day blur of news from media outlets, we seldom hear of the engineers who are tirelessly innovating and working to keep things running. Mostly the focus is on the individuals who preside over engineers, the Elon Musks, the Steve Jobs and the Richard Bransons of the world.
Engaging the public
The Associate Dean for Iowa State University’s College of Engineering, Sriram Sundararajan wants this to change. He believes scientists and engineers need to make a concerted effort to communicate with the public
He says that it is not enough for engineers to merely publish technical journals, they need to think about ways to engage the public.
“Being able to communicate effectively to multiple audiences is an important skill for scientists and engineers. And so we want to help faculty and graduate students develop a broader impacts portfolio,” he says.
Iowa State University has created an initiative incorporated into a graduate course that will help STEM graduates communicate their projects to the public. The initiative is named ‘Strengthening the Professoriate Initiative’.
Resources will be made available to faculty members, postdoctoral research associates and advanced graduate students to encourage them to expand on their expertise. The aim is to assist them generate further research and development and to engage the public in their grant proposals and research projects.
The graduate course will focus on how technical work can be applied to benefit society. It will clarify how their engineering designs impact the society they live in.
“You need to encourage individual faculty and graduate students to develop broader impacts and public engagement. You need to develop a structure to provide them with the tools they need to be successful,” said Sriram Sundararajan
Why engineers should speak out
Professor Dereck Sparks, an Emeritus Associate Professor of Foundations and Soil Mechanics at the University of Cape Town says that civil engineers should speak out against political interference in engineering. He writes:
“As civil engineers we cannot run away from politics. When we see faults, we should supply alternative ideas, because inaction is not an excuse. Politicians and persons who do not have a proper professional training in civil engineering should not be making decisions relating to the nature and location of major civil engineering works.”
He initially wrote his journal entry in response to the misappropriation surrounding the upgrading and building of stadiums for the 2010 Fifa World Cup. However, what he asserts remains true today.
When accidents happen in engineering industries, it is revealed that ill-maintenance is to blame. Recent evidence shows that the government of Oroville, California were warned, twelve years ago, about the recent erosion of the spillways at the Oroville dam. The erosion has caused the evacuation of more than 100,000 people due to concerns of flooding.
Perhaps if these engineers had been more vocal, they could have helped prevent the disaster. Engineers should be speaking up and engaging the public on matters that directly affect them.
Engineers and politics
A more positive example of how politics has directly led to a shift in the engineering community is the politicization of global warming. The politicization of globally rising temperatures has led to a huge boom in renewable energy technology manufacturing.
Although there are alternative views on this: the President of the United States, Donald Trump, wrote on Twitter in 2012: “The concept of global warming was created by and for the Chinese in order to make U.S. manufacturing non-competitive.”
Needless to say, some scientists and engineers are concerned about their futures in industries that profit from global warming research and development.
A nonprofit organization named 314 Action (314 being a reference to the number for pi) wants to train individuals in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics) jobs in hopes that they could become eligible to run for office in the United States.
The group believes that climate change, next to terrorism, is one of the “greatest challenges facing this generation.”
“The goal is not to politicize science, but to get [STEM graduates] involved in politics. When the man who is to lead this country claims climate change is a hoax, we need people willing to stand up for the facts,” said founder of the group, Shaughnessy Naughton.
The Dean of Engineering of the Engineering Institute of Technology, Steve Mackay, has also suggested that engineers get involved in politics:
“You have to get involved because you, as engineering professionals, have something more than most of those in parliament; you have an objective. Parliaments are riddled with lawyers, accountants and people that perhaps don’t have the necessary technical knowledge to make considered technical decisions. You have the potential to make a major contribution.”
IowaStateUNews. "Iowa State Engineer Addresses Need for Scientists, Engineers to Engage the Public." EurekAlert! Web. 22 Feb. 2017.
"Sign Our Letter to President Trump." 314 Action. Web. 23 Feb. 2017.
Sparks, Dereck. "Civil Engineers Should Speak out." Dereck Sparks. South African Institution Of Civil Engineering (SAICE), 01 Sept. 1976. Web. 22 Feb. 2017.