April 20, 2016
Friends, engineers, countrymen—lend me your ears!
We serve a noble profession, designed to help people live better lives. But we need to make sure every potential engineer knows that. We need to encourage and nurture the next generation of audacious engineers, the big dreamers and blue-sky thinkers waiting in the wings.
We need to let them know that working together creates an ideal team. When we combine the insight and experience of veterans with the trailblazing ideas and boundless enthusiasm of up-and-comers, we can transform our field—and the world—in profound ways.
When reflecting on the complex challenges facing engineers and society today, I was reminded of President John F. Kennedy’s famous speech at Rice University in September 1962 regarding the United States’ decision to go to the moon:
“We choose to go to the moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard, because that goal will serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills, because that challenge is one that we are willing to accept, one we are unwilling to postpone, and one which we intend to win, and the others, too.
The time has come for engineers to accept this challenge just like America did with going to the moon. We need to recruit new talent to our profession if we want any hope of addressing our nation’s infrastructure crisis, among other current and future engineering obstacles.
How do we start? Think of the most ambitious 20-somethings (or younger) you know and forward this open letter to them.
An Open Letter to Those Who Want to Change the World
The Flint water crisis reminded me of how much we take for granted. We don’t always think about where water comes from when we turn on the faucet, but clean, running water is a modern marvel.
And that’s true in so many areas of our lives. Think of all the structures that have survived for thousands of years—and the ones in your neighborhood. The roads, the bridges, mass transit and the structures that protect us from floods—we forget that civil engineers are responsible for the technology we rely on every day.
Of course, they also need the support of the public, because our work is a shared enterprise designed to benefit society. And that’s exciting to me! I get to learn so much, come up with new innovations and then disseminate those ideas so they can become real and make a difference in people’s lives!
What We Do Reflects Our Values
Let’s return to water for a moment. The quality of our water is a direct result of myriad decisions made decades ago. Today’s engineers continue to improve upon those decisions: They figure out how to pioneer new technologies and encourage the public to embrace novel approaches.
For instance, we’re reusing water to address drought. Civil engineers figured out how to purify wastewater into drinking water and are making the process more efficient than anyone could have imagined. And in Washington, DC, wastewater is transformed into energy in a model of urban innovation.
That’s the beauty of our profession. Our work is tangible and has a social impact, even when it’s behind the scenes.
Envision Your Impact
Imagine that you can see into the future. When you look at our country 30 years from now, do you see a thriving nation that solved its infrastructure crisis through ingenuity and commitment? Or do you see one where quality of life decreases daily because we didn’t develop the solutions we needed?
You want to make an impact on society? Become a civil engineer. It’s the ideal field to make your mark, where you’ll be proud to come to work every day.
You’ve already taken the first step by reading this far. Now it’s time to reach out to your mentors and take the next one. Ask them what inspires them, what they leap out of bed in the morning looking forward to—and how you can get on the path to becoming an engineer.
Open your eyes further. Love what you do. Make a difference.
Change the world.