Each semester, I visit with Freshmen in our Living Learning Communities. Last week, I met with a number of students from our Developing Leaders in Engineering (DLE) group. As always, I arrived with a stack of plain notecards, handing one to everyone in attendance. (This is an old trick that I learned from Dr. John White, former Dean of Engineering at Georgia Tech and Chancellor at the University of Arkansas.) Getting strange looks from the students, I asked them each to write down any question that they wanted me to answer. Once I explained that the cards would be collected, shuffled, and handed to me, they understood that I would not be able to ascertain who wrote which question. Therefore, the questions could be asked with pure anonymity – and one could truly ask anything.
This past week, I received a disturbing question: “Is Engineering Fulfilling?” Yes, disturbing. Not because it is an offensive question, but rather, because it has to be asked. I believe this is an indication of the failure of my field – Engineering — to promote itself. That is, if people better understood the good that Engineers do, then it would be abundantly clear as to how fulfilling an Engineering career can be. And if people understood this better, then more people, especially from underrepresented backgrounds, would likely pursue careers in Engineering.
The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines “fulfilling” as “providing happiness or satisfaction.” Can you think of another career that provides more happiness or satisfaction to humanity? Think of the different products or services that Engineers have designed and built in order to improve the human condition: from automobiles and airplanes to bridges and highways; from computers and smartphones to rockets and heart rate monitors. From the seemingly mundane (vacuum cleaners) to the exotic (robots), Engineers are continuously developing new technologies to move us forward. One only has to imagine the future to ponder what Engineers will build for a better tomorrow.
This is why the question troubled me. Every Engineering discipline provides happiness and satisfaction to humanity — because every discipline contributes to improving the human condition. And that is why Engineering is fulfilling as a profession. Improving the human condition is a truly satisfying endeavor.
If all understood this, then I believe more would pursue Engineering as a profession.