Policy, One Student at a Time
A program that
blends engineering and government is hard to sell at a time when jobs
After getting her
undergraduate degree in civil engineering at Australia's University
of Melbourne and working for five years as a consultant, Joulia Dib decided
it was time to make a difference. I wanted to be more politically
active, says Dib, a 29-year-old Australian. I wanted an arena
where I could help to ensure that those in our society who have little
influence are not forgotten.
Dib hit the jackpot.
Surfing the Internet to find a way to remain an engineer while still realizing
her broader goal, Dib found the Goldman School at the University of California
at Berkeley, a top-flight public-policy school connected to one of the
nation's top engineering schools. The two schools offered a tailor-made
joint-degree program in public policy and engineering.
engineers have been at the heart of public policy for generations. Earlier
graduates designed and produced everything from the microelectronics that
transformed Silicon Valley to the networks of aqueducts that ferried water
to California's fertile agricultural land. Berkeley engineers had
a hand, as well, in producing towering structures that were unprecedented
for their timefrom the Hoover Dam to the Golden Gate Bridge.
Dib is pursuing her joint degree in transportation engineeringa
field that blends the challenges of engineering with the intricacies of
public policy. Engineering is a very technical field,'
Dib says. We use a lot of numbers and statistical packages and modeling
packages to come up with the ideal solution to a problem. But then you
quickly find that most transportation decisions are made on political
grounds and not technical grounds.
Why, then, does such an attractive program have Dib as its only student
this year? With the rapid growth of technology and societal changes, why
aren't more engineers looking at this program, and why aren't
there more programs like it?
professor of public policy at Goldman and himself a dual-trained engineer/architect,
laments the difficulties facing such forward-thinking training programs.
CEOs openly concede that seven out of their top 10 problems stem
from government regulation, taxes, and Federal Reserve issues, O'Hare
says. But you ask the CEOs: Are you hiring public policy grads?'
The answer is no.
the narrow outlook complicates the fund raising that's needed to
promote and expand the joint degree program.
One would think
that public policy programs would be a very important investment in getting
people in government who understand what business is about, O'Hare
says. But it's very hard to raise money from the business community
for public policy programs.
Another reason this
type of program may have limited appeal is the workload. Averaging 60
hours of class and study each week, engineering students taking part in
the joint degree program take on the same substantial field work required
of single-degree students, in a shorter amount of time. The full time,
two-year program features core courses in the first year, an internship
during the intervening summer, and a policy analysis project in the second
and final year tackling real-life problems for outside clients. Difficulty
in transferring credit from one academic track to the other is also a
stubborn problem, as when Dib had to repeat in engineering an economics
requirement already completed in public policy.
The small faculty
of 12 includes only two engineers, O'Hare says. It's an
extremely small program, he points out, noting that the demands
of the joint-degree students may not get priority in the large engineering
program at Cal, one of the best in the nation.
Michael Nacht, dean
of the three-decade-old public policy school, says his academic team faces
an uphill battle trying to recruit promising engineers for a public-policy
match in the face of a vibrant job market offering big-money private-sector
jobs for engineers.
tough sell for younger people driven by the excitement of technology and
the bottom line, says Nacht, a New York University engineering graduate
with a degree in aeronautics and astronautics whose last assignment was
to serve as the Senate-confirmed assistant director of the U.S. Arms Control
and Disarmament Agency handling U.S. nuclear weapons policy with Russia
and China. We have more success with demonstrating a career path
for those who are driven by a desire to see a broader impact for their
For Dib, who will
complete her dual degrees this year and is being courted by industry and
government, it has been the right choice. Having a dual degree is
definitely an asset you can sell, she says.
of transportation is an apt example of the choices available at Goldman,
says her professor O'Hare. If you want to design highways,
then you want to be in an engineering contract firm, he says. But
if you want to get all the people in the San Francisco Bay area to work
and home, then you probably want to be in the Department of Transportation.
If you think big and want to make a big difference, a way to do it and
pretty quickly is in government.
Creighton is a freelance writer living in Arlington, Va.
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