I would like to comment on “The
Future Engineer,” by Margaret Loftus (December
Prism). Attracting students to the profession of engineering
is without doubt an admirable and necessary goal. A certain amount
of "advertising" as to the attractions of engineering
as a profession is expected, healthy and valuable. But seeking
to attract students from specific niches (Hispanic-American in the
case of the Loftus article) is a slippery ethical slope.
Any endeavor focusing on differences between people rather than on what unifies them may be construed as racist. Trying to gain "market share" amongst racial (a horrible and empty label) subsets is akin to establishing or at least expecting quotas. "Hey, we want our share of that 10 percent market, too!" is an unprofessional mindset that at once proclaims difference and becomes actionable based on difference. Singling out potential students due to any racial or ethnographic or religious background seems unethical in that such an approach focuses on difference.
Recognizing that the engineering profession is perfectly suited to disparate personalities and backgrounds is a far healthier and more unifying approach. People are attracted to engineering, or law, or medicine, or military service because that profession excites their curiosity, their interests and appeals to them in some still ill-defined psychological ways. It is this attraction, the excitement and professional aspects of engineering that engineers and educators can convey, display and tell about. But it must be the draw of engineering we focus on, not the young student based solely on his or her ethnic, religious, socioeconomic or other background.
Jon C. Dixon, Ed.D.
School of Engineering
University of St. Thomas
St. Paul, Minn.