This month’s Prism cover story, “Help Wanted,” looks at the state of the technical workforce in the federal government, and, unfortunately, the picture is less than bright. Although President Bush noted in his State of the Union address that scientists and engineers are essential to keeping America competitive into the future, working for the government doesn’t carry the cachet it once did. Today, private industry is more attractive to new graduates. Lukewarm interest in working for the government coincides with a projected wave of retirements among large numbers of baby boomers employed by federal agencies. Add to this the fact that America’s universities aren’t producing enough engineers to meet society’s needs, and the problem is magnified. While there are programs underway to fill the pipeline, the image problem continues to be challenging.
There are other indications that students are entering engineering with the corporate ladder in mind. According to a recent report on America’s top CEOs, 21 percent of the top S&P 500 companies are now headed by executives with degrees in engineering. Engineering, it turns out, is by far the most common undergraduate degree for these executives, outnumbering business administration and accounting. Our article “Route to the Top” reports on this trend, pointing out the qualities and skills engineers bring to the boardroom. Also, the U.S. economy has a large fraction of companies that rely on engineering, and in such companies, engineers are a natural choice for the top slot.
Of course, not all engineers aim for Corporate America—some decide to fight poverty instead. Caroline Baillie says she chose engineering because “I couldn’t save the world unless I knew how it worked.” Baillie, who is profiled in this issue, is a materials engineering professor at Queen’s University in Kingston, Ontario. Convinced that science and activism go hand in hand, she hasn’t hesitated to plunge into projects that use engineering to make the world a better place for the poor. After watching impoverished cartoneros gather recyclable trash from the streets of Buenos Aires, Baillie came up with an idea to create composite building materials, allowing the poor to keep more profit and product for themselves.
As always, we have attempted to provide a variety of current and interesting stories for your reading pleasure. If you have comments or suggestions, I would welcome hearing from you.
Frank L. Huband
Executive Director and Publisher