Prism - September 2002
Engineering Their Way to the Top
A Quiet Sort of Revolutionary
Feeling The Pinch
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TO LICENSE OR NOT TO LICENSE

Stephen Director's March editorial “Time for a Change” hit the mark that the National Society of Professional Engineers (NSPE) ought to focus on broader issues than licensure, and specifically on professionalism. Indeed, licensure is a narrow area within the band of issues facing professional engineers. However, two aspects of Director's editorial concerned me. First, I would like to encourage him to get registered. Second, I would like to encourage more focus on the definition of engineering than we have within a lot of niche fields, such as “financial engineering.” Regarding registration, the many practicing engineers who give attention to licensure need the support of deans of engineering to continue to uphold programs such as the FE exam, the PE itself, and legal issues regarding the practice of engineering. The dean of a major public university's college of engineering is the top engineering educator in an area, and his or her actions send important signals to the local professional community.

On the second issue, my own study of the waxing and waning of engineering professionalism convinces me that engineering has a challenge to maintain identity and respect as a “profession.” By proliferating into small niches that have little curricular cohesion with traditional fields, we work against focusing our identity.

Neil S. Grigg Professor,
Department of Civil Engineering
Colorado State University

Stephen Director responds:

I am pleased that Professor Grigg agrees that NSPE ought to focus on professionalism. With regard to licensure, I support this in those areas where it is needed. However, I cannot give blanket support to the notion that all engineering students take the FE exam or that all engineers be licensed, because I have not seen convincing arguments to justify unequivocal support of either.
With regard to Grigg's second point, I do not see how embracing change and acknowledging the growing interest in the application of engineering principles beyond the “traditional” areas, such as civil, electrical, and mechanical engineering, detracts from the concept of professionalism. Other professions have clearly evolved over time; for example, there are medical specialties today that did not exist 50 years ago. Why should it be any different for engineering?

Stephen W. Director
Robert J. Vlasic Dean of Engineering
University of Michigan


Peace Talk

Thank you for the sanity reflected in Aarne Vesilind's “Working Toward Peace” in the May/June issue of Prism. The wonders of engineering are manifold, and the act of engineering design is often joyous, but it is simplistic (if not dangerous) to believe that the solutions to humanity's problems (be they terrorists or global warming) will come primarily through the deployment and development of technology. It is vital that voices like his be heard.

Raj Raman
Associate Professor, Biosystems Engineering and Environmental Science
University of Tennessee, Knoxville


First Woman

In the March 2002 issue of Prism, Henry Petroski remarked in his article “Remembering the Future” that the first woman to receive a civil engineering degree in the United States is believed to be Nora Stanton Blanch, Cornell University, class of 1905. Actually, the first woman to receive a civil engineering degree in the United States may well have been Julia Morgan, who received hers from the University of California, Berkeley in May 1894. She also went on to become the first woman to receive the Certificat d'etude, the certificate of study in architecture, from the Ecole des Beaux-Arts in Paris in December 1901. Those who would like to learn more about Julia Morgan's life and career may enjoy reading the “American Women of Achievement” series' volume on her life, written by James Carey and published by Chelsea House.

Diane Wolfgram
Professor and Head, Geological Engineering Department
Montana Tech of The University of Montana

 

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