As usual, I want to welcome back all our students after their month-long holiday. Alas, for many of us in administration, the holiday only encompassed the week between Christmas and New Year’s Day. The machinery of running an educational enterprise cannot be allowed to slow down for long. There are reports to write, meetings to attend, collaborations to be forged, and plans to visualize. Fortunately, January was relatively mild by Northeastern metrics, but who knows what February has in store for us on the Eastern seaboard.
One event I should mention, which recurs every February, is National Engineers Week, a focus on the importance of engineering and technology to society, sponsored for over sixty-five years now by the National Society of Professional Engineers (NSPE). This organization, founded in 1934 by the great bridge builder David B. Steinman (1886-1960), decided to celebrate the profession during the week of George Washington’s birthday. Hence this year it runs from February 19-25. A perusal of NSPE’s website shows that one of the organization’s major emphases is trying to enlist more young people into the ranks of practicing engineers. Its Future City Competition involves 6th to 8th graders in imagining how urban areas might look decades from now, and its Introduce a Girl to Engineering Day highlights the laudable goal of increasing the number of young women in the profession.
Having some activities during that specific week is excellent for promoting the profession, but a more in-depth involvement, particularly with traditionally underrepresented groups, will have a more lasting impact. With that goal in mind, three of our mechanical engineering faculty (Drs. Kevin Craig, Alex Pesch and John Vaccaro) recently received funding from the utility company PSEG to bring students from the Freeport Long Island school district, with a largely African-American and Hispanic population, and from Sacred Heart Academy, an all-girls school, to participate in a hands-on program where they will learn engineering design, instrumentation and programming as they build and test small scale wind and solar power systems. The emphasis on renewable energy in their design work ties in with popular themes in society, but rather than just being catch-phrases, the students will learn the principles of the design of systems converting these sources of energy to usable power. In addition, they will use Arduino microcontrollers, which they will then be able to take home, encouraging them to incorporate them in designs of their own making. The faculty are giving of their time on six consecutive Saturdays, morning and afternoon, to run three hour sessions for each of the two school populations.
Some people might ask whether we need more engineers. After all, between 2006 and 2015, the number of bachelor’s degrees in engineering increased from 74,186 to 106,658. But as many commentators have observed, many of these graduates are often sought by employers in fields not strictly related to engineering, based on the general analytical skills they have honed during their collegiate schooling. Also we don’t know what technologies lie ahead of us that will demand many new engineers. It might be the Hyperloop, offering intercity travel at 700 mph through vast networks of tubes, or it might be a renewed space exploration program, or new virtual reality technologies. Whatever the opportunities, we at the DeMatteis School of Engineering and Applied Science want to do our part to ensure that a talented, diverse group of new professionals is at hand to participate in the adventures awaiting us all.