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  • 1.  An article for all Engineers

    Posted 03-04-2022 03:51 PM
    Edited by Tirza Austin 03-05-2022 12:38 PM

    Working in the Penumbra of Understanding

    A friend forwarded this link in case I had missed it


    This is not a new issue but engineers need to do a much better job of educating the public on what engineering is and how it  is much more than just applied science. The authors do this for engineering in general but how do we do it for civil engineering? 

    William Kelly Ph.D., P.E., ENV SP, F.ASCE
    St Michaels MD

  • 2.  RE: An article for all Engineers

    Posted 03-06-2022 09:36 AM

    Dear William, I really enjoyed reading this article. It is a great overview of how engineering differs from pure science. The first citations said it all: "Scientists study the world as it is, engineers create the world that never has been." (Von Kármán, 1962).

    In civil engineering, I noticed that we are growing very slow in design and construction methods. We have worked with the same materials for several years; new materials are not considered still safe or sustainable. I guess that new design and construction methods and solutions should be considered to accomplish the sustainable cities (and lives) that we want for 2050.


    Andres Guzman D.Eng., MEng, Ing., M.ASCE
    Associate Professor

  • 3.  RE: An article for all Engineers

    Posted 03-07-2022 07:44 AM
    Bill and Others:

    At risk of being accused of "pushing" my book, Engineering's Public-Protection Predicament, I am mentioning it as an answer to Bill's question about civil engineering.

    Section 7.20.2 (pages 426-433) is titled "Contribute to the Community and Make the Invisible Visible." It describes many and varied ways engineers can get involved outside of engineering to tell the public about engineering.

    I quote the late civil engineer Richard Weingardt, PE, who said "the world is run by those who show up." We civil and other engineers have many ways to "show up" in the public arena. The ball is in our court -- don't wait to be invited.

    Stu Walesh PhD, PE
    Consultant - Teacher - Author

  • 4.  RE: An article for all Engineers

    Posted 03-07-2022 12:33 PM
    Thank you for linking the article, William.

    Stacey Morris P.E., M.ASCE
    ETI Corporation
    West Memphis AR

  • 5.  RE: An article for all Engineers

    Posted 03-07-2022 06:17 PM
    Stu, Thanks for another insightful comment. With the increasing use of virtual meetings, conferences, workshops & hearings, engineers should take every opportunity to show up and lend our expertise to the conversation.

    Fraser Howe P.E., F.ASCE

  • 6.  RE: An article for all Engineers

    Posted 03-07-2022 06:18 PM
    It is certainly worth pondering.  Would educating the public about civil engineering further our profession?  Admittedly, civil engineering is not all about "creating" things, indeed I can't recall creating anything in my career, unless you count endless computer models and many dozens of project reports.  Engineering for most involves sitting at a desk all day; they don't need us to actually drive the loader, wire up the circuit, operate the milling machine, weld the girder, adjust the water plant valves, harvest the vegetables, build the bridges.  The work we do needs to get done or people can't live; no need to sell that concept.

    Dudley McFadden P.E., D.WRE, M.ASCE
    Principal Civil Engineer
    Roseville CA

  • 7.  RE: An article for all Engineers

    Posted 03-11-2022 03:04 PM

    Following the thought of Dudley McFadden for something to ponder about – here are some of my takes on the topic (thanks to Bill Kelly for providing the link to the nicely written NAP newsletter article).

    • Process vs Goal. An engineer is a scientist first, only then he or she is better poised to become an able engineer – otherwise there is the risk of an engineer drifting to more of a technician. This science ↔ engineer process lets one to better understand a problem – equipping him or her to find a smart solution. But, while a scientist enjoys the freedom to create pros and cons, if need be; an engineer is mandated to deliver definitive answer/solution by looking into other non-technical things (the nature of which depends on the type of the project). This leads us to say that the pursued processes or methods may differ very marginally or not at all; but the goals or objectives are substantially different between these two professions.

    • Heuristics – to What Extent One should Rely on It. One may ask: whose heuristics is it? Heuristics, rule-of-thumb, common sense or simply gut-feeling becomes relevant only when it matures with enough knowledge and experience. Without such maturity, heuristics has little value. A ripened heuristics is a very strong tool – certainly in the initial phase of an undertaking – but one that asks for validity at a certain time. It is widely used by all, beyond the engineering profession – only that there is a limit to what extent it can be applied.

    • Philosophy without being a Philosopher. One can philosophize an issue/problem without being a philosopher. The advantage with this line of thinking is that – it opens/broadens the horizon of one's mind to be more creative – to see things from all different angles – their solutions, effects and implications – both short and long term. Of course, the approach is not the end by itself – but a way to get to the end. That's why, as we have discussed before on other contexts, an engineering student's exposure to liberal education comes in handy – not only for philosophizing but also for effective communication to forcefully emphasize issues/bottlenecks – an engineer considers important (note that engineering projects are increasingly becoming interdisciplinary).

    • Small, Routine Project vs Large Project. All the questions/issues discussed above become more pertinent on the premises of small vs large projects, and routine vs exciting/challenging projects.


    Dr. Dilip K Barua, Ph.D, P.Eng, M.ASCE


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