Engineering: A Vast Approach

By Zachary B.

Throughout my four years as a mechanical engineering student at the University of Maryland, engineering has primarily meant, the application of mathematics and physical sciences to real world applications. I still do believe in this definition of engineering. What I had not previously considered though, was to what extent those real world applications could vary, and the impact any one application could have. I had not truly thought about how monetarily driven much of my engineering education was. Beyond the purely theoretical courses, even the classes focused on designing a product, or reverse engineering a product, were all focused on a piece of engineering that had the simple goal of generating the most revenue. Engineering ethics has still been a factor throughout my coursework, but it has always been very narrow in scope as I see it. The ethics were more focused on ensuring the design was safe and honest, while the ethics of the overarching goal of the design was rarely discussed. Engineering for social change was the first course I had taken in my college career that has allowed me to take a step back and look at the bigger picture of engineering in our modern society.

Working with a nonprofit organization on our own technological project for a good cause, in conjunction with the various lectures we had throughout the semester, provided a very different experience than conventional engineering courses. The lectures have mostly given me a different outlook on engineering as a career. I now find myself questioning what the overall goal of a product is, what the potential impact it could have is, how this could affect society, etc. I’ve learned that these are very important questions that every engineer should be asking themselves throughout their career. I previously did not think to ask these questions during my experience as an intern. Instead, like many workers, I just did what my boss told me to do. As simple as that sounds, I have learned throughout the semester, that following orders without questioning the ethics behind your actions, has resulted in very unethical things in the past. My main takeaway from the course is; now knowing that what we do as engineers has the potential to impact many people, and our work can determine that impact, it is important that we first question the outcomes of our work, and only continue with what each of us, as individuals, believes is right.

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