The Ghost of Engineering Past

By Megan G.

Engineers have been the force behind social change for centuries; however, often engineers are ignorant of this fact until there are negative repercussions. During the education of an engineer, mathematics, physics, and technology courses are taught consistently. Non-tech classes are not highlighted in many engineering programs, so engineers seem to lose their ability to have a wide variety of knowledge.

Engineering for Social Change hopes to establish a connection between engineering students and the societal consequences they produce. As a future engineer, I have learned that there are consequences to every decision I make. During the Flint Michigan water crisis, many individuals, engineers included, turned a blind eye to the issues at hand and decided not to fix the problem. By the time the lead in the water was addressed, it had caused unquantifiable damage to the community. Disease was only one of the symptoms, but many prolonged symptoms, such as government distrust, have ensued. According to the ASME’s Code of Ethics, the first fundamental canon is to “hold paramount the safety, health and welfare of the public”; therefore, an in depth study of current and potential unintended consequences is something we as engineers must do to protect the public.

Throughout my semester taking ENME467, I have learned that though consequences will undeniably occur, I can prevent some and mitigate other. A major issue that has been on my horizons for quite some time is the plastic pollution in our oceans. The plastic that we litter on the streets will be able to find its way to a river and ultimately the ocean. This plastic is endangering the aquatic ecosystem, which in turn will damage the lives of all humans living on this earth. During this course, I was able to be paired with other engineering student who were also passionate about find a solution to plastic waste. By contacting local nonprofits, we were able to make a connection with the Waterfront Partnership of Baltimore. Together, we created a project that took littered plastics off the street and transformed them into recycled moldable material for different purposes. With a grant on the line, the Waterfront Partnership and my team were able to assemble a plan of action for executing our project. While ultimately, the nonprofit did not achieve the grant, they now have a reasonable start to begin looking for other funds.

Overall, integrating a direct connection to engineering and social change through the grant process allowed me to understand the change a single person can produce. Engineers are taught to see problems and address them. I will continue to do that in the future, but I will also attempt to anticipate the impact of my solution. Many of the problems in the world are cause by engineers lacking foresight, and the future of engineering will be devoted to finding better solutions.

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