What it Means to be an Engineer

By Sulma C.

Engineering for Social Change has been unlike any engineering course I have taken before. This course stepped away from the traditional engineering curriculum, which is rigorous and technical, and instead focused on the bigger picture— what it means to be an engineer. Through thought-provoking lectures and discussions, we learned about the future of engineering, pressing global issues, and the unintended consequences of engineering successes. We also discussed the importance of combining ethics, philanthropy, and social awareness with engineering.

As a junior mechanical engineering student, I have found that in many of my courses, the social aspect of engineering has been overlooked or only lightly discussed. I spend most of my time deriving equations, performing calculations, or conducting experiments. Although these skills are necessary, they need to be supplemented with social awareness. Technical courses can sometimes feel distant from the real world and its complexities. It becomes easy to forget that engineering is not all about building bridges and spacecraft, it is about making difficult decisions and facing issues such as pollution, global warming, inequality.

This semester, the theme of the course was waste—a major issue that engineers face today. I learned about the many different types of waste and methods of handling it. For example, sending paper and plastic waste to an energy for waste plant instead of a landfill. I learned about the alarming effects of pollution on our environment and what engineers are doing to mitigate them. I learned about approaches to producing less waste such as additive manufacturing (3D printing). I learned about the ethical concerns and negative consequences of exporting our electronic waste to developing countries. I gained a better understanding of how badly polluted our planet is, and that as future engineers, pollution will be one of our greatest challenges.
Engineering for Social Change reminded me that engineers have the ability to change the world and the responsibility to change it for the better, that engineers are innovators and builders of the future. Personally, this course has challenged me to become more aware of the world I live in and prepare myself for the problems that will be handed down to me as a future engineer. I learned that as engineers, we have to be reliable, transparent, knowledgeable, and socially aware.

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