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On Friday, November 4, I had the pleasure of delivering the keynote address at the University of Miami’s Global Challenges Addressed by Engineering and Technology Symposium. Held in recognition of the College of Engineering’s 75th Anniversary, the daylong symposium also marked Miami Engineering Day through a proclamation by Miami-Dade County Mayor Daniella Levine Cava.
Participating in events such as these is a constant reminder that our future rests in the hands of tomorrow’s engineering leaders. Many of those leaders are currently seated in classrooms across the country right now. Seeing them, speaking with them, sharing my experiences and listening to their ideas is an important part of ensuring a connected education that synthesizes lessons from the past to prepare for future uncertainties.
Today’s Challenges Provide Guidance for Tomorrow’s Uncertainties
Two dominant global problems we face today are (1) pandemics and the spread of disease, and (2) the impact of climate change. Engineers played a major role in securing the safety of citizens for both the COVID-19 pandemic and the Ebola outbreak. From the development and dissemination of life-saving vaccines to the building of field hospitals, engineers’ knowledge, skills and creativity helped to transform our knowledge of safe facility designs and the effects of microbiomes of the built environment. Engineers are also involved in addressing climate change, from ways to remediate the impact of climate change to decarbonizing our energy ecosystem.
Diversity and Inclusion is a Necessity
To be effective, the engineering profession must reflect inclusion of all engineering disciplines and diversity of individuals including underrepresented groups or the profession will suffer in the long run. To do that, universities must attract more students from diverse backgrounds into the engineering disciplines. Futhermore, students from diverse backgrounds and skillsets must be introduced throughout their K-12 education to the creative nature of engineering and its value to society. This broad change will require teachers, counselors, parents and other role models from all segments of society to encourage young people to explore the potential of study in an engineering field. A great resource is the NAE’s new video, which shows how dynamic and exciting engineering is.
Social Awareness Strengthens Engineering
In my address, I shared several examples of unintended consequences. Social media is one such example; it connects people and cultures, but it is also weaponized to marginalize individuals and to spread false information. Engineers should accept more responsibility for considering potential unintended consequences of their work and seek to minimize the possibility of their occurrences. A start in this direction would be integration of the social sciences into engineering curricula. Integration is the key, and doing so will increase the likelihood of engineers thinking about how technology affects and is used by people. Social awareness and “soft skills” are just as important to engineering as technical science.
Today’s engineers have a chance to make profound changes in the profession. Engineering students, like those at the University of Miami, bring something new to engineering. They are creating a process, a product, a system – something that didn’t exist before. It is not just about problem-solving. It is goal orientated and directed to the benefit of society. And it represents a future we can only imagine today.
Video recap of the University of Miami Global Challenges Symposium