>From time to time, threads arise on this list concerning the alleged sorry
state of the structural engineering profession. My contribution to this
ongoing discussion follows below. It is an article that was recently
published in the June, 2000 Issue of ASCE News. ASCE was kind enough to
send me this electronic version expressly so that I could send it on to you.
The author is Delon Hampton, a consulting engineer and good friend who
currently serves as the president of ASCE. I feel that he is right on the
mark with his summary of the major issues that threaten our profession.
Stan Caldwell in Dallas
HARD DECISIONS AND RIGHT CHOICES
According to ASCE's latest poll of its membership, the principal concerns
are the image and stature of the civil engineer and compensation. The big
question is, What are we going to do about them?
The image and stature of the engineer in this country, which are directly
related to compensation, have been on the decline for some time. They
probably were at their peak during the lives of John and Washington
Roebling, according to Samuel Florman, a civil engineer and author of
several books on the engineering profession. In an article entitled "Why
Can't We Be Better Than We Are?" adapted from his address at the 1984
national convention of Tau Beta Pi, Florman writes, "The vast majority of
American engineers have gone through a four-year college program taking a
handful of liberal arts courses, most of these in the so-called useful
social sciences. Their experience with literature, history, philosophy, and
the fine arts stopped, to all intents and purposes, when they left high
"Less than a third of America's engineering graduates," Florman continues,
"go on to take a master's degree. Only an infinitesimal five percent study
for the doctorate. Less than half take the trouble to earn a professional
engineer license in the state in which they practice. Perhaps most shocking
of all, less than half bother to join a single professional society. And,
although I will not bore you with any statistics on this, not nearly enough
are active in politics or community affairs-not nearly enough are leaders,
although we are said to live in a technological age. This is a portrait of a
profession in decline."
I agree, today, with Florman's assessment of 16 years ago. His statement
also defines for us what
needs to be done to attain the image, stature, and compensation we covet
and deserve. Again, the question remains as to our willingness to make the
hard decisions necessary to elevate our profession.
Let us discuss our weaknesses in light of Florman's statement.
EDUCATION: Education of the engineer is too limited for the 21st century.
Our educational system has not changed in over 100 years, other than to
become easier. We not kept our undergraduate engineering curricula abreast
of the changes in new knowledge in science and technology and the
requirements of our profession for leaders. If we want to be considered
among the top professions, we must stiffen our educational requirements and,
at the same time, broaden the education of the engineer.
According to S.G. Walesh, in his article "Engineering a New Education,"
there are approximately twice as many colleges of engineering as there are
schools of engineering technology, and he claims that the proportion should
be reversed. Walesh also claims that "becoming a civil engineer is too easy,
and it's getting easier-if the current movement to further reduce course
credit requirements is any indication." He is supported in his opinion by S.
Rojstaczer, who in his book Gone for Good writes, "Given that we have both
reduced class hours and lowered our standards for student performance,
students here today are working significantly less than the students in the
The more prestigious professions control access to their profession, which
enhances their image, stature, and compensation level. We must do the same
if we are to enhance our profession and ensure that future engineers are
adequately trained for the practice of tomorrow and can perform in such a
manner as to protect public health, safety, and welfare. Adopting the
master's degree as the first professional degree and making it a requirement
to sit for the engineering licensing examinations will accomplish this goal.
Walesh further states, "Civil engineering is losing a lot of talent because
in many cases students are not being exposed to the creative, people-serving
dimensions of the profession. Keep in mind, though, that when I say 'losing
talent' I mean losing quality, not quantity."
We must begin mandatory continuing professional development for the reasons
previously cited. Our knowledge base is expanding rapidly. The half-life of
an engineering degree is estimated to be less than four years. As a
profession we have a legal, as well as a moral, responsibility to ensure
that our members are current in their knowledge base.
Ross B. Carotis, in his paper "Future of Civil Engineering Profession and
Role of Education," states, "As a start, it is proposed that the civil
engineering profession seek further means to differentiate clearly [between]
high-tech engineers, more general civil engineering practice, and applied
technology." The actions previously cited support Dr. Carotis's view.
[to be continued...]