Friday, March 4, 2022
Dedicated students, distinguished colleagues and dear friends,
Happy Friday! And happy World Engineering Day to my fellow engineers AND to all.
“To Engineer Is Human!”
Henry Petroski’s book To Engineer Is Human beautifully chronicles the many engineering trials and tribulations that have resulted in many modern structures we take for granted. These range from skyscrapers to suspension bridges to unimaginable dams to modern interstate transportation systems, to name just a few. Petroski walks the reader through “the role of failure in successful design” of modern bridges, from the box bridges of 18th century England, which would fill with smoke when trains traveled through them, to modern transportation structures that literally bridge unimaginable spans. In the last century alone, remarkable engineering achievements have contributed much to our world and our lives. It is fair to say that engineers have relentlessly engineered the future.
So it is fitting that “Engineering the Future” is the emphasis of this year’s World Engineering Day. It wonderfully describes the positive impact engineers have made, and will continue to make, on the world.
Engineers take what seems to be impossible and turn it into reality. Consider the marvels of engineering the next time you are on a trans-Atlantic flight, sitting comfortably at 40,000 feet over Greenland, moving at 600 miles per hour while the outside temperature is -70 degrees. While watching your favorite in-flight movie and sipping your drink, can you name a few inventions and the engineering disciplines associated with your experience? I would start with the Wright brothers’ powered flight, then think about all the aviation, navigation and communication inventions associated with modern air travel, not to mention all the ground-based systems and satellite constellations that make modern global travel possible.
Here at S&T, our engineering students are trained in the art of “possibility thinking” – enabling them to use the fundamentals of math and physical sciences to turn impossibilities into reality. They also realize that their gig is a team sport that requires them to work with students in other majors such as business, education, humanities, liberal arts, computer science, physical sciences, social sciences and information technology. This collaborative approach to learning gives students a greater understanding of the economic, social, political and environmental implications of their creations.
Two years ago, as we prepared to celebrate our institution’s sesquicentennial, I wrote an op-ed about the connection between engineering and innovation. It is astounding to consider that this wonderful institution – founded in 1870 as the Missouri School of Mines and Metallurgy – was established well before the advent of electricity, the automobile or indoor plumbing. Yet, it became a wellspring of innovation, even from its earliest days!
Doppler radar, a hand-held GPS, glass beads used to treat inoperable liver cancer, a special effects system used in dozens of blockbuster movies, and even the plastic used to make milk jugs, laundry baskets and the Hula Hoop can all trace their origins to the innovative spirit of S&T. We call it “innovation, the Rolla way”!
Today we face a range of new challenges in areas such as artificial intelligence, biotechnology, cybersecurity, and environmental and energy sustainability. But at S&T, we are up to the task of engineering the future – just as we have for over 150 years. As I’ve mentioned before, the words of one early MSM graduate continue to ring true today. Lee R. Grabill, of the class of 1878, said our university prepared students to “work not only with their heads, but with their hands” and to “delight to unravel the mysteries and solve the problems which nature lays before us.”
Needless to say, the unraveling of the mysteries and the discovery will continue. To “solve the problems that nature lays before us” will require imagination, innovation, teamwork and training in solid fundamentals. It is this possibility thinking mindset that leads our students to design solar-powered homes, next-generation electric cars and robots to traverse Martian terrain. It is that spark of curiosity that spurs our faculty to transform glass into treatments for cancer or design a plan to mine on the moon. It is what led our graduates to envision the interstate highway system, determine the site of the Apollo moon landing, and create a system to improve water quality and sanitation worldwide.
To encourage and prepare future engineers, we recently opened registration for our in-person summer camps for pre-college students. Through these programs, young people will learn to design and build rockets, create robots, explore the world of materials, and even blow things up – with proper supervision, of course! As you can see, through these camps and many other programs, we are preparing the next generation to “Engineer the Future.”
And, today, on World Engineering Day, we tip our hats to all engineers for their remarkable contributions.
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