Friday, March 14, 2014

Engaging the Public

Engineering Open House (EOH) began today at the U of I, with families and school kids dropping by North-of-Green to learn about the wonderful world of engineering and even gain some hands-on experience. I was happy to be a volunteer for ITE this year, showing kids (and even some adults) how we measure perception time and answering questions about phase plans in highly simplified terms.

Initiatives like EOH are important to engineering for two reasons. One, engineering, and Civil Engineering in particular, needs public investment. For example, most transit systems in the US are publicly-owned because they are economically unfeasible otherwise. The public good that comes from them however, enables other economic activities without which society would not be able to prosper. However, these are not facts borne of common sense, they are facts that must be told and shared. When public money is used, the public has every right to know where and why it is used. If a democratically elected government forces citizens to pay taxes without letting them know where that money is going, then that democracy is a farce. Engineers therefore, have a duty to engage with the public to let them know every aspect of where their money is going and how it benefits them.

Secondly, it is important to let young children know about engineering. I was pleasantly surprised to meet a middle-school student who asked good questions about actuated signals; when I was his age, I never gave it a thought. That boy should, in my opinion, be a Transportation Engineer in the future. I was also lucky to be able to tell a Sophomore a little about Traffic Engineering and Logistics and he seemed extremely excited. It is important for engineers to tell younger people about their field in order to attract the best talent to it. Without the best talent, we are not going to find solutions to the problems of tomorrow.

Overall, I enjoyed my time at EOH and was glad to volunteer for it. It's an excellent initiative that should be adopted elsewhere as well. 

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