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Trains Colliding, Leaded Water (still), and a $1 Trillion Promise: Happy E-Week

A priority list of 50 emergency and national security projects released last year by the Trump administration - and the beginning of an infrastructure bill released last week - highlight the importance of the engineering profession just in time for Engineers Week.
 
The National Society of Professional Engineers founded E-Week in 1951 to ensure a future diverse engineering workforce through increased understanding and interest in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM)-based careers.  This week we acknowledge the engineering discipline.
 
President Trump's proposed infrastructure projects (so far) focus largely on areas critical to transportation and energy.  According to the release, the program will create more than 430,000 direct and indirect jobs.
 
If President Trump follows through on his campaign promise to spend $1 trillion on infrastructure over the next decade, we may face a shortage of surveyors, construction workers, technicians, scientists, and engineers responsible for project completion and delivery.  (The financials are also being sketched out, but that's another story.)
 
Technical professionals will need to modernize our existing stock while also reprogramming current systems to meet tomorrow's challenges.  Filling gaps in the STEM-based professions may require front-end funding to prepare this workforce through education and training.  This could provide an opportunity for STEM initiatives in academia and vocational education.  Perhaps better public relations could also raise the profile and cultural advocacy of the technical profession.
 
Politicians don't build dams and transit networks; engineers do.  Engineers are duty bound to honor facts, data, and constraints:  There is no lobbying to change the density of water, and existing subsurface information cannot be disregarded as hypothetical, political opinion, or fake news. (It can, however, be remediated.)  These constraints call for imagination and creativity in the design process - which should be nurtured within our children on a socio-cultural level.
 
As a civil engineer, I stand at the intersection of form and function.  Civil engineering marvels are built on big dreams, which is the thrust of a recent film by the American Society of Civil Engineers called Dream Big; Engineering our World.  The film highlights stunning technical accomplishments while inviting young minds to consider the possibilities when inspiration meets innovation.
 
Emerging technologies and trends such as autonomous vehicles; impacts of population growth; and climate change and resiliency require a broader discussion that considers cost, price, value to society, and constraints.
 
So let the conversation over the built environment begin in earnest.  Take an objective look at the data and constraints related to technology, climate, and our population's looming needs.  Nurture the new generation's fascination with nature, games, and ideas.  Consider the value of STEM-oriented investment as a way to maintain our quality of life and to protect our communities from manmade disaster.  Oh - and Happy E-Week.

-David Harris, PE, is a Professional Engineer licensed in the Carolinas and Florida and is President of the American Society of Civil Engineers North Carolina Section.  Engineers Week runs Feb. 18-24.  For more information, visit www.discovere.org.