Monday, June 25, 2012

Reflections on Engineering

I've been cottaging all weekend, having a blast celebrating the end of exams, so I completely missed my supposed-to-be-usual posting of my own work (also no internet so I couldn't even if I had remembered). And then, serendipitously, today while updating my resume I came across this essay, written for my application last year for the Engineers for the World Award.
[It was] established by the Division of Engineering Science [at The University of Toronto] at some of the top high schools in Canada to encourage and recognize students with outstanding academic abilities who have also demonstrated an awareness of their responsibilities to society. This award is given to a student completing Grade 11 who has achieved academic excellence in Mathematics, Physics, Chemistry and English, and has demonstrated involvement in extracurricular activities at school or within their community that embodies passion and enthusiasm, commitment and achievement, service and leadership.
Basically, it's designed to recruit the best and brightest to go to UofT. In my case, this didn't really work, since I won the award over a good friend and he will is going to UofT engineering in the fall, while I will be at Queen's.

But the essay was one of the first times I really accepted that I was going to be an engineer, and got to the bottom of why - beyond the fact that numbers are pretty and I love to make them dance.


Ever since I was a little girl, my mother has been convinced I should be an engineer. I think it must have struck her when she noticed my passion for building the tallest, most complicated buildings and towers possible, out of Duple, Lego, blocks, popsicles sticks – anything that came to hand. But for a long time, I doubted my mother’s judgment, unsure of what being an engineer really entailed and unsure that I would enjoy such a career.

Over the past few years, with graduation and university fast approaching, I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about what I want to do with my life, and I’ve discovered that it is engineering after all. Why? Because engineers are people who solve problems. Yes, engineers learn math and science and yes, engineers are machine designers and system builders. But everyone I talk to tells me that for an engineer, the most important skill is the ability to think creatively in order to solve problems. Engineering, in other words, is about making people’s lives better.

At this point, I have to admit that I’m not a child prodigy when it comes to making the world a better place. I don’t spend my evenings volunteering at soup kitchens, and I’m not a youth member of Engineers Without Borders. But in my already too busy life, between homework, sports and family, I do my best to make a positive difference wherever I can. I try to take the lead and orchestrate a little “social engineering” to keep my group or team running smoothly – in the case of our track team, literally!

Because engineering, by its most basic definition, encompasses anyone who applies their knowledge to solving problems; those who take the lead and seize the initiative to make things happen now instead of waiting for some dreamland optimum solution that will never be; those who get things done as best as they can be because the need is so great that they cannot stand it any longer. It means helping others at your own expense, merely because it is the right thing to do, and running around frantically at a track meet, trying to get the right bib number to the right athlete. It means making sure every member of a work group has a task they can do, badgering them to have their part ready on time, and then staying up late into the night finishing their job when they can’t or won’t make that commitment. Leadership isn’t always easy, but the ultimate rewards – respect, pride and closer relationships with those around us – are well worth it.

Today, engineers are vitally important to almost every aspect of life, and I think the importance of engineers to the world is only going to grow as we face an uncertain future – politically, climatically and socially. We must remember, then, that with great power – and what is influence and importance but power? – comes great responsibility. The engineers of the future, with an engineer’s unique problem solving mindset, have to use their influence for the good of everyone, leading those following and trusting in them toward solutions to seemingly impossible problems. Only then can engineers truly claim to be making the world a better place.

1 comment:

  1. This is awesome. I love ladies in sciene, and it's so great you won that award! I hope your career in engineering is everything you hope it to be.