The following is an article that I wrote for The Iron Warrior Frosh Week issue made for the incoming class of 2017. While addressed to them, it certainly is for any audience – engineers or not! Special thanks to the Iron Warrior for being a frequent publisher of EWB content. Check out the latest issue, hot off the press here.
Welcome to University of Waterloo, first year students! You are taking the first step into an exciting new chapter in your life; one undoubtedly filled with experiences that will sculpt your future. I would like to share with you a perspective on engineering and your journey as an undergraduate that has, to date, been an important grounding point for both the good and the bad times in my life at Waterloo. Perhaps it will stick with you into the coming years or simply provide a moment of reflection on what brought you to be reading The Iron Warrior amidst the first days of term number one.
Engineering is as old as the first inklings of human innovation. From the first rocks struck together creating a spark, to the fire bellowing from the rockets of the Apollo 11 spacecraft bound for the moon, engineering has been the passion behind many of humankind’s most extraordinary achievements. Engineers hold the distinct responsibility in society to develop the systems and innovations that bring tomorrow’s world.
I pose the question: How does an engineer embrace their role to serve society?
Doctors are understood to give their service to the health of society. Lawyers are understood to give their service to a just society. It should follow that engineers have a service to give as well.
Engineers give their service to solving the critical problems that matter in our society.
There are countless inspiring engineers of the past and present that have made it their life’s goal to improve the quality of human life and improve society using their unique engineering skill set. Consider James Watt, whose improvement to the steam engine was fundamental to the Industrial Revolution. The impact that his life’s work made on the world is beyond practical measure. It can be said that without his contributions, the world would be a very different place. Today, our society needs engineers with the aspirations to make this kind of change too. As a student entering a premier engineering education and afforded the skills and community within it, these aspirations are abound and the potential present.
Pause for a moment of reflection. This may be one for the introverts, but try closing your eyes (after you reading each step of course) and follow these few thoughts: First, imagine someone who you idolize for their contribution to society – your “greatest human”. Thinking of this person, try to feel the gravity of their passion and the invisible limits of their potential. After doing this, close your eyes again and resume that thought, but now imagine yourself and the change you would like to make as an engineer. Let this goal be lofty, enormous, and challenging to imagine. Make yourself believe that you can reach the same heights as the idol you thought of before. Finally, thinking about this big goal, close your eyes a final time and imagine yourself working towards that goal. Let your final feeling be that you can achieve it and more. Let that feeling be BIG!
I define “bigness” as believing in your limitless potential; it is that any person, with dedication and passion, can reach the goals in their dreams. What creates these idols and demands your admiration is their uncompromising dedication to their own dreams and pushing their limits each day. This bigness can be a motivator, a positive force and a confidence builder. Do you have an idea that seems unachievable? Put it in this mental space and consider it again. When that calculus assignment is due and you have had it up to your ears with integration, look past the next couple crappy hours. Finishing that assignment might seem like just one step in a long journey, and while seemingly irrelevant, it is a required step towards realizing that future. Academically, socially, and in all your humanity – this bigness lends to finding your potential. Embrace it with a deep breath and keep it in your mind.
So be BIG every day. Own your education, your potential, and your service; never put a limit on your imagination of what they can be!
We here at Engineers Without Borders are an organization of engineers and non-engineers who believe that the engineering has the potential to bring some of the greatest change to society. We strive to catalyze the systemic innovations that may bring the world’s most vulnerable people to realize their full potential. This is a problem that matters to society at large, and we are tackling it today through our work in Africa as well as here in Canada. We believe we can create solutions to immense problems. This is what we call “Global Engineering”, and it is an idea that EWB hopes can be an important dimension within the engineering community in Canada.
Global Engineers are socially minded problem solvers whose goal is to make a positive impact with their engineering ability and push the limits of their potential.
I believe that in order to create change around the world, we need to embrace an engineering culture that is passionate about delivering solutions and reaching new heights. Our Canadian universities are where the seeds of the next generation – your generation – of engineers are sowed. Through this education, students like you are empowered with the engineering skills that can be used to tackle the world’s problems. So together, let’s promote the Waterloo spirit of discovery and innovation. Push that spirit to its limits and believe that you and your peers can be the next James Watts of the world. And be BIG each day!
Let me know what you think about this outlook on engineering! I would be interesting in how non-engineers perceive this in comparison to how you envision the engineering role.
Also post up some feelings about the “bigness” exercise. It is one that has certainly been a driving factor for my motivations and I hope it was a healthy measure for you too!