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Final Thoughts: Engineers Also Deserve Awards and Recognition

Robert Schickel on April 9, 2018 - in Articles, Column

I was among the millions of people who watched at least part of the Academy Awards show this year, and I couldn’t help but think about comparing the awards to our industry. The Academy recognizes outstanding performance in the film industry in 24 categories, and I believe engineers qualify for similar recognition. Perhaps you can envision some of the roles you may have played or awards you were qualified to receive. Or you can think of people you would nominate for some of the categories.

Best Engineer in a Supporting Role/Best Actor and Actress in a Supporting Role

These are the people we work with every day. When a graduate engineer starts a career, it’s often in this role. The engineer in a supporting role often does most of the actual work to move a project from concept to reality. Performing calculations, running models, and preparing reports and drawings all are tasks of the engineer in a supporting role.

Best Original Environmental Impact Statement/Best Original Screenplay

The screenplay is the written script for a movie, including acting instructions and scene directions. Often these are adaptations of other pieces of writing; the screenplay can be created by using the original piece and adapting it to a more-conversational and watchable movie. An Environmental Impact Statement (EIS)—or other such engineering report—is similar in that it collects existing information and investigates alternatives to arrive at the most-feasible solution. It describes with words, diagrams, pictures and drawings what the original idea is going to be. A well-written EIS can be a work of art.

Best 3-D Model Presentation/Best Animated Feature

Many years ago, a fellow engineer and I took along a video camera to a proposed project site and recorded some footage while we described what the new bridge might look like. That presentation was more like the original King Kong movie compared to today. Current models are so good that they can make a presentation look more like a documentary film than an animated feature.

Best Project Manager/Best Director

In the film world, the director is the person who controls all aspects of making the film. The director interprets the screenplay, guides the actors and technical crew, and has a part in choosing the cast members. This sounds very similar to the role of project manager in the engineering world. The project manager takes the report or description of the project, develops a work plan and schedule, selects appropriate personnel, and “directs” the progress toward completion.

Best Engineering in a Leading Role/Best Actor and Actress in a Leading Role

The leading role is one of the major reasons why people consider watching a movie. Folks want to see a film starring a previous Oscar winner or a young actor/actress that everyone is talking about. Other actors and directors and producers want to work with the best talents. Similarly, the lead engineer plays a major role in the success of a project. A good lead engineer gives everyone confidence in the work and an opportunity to learn from experience.

Best Project/Best Picture

Only one movie each year earns the Best Picture award—the one that voting members of the Academy believe most represents the “state of the art” of film entertainment. Our profession has altered this a bit. Engineering has “best project” awards for small, large, public, private, structural, environmental and other categories, but this works for us. What better way to recognize the many different ways that engineers create! This is a great way for other engineers and the public to understand more about a project than just driving over it or walking into it.

Once in a while, a project is selected to be a landmark project, and an effort, usually with more dollars, is made to make this happen. I’m not sure that anyone can put a valid number to it, but I would wager that the vast majority of projects are not of this type. Most engineering projects are designed and constructed to solve a problem or provide a solution to a need rather than to win an award. So although your project may be one of these “average projects,” know that—award or not—people appreciate your work.

Whether you’re an engineer in a supporting role or lead role or a project manager, you’re automatically nominated to receive an award from your fellow engineers. As they say at the Oscars, just to be nominated with a group of your peers is an honor. And don’t forget to thank all the people who got you there.

Robert Schickel

About Robert Schickel

Robert Schickel, P.E., has 40 years of experience in planning, design, plan preparation, and construction management of civil and transportation projects. He currently works for DB Sterlin Consultants Inc. as a consultant to Peoples Gas; e-mail: rschickel@dbsterlin.com.

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