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From the Editor: Open Mic Night at ‘The Engineer’s Lounge’

Robert Schickel on June 3, 2021 - in Articles, Column

I recently completed two semesters teaching senior civil engineers at my alma mater, Valparaiso University. It was a pleasure and honor to be part of their education—something I took very seriously. But it was a different type of year, as we all know. All the classes were through Zoom meetings, so I didn’t get to interact with any of them in person. In addition, this was my first year of teaching, so I hadn’t met these students during their first three years of school either, as most other professors had.

In May 2021, however, we were all able to participate in the annual Senior Banquet. It was held outside under a tent, with masks and no food except the box dinners we took home with us. It, too, was a different type of Senior Banquet.

Sharing Experiences

Tradition has it that the professors and students participate in an “open mic” atmosphere and get to tell stories about their experiences—some funny and some very serious. When it was my turn, I could only say it was nice meeting my students for the first and probably last time. It was really great to see them and talk to them, if only for this brief moment.

It was interesting to hear them talk about our class and their plans for the future. All of them had plans: all have accepted job offers or are going to graduate school. They were so sure of themselves and positive they had made the right decision, but some of the conversations were different from what I’m used to.

Here are some things they said that I never would have said when I was graduating from college:

• “I’m going to live with my parents in Iowa, but my ‘office’ is in Cleveland.”

• “I plan to take some time off, then get my master’s degree and see where I end up.”

• “I’m going into the military service, but I won’t get my assignment until September, so it looks like a free summer for me.”

My plans were much more specific and predictable. One year of the Graduate Engineer Training Program with INDOT—six months in the District Office and six months in the Central Office followed by a position in the Design Department. Then find a place to live within a reasonable commuting distance. I don’t remember being so sure of my choice, although fortunately everything worked out fine for me.

What Would You Say?

But I want to get back to the “open mic” opportunity. What if we professionals each had that same chance to get up and talk about our experiences? Maybe tell some stories, “roast” a few of our mentors and co-workers, and then talk about what we think is ahead for us. What would you say, given that chance in an appropriate setting?

Since I’m at the opposite end of the spectrum from these new graduates, my open mic might include something like this:

• “Thank you to all of my mentors—those who taught me how to be professional and those who, by example, taught me how not to act.” (We have all had a few of these over the years).

• “I have great admiration for the experts who found solutions to what seemed like unsolvable problems. And less so for those who made simple issues very complex.”

• “I’m grateful for the professionals who always did the right thing, and I believe I’m part of this group. I know of some who weren’t always as ethical as they should have been and paid the price.”

• “I hope to continue teaching, and hopefully my ‘office’ will be on campus this time.”

• “Most of all, I hope I made a positive difference in peoples’ lives through the projects I worked on and the interactions I had with coworkers.”

I’m always open to hearing from you about any topics and would certainly enjoy hearing some of your “open mic” comments.


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About Robert Schickel

Robert Schickel was born in New Jersey and received his BS in Civil Engineering degree in 1971 from Valparaiso University in Indiana. His career started as a bridge design engineer and expanded to include design of various transportation facilities, including highways, bridges, rail lines and stations, and airport runways. Mr. Schickel managed engineering offices ranging from 20 to 140 people. He also served as a consultant to a large utility company. Mr. Schickel currently resides in Indiana and serves as Adjunct Professor for the College of Engineering at Valparaiso University. He enjoys his retired life at his lake house, playing golf, listening to music and spending time with his family, especially his grandchildren.

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