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From the Editor: Message to Graduates (and All Engineers): Go Out and Do Good

Robert Schickel on May 27, 2022 - in Articles, Column

I was pleased to attend the annual meeting of the Indiana Section of the American Society of Civil Engineers, which included a competition among college students who presented their senior design projects to an audience and a panel of judges. The senior civil engineers in the four colleges—University of Evansville, Purdue University, University of Notre Dame and Valparaiso University—showed a wide range of civil knowledge, and their presentation skills were admirable.

The design projects included a complex gazebo-type structure; an educational building for a college; a dam; and a site-development project that included intersections, access roads, parking lots, two buildings and the treatment of water produced by this development. All the presentations were done well and to a near-professional level. (I was pleased when they announced the winner: the team from Valparaiso, my alma mater and where I now teach.)

These are exciting times for those completing this phase of their education, whether high school, a bachelor’s degree or an advanced degree. It’s also rewarding for those in academia. This last month, I’ve been grading final reports and papers and presentations, including the aforementioned winning team. It’s a wonderful feeling to know that teachers and professors of all levels influenced the career choices being made by these graduates.

Time to Step Up

In the 2022 Smart Engineering Special Issue of Informed Infra­structure, I wrote about the new infrastructure law and all the work needed to fulfill its funded goals: “It’s time for our civil and environmental engineers to step up and repair, rehabilitate and replace all the various parts of our infrastructure that have served well beyond their design life.”

I recently had the opportunity to attend a luncheon, along with Informed Infrastructure Publisher Kevin Carmody, at which U.S. Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigieg delivered a brief presentation and then participated in a discussion of various topics, mostly related to the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law. All his comments are notable, but I will summarize a few.

The Secretary said, “We have done the hard part. Now we have to do the really hard part.” Obviously, it was a challenge to get a bill of this importance to pass through Congress, which normally can’t agree on anything. So now it’s really important to ensure the needed improvements actually happen. (It feels like he may have read my column in that 2022 Smart Engineering issue.)

Secretary Buttigieg referred to “shovel-worthy” projects rather than using the term “shovel ready.” Identify projects that really make a difference for the public. Of course, completing a project is a great way to get public support, but it’s more important to complete a project that benefits safer travel or a cleaner environment.

Another topic covered was project equity; a project can’t be good if it benefits some people and harms others. This is why the Reconnecting Communities Program was formed. The following is a quote from the USDOT website regarding the program:

“The program’s funds can support planning, capital construction, and technical assistance to equitably and safely restore community connectivity through the removal, retrofit, mitigation, or replacement of eligible transportation infrastructure facilities that create barriers to mobility, access, or economic development.”

As an example, Secretary Buttigieg described a port-electrification project. Not only will it use more sustainable energy, it also will create a cleaner environment for the surrounding communities. He summed this topic up by noting that the new law is large enough for all to benefit.

Change Mindsets

In a more forward-looking discussion, the Secretary talked about creating more transportation choices. Expansion of mass transportation is a priority that will require a change in the mindset of the traveling public. “We have to create choices,” he noted. “We don’t need to carry 2 tons of metal with us everywhere we go.” Secretary Buttigieg also noted that $7.5 billion is included in the bill for charging stations for electric vehicles; but he also cautioned about the affordability of electric vehicles, and if we’re moving fast enough and fair enough with them.

The Secretary’s message was very positive, and everyone in the room likely felt how I did—it’s about time! So now the challenge is in front of us. I’m confident that graduating seniors are ready and able to “do the really hard part” that Secretary Buttigieg discussed.

I echoed Secretary Buttigieg’s message to my seniors: We have done our part. Now go out and do good. 

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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