Open Letter to the Engineering Class of 2014

Engineers of Tomorrow, Welcome to the rest of your life.  
As of this moment, you are no longer a student at an institute of higher education, but a co-creator of this world.  You may have noticed: it’s full of problems, full of breakdowns, full of inconsistencies and contradictions – systems that do not work the way they were supposed to, people who have been let down, things that need to be better than they are. 

That iron ring you’re placing on your finger could be many things; a symbol of your victory over academic onslaught, an entrance into an exclusive club of engineering professionals, but we believe it’s also a call to action. You are being called on to build bridges, but not the type that you can build out of concrete and steel.  
You are being called upon to bridge the gap
between the disappointments of the past and the everpresent hope for the future.  

You are being called upon to imagine the world that your heart wants to live in, that your sense of right and wrong says there should be, and then to find yourself a way to help change that idea into a reality.  You are being called upon to use your skills for good; not just for your own enjoyment or profit but also to benefit and take care of others.  
You are being called upon to contribute to something you believe in
– as a member of this professional community and as thinking, feeling citizen of the world.  

How will you choose?  However will you accomplish this lofty and vaguely-defined goal?  How will you know what to do with no one to tell you? Where will you start?  The same way you would walk a journey of 10,000 miles –
one step at a time.  
You’ll need your creativity and imagination every bit as much as your mad math skills.  You’ll need your intuition and empathy as much as your analytical prowess, and your heart as much as your head.  
Up until this moment you were a consumer of knowledge, a navigator of systems, a follower of orders, a passer of really tough examinations.  Your parents and professors seemed to knew more than you; always seemed to have the upper hand.  It may be a while before you assume positions of formal power and influence, but make no mistake:   
you are now one hundred percept in charge of you.  
You will never stop learning and growing but using your curiosity, you will keep creating your own education.  You may not have infinite job offers in your hand, but your inner wisdom will always bring you to the opportunities that are perfect for you.  You may have no idea where you fit in, but your courage to speak up and take action will guarantee you will never be alone.

Take that job you’re not quite sure you can handle.  It’s character-building to fail.  
Try that volunteer opportunity that has you work with people who think nothing like you do.  Learning to honour differences rather than hating them is one of the toughest and most useful skills you’ll ever learn.  
Making diversity into fuel for innovation and revelation is really the only alchemy you will ever need.  
It’s the perpetual motion machine of this world.  
Do that thing you’re scared to do that gives you goosebumps just thinking about.  Try.  Risk telling your truth.  Open your ears when others do the same.  
Dig deep to make a difference, however you can, whenever you can.  

What do you want to do?   The future, in so many ways, depends on you. 
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Joy in Engineering: Some real-life data points

Big Beacon Manifesto:  The whole new engineering finds joy in engineering and in life.

Last night I hosted the Big Beacon twitter chat, Joy in Engineering.

After introductions to welcome participants from the engineering community (including professional engineers, engineering students and engineering educators) in the US, Canada and Puerto Rico, the topic was served up:


This 1st day of May we’re looking at the 1st point in the #BigBeacon manifesto: A Whole New Engineer finds joy in #engineering and in life.

Q1. What aspects or parts of engineering bring you the most joy? When did you discover what they were?

Although we wondered whether the unlikely topic would yield much conversation, (are engineers and engineering education supposed to be joyful?  are we even allowed?)  it did not take long for our assembled chat group to reveal the sources of their engineering joy, and they were many!


Joy as being part of history

Joy in triumphing over complexity to make something work

Joy in seeing theory applied to real-life experience

Joy in learning together (not from lectures)

Joy in nostalgia (seeing how far technology has come in our lifetimes)

Joy in helping students get something for the first time (that gleam in their eye)

Joy in unlimited possibility (in the number of options that engineering opens up)

Joy from innovating and meeting needs

Joy from coding

Joy from finding and fixing root causes

Joy in helping others solve their own problems

Joy in creativity, innovation and internationality

Joy of machines and the majesty of technology

Joy in creating something that didn’t exist before

Joy in working on products that save lives

Joy via overcoming hardship or joy in doing hard stuff with simple parts


What a great list!   Big Beacon Founder Dave Goldberg (@deg511) shared his presentation deck on the joy of engineering (with passion and pride to boot).

We also uncovered some interesting topics for future chats:  the Marshmallow Challenge,  rigor in engineering education as an obstacle to joy, Olin College as a Beacon for the future of engineering education and rites of passage in engineering.   To read the entire twitter chat on storify, click here.

Thank you to everyone who came and participated.  We love having you as part of the chat and looking forward to more twitter chats!  We meet every Wednesday at 8 pm EDT/EST.

It’s not too late to add your voice to the conversation!  Leave a comment on this post or tweet at us on #BigBeacon.  What parts of engineering (or engineering education) bring you most joy?

Next week’s topic is Entrepreneurship and Education with guest host from Epicenter USA, the national center for engineering pathways to innovation.  Join us Wed May 8th at 8 pm EST on twitter, hashtag #BigBeacon.

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