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The calling of an engineer: inspiring youth to make the world a better place

When determining their career path, young people should look past their school subjects, and focus on what impact they want to have

By Denise Pothier, Vice President, Practice Services and Aboriginal Relations, Dartmouth, Nova Scotia

I didn’t always know I wanted to be an engineer. To be honest, all I knew about engineers was that they designed bridges. I had no real concept about engineering and career options. And the two people who suggested engineering to me weren’t even engineers! My Grade 11 chemistry teacher and my mom suggested engineering because I was good at math and sciences, and that I liked to solve problems.

But I think we could bring more young people into the world of engineering if we stop focusing just on math and science and take a closer look at the true, higher calling of an engineer.

March marks National Engineering Month, when engineers across Canada engage the public and future engineers with activities, presentations and displays. But within the activities and impressive projects highlighted this month, this key message is lost. It’s lost because my colleagues and I too often take it for granted. The first tenant of our ethical code, “to hold paramount safety, health and welfare of the public and the protection of the environment.” In other words, to make the world a better place.

This is the message I am bringing to Indspire’s Soaring Career Conference for youth here in Ottawa this week. The annual Soaring conference helps Indigenous students explore employment and career opportunities and motivates them to think about their future. I want young men and women to look beyond the math and science, look beyond the bridges and the roadways, and recognize that higher purpose of the engineer. I hope the message of the societal benefits of engineering and the positive impacts the profession has on community will resonate with the values these young people hold, and, if I am lucky, will translate into inspired youth pursuing careers in engineering.

Related item: Aboriginal Partnerships

This month is also when the ritual calling of an engineer takes place, it is a rite of passage every graduating engineering student in Canada is invited to participate in. This ritual was instituted with the simple goal of reminding a new engineer of their obligation to society, described in our ethical code. The ritual ends with the bestowing of the ring, a reminder of the obligation that most engineers wear for the rest of their lives.

While engineering is most commonly understood as a technical field, as highlighted by the ritual, it is just as importantly a social discipline. Whether it is designing resilient infrastructure; making sustainability a priority; or developing innovative solutions to existing problems; engineers significantly impact our communities, local and global. Engineers are tasked with ensuring the environment is preserved, buildings are safe, waterways are protected, and communities are connected. An engineer’s designs are not only judged by whether they are technically sound, but in how they serve those impacted by their projects.

What kind of impact do you want to have on the world? Do you want to protect communities from natural disasters? Would you like to find ways to reduce greenhouse gas emissions? Would you like to find cures for diseases or put an end to extreme poverty? If you have answered yes to any of these, you may want to consider a career in engineering.

Related item: Design your career

Denise is passionate about quality, professional practice, keeping people safe, and the protection of the environment. It’s a natural fit that her current role is managing, monitoring, and reporting on the company’s quality, health and safety, and environmental performance. She’s committed to continuously improving our practices and project management tools and continuing to build on our existing relationships with Aboriginal communities and businesses.

I think we could bring more young people into the world of engineering if we stop focusing just on math and science and take a closer look at the true, higher calling of an engineer.

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