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News: SEAOC News

The Public Perception of the Engineer

Friday, June 29, 2018  

By Lenard Tran & Adeleine Tran

Every time a skyscraper withstands wind turbulence, a bridge upholds heavy traffic, a stadium endures the vibration of 60,000 sport fans, and every time a city survives the tremors of an earthquake shaking - we save lives.  Structural engineering is an integrated part of everyday lives, and yet the public still does not know who we are or what we do.  For years, we have stayed behind the scene and allowed the architects to be the face of our projects, with little recognition of the technical skills needed to bring those projects to reality. 

Last year, I attended a Woodworks Wood Solution Fair in Pasadena, California that showcased the latest innovative, sustainable designs that are incorporated wood materials into buildings.  Architectural accomplishments were applauded, but not a single mention to the structural modeling, seismic analysis, or innovative member framing, and connections that translated the architects’ visions into working designs.  That was my first personal experience witnessing our profession not being recognized equitably.  As I pay closer attention, this is a prevailing problem - the public is not aware of the contributions that we make to the society.  After a natural disaster, where was the recognition for the engineering design teams whom pioneered the systems that allowed hospitals, fire stations, police departments to remain operational?

After recognizing the problem, I have been actively finding solutions to help bring our profession to the public’s awareness.  As a Student Liaison for the Structural Engineers Association of San Diego (SEAOSD), I have been introducing young students to the field of civil engineer and inspiring them to develop an interest in our unique profession.  I want to be the bridge that connects students and professional engineers and allows the future engineers to see the vital role we play in contributing to our community’s safety and quality of life.  Recently I was appointed as Chair of the Structural Engineers Association of California (SEAOC) Communications Committee with the mission to create a positive image for structural engineers in the minds of the public and communities in California.  Through our committee’s efforts, I hope to gain a louder voice to advocate and promote for our profession to a statewide audience.

Recognition and awareness require active participation in the public affairs and a vehicle to deliver our message is by using the voice of influential lawmakers.  Through the Government Relations Committee within the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE), I was able to meet face to face with my district’s Assembly Members and State Senators and discuss about the importance of investing in the future of our infrastructures.  Since the 1950’s, California has stopped investing in our major infrastructures despite the growing population, and who would better advocate for them than us - the engineers who design and implement them.   Infrastructure is not a particularly exciting topic to talk about, but it is crucial one. A serious conversation with our lawmakers at the state and national levels will let them know that our crumpling roadways and facilities are just as essential as other social problems such as homelessness or healthcare.  With the supports from our legislatures, our message can be transmitted to a wider target to increase the public’s awareness of the role our industry contributes to safety, soundness, and security of structures and infrastructures in their communities. 

We are a humble profession, but we need to seek recognition for our technical accomplishments and demand credit where it is due.  Exposure and image are key factors to public recognition, we need to collectively increase our presence in the public eyes and put our logos on the banner at every construction site, our names on the plaque in front of every building, and our mentioning in every press release.  We are living in the technology age and we need to tap into the potential to increase our exposure across the globe.  With a heavier presence on social media, we can celebrate our engineering marvels and allow our industry to be recognized globally.  We have stayed behind the scene for so long, it is time to stand in front of the camera to let the public know who we are and the importance of our profession.

It takes an engineer to build an empire.  A city cannot function without clean water system built by civil engineers, a building cannot stand tall without a strong foundation constructed by geotechnical engineers, the economy cannot run without roadways designed by transportation engineers, and a structure cannot be realized without the technical innovations pioneered by structural engineers.  We are the backbone of our society and we need to communicate our contributions to our quality of life.  It is time to proudly say: I am a structural engineer and this is my design.