Keeping the World Afloat
Many engineers are naturally optimistic about the technological challenges we face today. It's what we do — we build, operate, repair and build again smarter and more sustainably. We're solution providers! And as we've just seen with superstorm Sandy, there's never been a greater need for engineers to address the vital issues of our times, even the unexpected turns of nature. Things like water supply, sewage treatment, power and light, fuel, communications, mobility and food supply are almost invisible until you have a storm like Sandy, an earthquake or tsunami, or a human-caused event impacting complex technical systems.
I was in New York on Long Island when Sandy hit. I walked out of the darkened hotel at the height of the storm and remember saying to myself this isn't so bad. But the colder light of morning provided a new perspective. Affecting more than 8 million people, East Coast damage included flooding, power outages, fuel shortages, and the release of oil, contaminants and sewage into streets and waterways. Sandy's path from the Caribbean to Canada destroyed homes, crops, and lives.
It was good to see many of ASME's staff in Houston at the ASME Congress, despite having ASME's offices in New York and New Jersey without power just two weeks earlier. We look forward to knowing everyone has recovered, and we hope that is soon. The 2012 International Mechanical Engineering Congress was a great opportunity to share stories, learn from each other, see our programs grow, and intermingle with our peers from around the world, across generations, and outside our usual expertise.
In my President's address at Congress, I compared the future of engineering to an iceberg with impressive size and easy mobility on an open sea. As with all icebergs, though, it's not what you see that makes it a challenge — it's the 90 percent under the water that's important to anticipate. So, what's just below the surface for ASME?
Much of ASME's work — the efforts on engineering education in the Vision 2030 report, the New Nuclear Safety Construct task force effort, Mitigating the Consequences of Failures in Complex Technical Systems, and Aging As It Impacts Life Extension in Power Plants — are just a few examples of the forward-looking content coming from volunteers in the Society and partnerships around the world. Hot off the presses, too, is a new report now available online about ASME's Global Impact — pulling together the broad span of global activities and how they change the world. Please click here to read it.
The Board of Governors, staff and other leaders in the Society continue to explore trends and changes that will influence the profession. Recently our discussions have focused not only on the many energy-related challenges we face but also trends such as open sourcing and expanded educational options.
As a fourth-generation engineer, I shouldn't be surprised that the ASME of the future will no longer look or feel the same as it does today. Engineering has changed a lot across these generations. My generation has grown from the slide rule to the computer, and my son's generation, from the computer to the cloud. The prospects for future generations are amazing. It is equally clear that while serving the career needs of engineers, ASME's vision and mission will continue to be relevant to improving the quality of human life.
Yet to come, we need to build an organizational infrastructure capable of growth, both culturally and physically. Members need see changes in the way ASME operates that will satisfy changing, possibly more pressing needs. Today's challenge is to use ASME's strengths to serve a diverse, multicultural and multigenerational, virtual global professional membership, and to use its resources to be at the center of engineering conversations.
ASME must also plan for an increase in the number of our active volunteers to match that organizational growth. Upcoming generations have vastly different expectations of what they want from organizations like ours and how they want to participate. Two things are implied: To get bigger, we need to stay relevant. To stay big, we need to collaborate in global partnerships that extend our functionality and effectiveness. ASME is building communications networks and leadership paths that are crucial to its success. The upcoming move to 2 Park Avenue will greatly enhance our ability in this area.
In another 50 years, I believe our great grandchildren will be living in the world that you and I are shaping today — a smarter, safer and more connected world. Our innovation and creativity will be in their power and water supplies, in their agriculture, medicine, mobility and all that humans touch. Engineers will make great strides in addressing rising energy demands, the urgent needs of the poor and underserved, the infrastructure of growing cities, and questions about environmental sustainability. This future world takes an engineering workforce, moving with ease throughout the world and in all kinds of communities — engineers and non-engineers alike. But today we are laying the groundwork.
ASME's message has been to encourage engineers around the world to take a broader understanding of engineering back into the public arena to expand the technological literacy of average citizens and governing bodies, so that engineering solutions are found that meet all criteria — economic, social, and environmental. Every engineer has the responsibility to help meet the challenges of the world.
ASME can help you meet those engineering challenges as a network partner, knowledge source, standards developer and global player. After all, engineers are the part of the iceberg that you don't see that keeps the world afloat.
-Marc W. Goldsmith, ASME President