Civil/Structural Engineering, Vashon, Washington, USA 206-463-5311
Ellisport Engineering Blog
Engineering Diversity?

Diversity has become a popular buzzword today.  “We need more diversity” is often stated as fact, like F=ma, with no alternate opinions sought or accepted.  Eric and I recently attended a webinar sponsored by the National Society of Professional Engineers (NSPE) entitled, “Engineering: It’s Time to Change How We Promote the Profession.”  The speaker did a nice job of presenting ideas on how to present our profession in a more enticing way to middle school and high school students, with the goal of attracting more students into engineering colleges and the profession.  Part of the webinar emphasis was to help “Seasoned Engineers” (old farts) learn how to promote our profession to the younger crowd.  One of the slides emphasized that we need more “diversity in engineering”.  After the webinar, I sent the speaker the following email:

Dear Ms. Robinson,

First, thank you for the webinar yesterday.  You’re a good speaker, the slides were well done, and the topic prompted much discussion in our small office.


In the interest of full disclosure, I am one of those “Seasoned Engineers” spoken of in yesterday’s webinar.   A little background: I attended undergraduate school at the University of Lowell (now UMass Lowell) from 1974-78.  My Civil Engineering class was about 65 students, six were women.  I graduated #6 in my class: #1 and #3 were women. 


From what I’ve read, little has changed in those 30+ years as far as the percentage of women in engineering.  It was 10% back then, and it’s still around 10% now, if my sources are correct.  Back then, there were programs trying to attract more women into engineering, and various programs have continued throughout my career.  From what I gleaned in yesterday’s webinar, your research and interest are the same thing essentially – attract more diversity to engineering.


I bristle at the statement: “We need more diversity in engineering”, as if that’s going to solve our country’s engineering needs.  It’s always stated as a fact: We need more diversity in engineering.  I don’t believe that.


Instead, I believe our efforts would be better spent identifying those middle school students (regardless of race, creed, color, or sex) who exhibit “The Knack” for engineering.  The shot gun approaches of using more exciting words, snazzier brochures, or special seminars targeted to minorities haven’t been very successful in my 30+ years of engineering.  Why would we expect that they will succeed now?


Instead, I believe we need to identify those students early on who exhibit the attributes and aptitude of engineers, target and mentor them through middle and high school, and match them with a college engineering program of their interests. 


I apologize for doing this: I’ve stated a problem, suggested a conceptual remedy, but provided no solution.  I’m a seasoned engineer, not an expert in your field, and don’t really know what the solution is.  I hope I’ve adequately conveyed my point – maybe it will help you in your endeavors.  I hope so.  Our country needs more good young engineers for us Seasoned Engineers to mentor, before we’re gone.



Stephen T. Kicinski, PE

I will update my blog if Ms. Robinson sends a response.  It’s clear that our country needs more engineers.  We face great challenges as a nation: re-building our aging infrastructure, developing a balanced approach to our energy needs, and developing proven-performance green technologies.  What’s not clear is, where will we find those engineers, and how will we develop them.  Let’s hope that Ms. Robinson’s efforts will be successful.

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