Tricia Hatley is the 2020-2021 President of the National Society of Professional Engineers (NSPE). She serves on numerous committees within the organization. Tricia is a past President of the Texas Society of Professional Engineers, where she served in numerous leadership roles and is now a member of the Oklahoma Society of Professional Engineers.
Additionally, she is a Principal and Vice President at Freese and Nichols, Inc (FNI), an engineering, architectural, and environmental firm with offices throughout Texas, Oklahoma, Georgia, Florida, and North Carolina. She has been with FNI for 27 years, and prior to that, she worked at the Oklahoma Department of Transportation.
Karen Horting is the Executive Director and CEO for the Society of Women Engineers (SWE), a position she’s held since 2014. In her prior role as Deputy Executive Director, Horting oversaw the Society’s professional development, K-12 outreach, annual conference, and international expansion.
Prior to joining SWE, Horting worked for both the New York Academy of Sciences and the American Association for the Advancement of Science. She currently serves on the Leadership Circle of the 50K Coalition, the FIRST Robotics Board of Directors, the Automation Federation Board of Directors, the STEM Ed Coalition Board of Directors, and the Association Forum CAE Working Group.
NSPE founded Engineers Week 70 years ago with the goal of calling attention to the contributions engineers make to society. Today, those contributions are as important as they’ve ever been. The work of modern engineers helps protect the public health, safety, and welfare of our communities.
“The role of the engineer is to solve the problems facing society,” says Tricia Hatley, PE, FNSPE, President of NSPE. “With the many challenges in our world today, the work of engineers is vitally important.”
Engineers will continue to develop new and better technologies to meet society’s needs. But as the speed of innovation and implementation increases, it’s important that it doesn’t come at the cost of public health, safety, or welfare. In the future, ethical development and testing of new technologies is a top priority for today’s professional engineers.
“NSPE has multiple committees and task forces looking at emerging technology challenges from different perspectives and dealing with specific technologies and issues,” Hatley says. “We have produced policy guide documents that we are using to communicate with legislators and policymakers about the importance of ethically developing, testing, and deploying these technologies in a way that protects the public.”
To survive, mitigate, and reverse the effects of climate change will require a radical commitment to ethical and sustainable development. In 2006, NSPE added a new professional obligation to its Code of Ethics, stating that engineers should adhere to the principles of sustainable development in order to protect the environment for future generations.
“Engineers will play a key role in addressing the issue of climate change, be it working to reduce the contributing effects or to mitigate the repercussions of a changing climate on our infrastructure and natural resources,” Hatley says.
The world needs more engineers. In the US, roughly 18,760 engineers will turn 69 every year for the next 15 years. This reflects a broader trend: America’s senior population is expected to nearly double over the next three decades. And it’s not just the population that’s aging, it’s the nation’s infrastructure, too.
“NSPE is addressing these separately, but equally as vigorously,” Hatley says. “With our public policy and advocacy work, we are pushing for more infrastructure funding and educating lawmakers and regulators on the importance of the professional engineer in updating and modernizing key infrastructure mechanisms such as gas pipelines. And NSPE has recently renewed its efforts to engage younger engineering professionals through our Emerging Leaders Program—an intensive seven-month experience for promising early-career professionals who are just beginning to lead and think strategically in the profession and their careers.”
Recruiting the next generation of engineers requires innovation, too. Historically, the engineering workforce has been overwhelmingly white and male, but meeting the challenges of the modern world will require engineers of all different backgrounds. NSPE and organizations such as the Society of Women Engineers (SWE) are fighting to make the engineering workforce of tomorrow more diverse, more inclusive, and more representative of the society it works to benefit.
“My hope is that the future includes a more diverse group of individuals who find ways to leverage their engineering education to improve our society,” Hatley says. “Engineers of the future will know how their work makes our world a better place, and students in grade school will aspire to be an engineering hero.”
Innovation comes from fresh perspectives that find new connections. That requires a diverse range of minds with a wide variety of perspectives and experiences. Unfortunately, engineering is still a largely homogeneous field. Women make up less than 16 percent of the engineering workforce in America, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, despite accounting for 55 percent of all college students.
“When you look at the number of jobs in engineering and technology, many of our employer partners have more jobs than they can fill,” says Karen Horting, CEO for the Society of Women Engineers (SWE). “If we’re going to have a workforce that can meet those demands, if we’re going to stay a leader when it comes to innovation and technology, we’re going to need to bring more diverse people into the engineering pipeline.”
Historically, women have been overlooked for (and even actively discouraged from pursuing) engineering educations and careers. Fortunately, some persisted anyway: Hedy Lamarr’s encryption work laid the groundwork for wireless communication; Margaret Hamilton oversaw the development of the software that put humans on the Moon. What world-shaking innovations might future female engineers uncover, if given the chance to do so?
“We’re facing a lot of big problems,” says Horting. “But when we bring diverse people together, we’re able to come up with solutions really quickly. If you look at what the National Academy of Engineering has as their Grand Challenges for Engineering—things like clean water, food security, cybersecurity—there’s no way we’re going to solve them if we don’t have diverse perspectives, diverse backgrounds, and diverse education pathways.”
According to a 2014 study by the American Psychological Association, as many as 40 percent of the women who earn undergraduate degrees in engineering leave the field early, or never enter it at all, due to the longstanding male hegemonies in place. What possible advancements has engineering lost as a result? To fight back, SWE works with employers and academic institutions to interrupt the unconscious biases that make it difficult for women to advance in engineering roles.
“When the demand for engineers is so high, why would we be doing things that don’t include everyone?” Horting asks.
Engineering’s racial demographics aren’t any more encouraging: only 6 percent of the engineering workforce is Black. This lack of diversity represents not only a significant loss of opportunity but also a very real danger: with an unequal engineering workforce, it’s too easy for bias to inadvertently permeate through the algorithms and technology that the workforce designs. In imagining tomorrow, engineering needs to look inward and design away some of the past generation’s flaws.
To that end, SWE works alongside NSPE, the National Society of Black Engineers (NSBE), the Society of Hispanic Professional Engineers (SHPE), the American Indian Science and Engineering Society (AISES), and other organizations to bring about a more equitable future for engineering. Together, they’re part of the 50K Coalition, which aims to have 50,000 diverse engineering graduates by 2025.
“I don’t know of any career that has as much of a positive impact on the world as engineering,” Horting says. “We really need to tap into every community and say engineering is a great career, and you can do it, too.”
A core tenet of Engineers Week is to raise awareness around the wonders of engineering. You can help accomplish that by sharing photos, text, or stories about engineering projects you work on or admire. Tag your posts with #Eweek2021 and @DiscoverEorg to connect with others.
Hosted by DiscoverE, Girl Day is a worldwide campaign to engage girls in engineering. It’s a day where engineers and educators step up to act as role models who can educate girls about how engineers change the world. This year’s Girl Day takes place during Engineers Week, on February 25, 2021.
Engineering’s biggest accomplishments have come from team-based approaches. To get involved with some of the best teams out there, and to find out what tomorrow looks like for them, check out the organizations below.
This is a role for tech-lovers, for logical thinkers, for those who like being given an answer and then are told to find the question. But it’s also a role for communicators, for relationship builders, for people who enjoy cross-departmental collaboration.
Many believe science and engineering to be strictly objective and dispassionate, but the identity of a person no doubt shapes his or her way of viewing the world. By discriminating against women, minorities, and members of the LGBTQ community, STEM fields are limiting their perspective and approaches to problem-solving. It’s essential to support a diversity of minds and foster an inclusive working environment to tackle the pressing issues of our day.
Why are women underrepresented in engineering, the top-paying undergraduate major in the country? Why does a disproportionate amount of engineering research funding go to men? Which schools are actively creating opportunities for women? Which female engineers are leading the way? Find out here.
By reading a select number of engineering blogs, university students can gain access to the thoughts of some of the best engineers in the world, and get on the path to becoming one themselves.
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