In the closing scene of the movie "Pretty Woman," a man is walking down the street in Hollywood asking people he passes, "What's your dream?" Companies have vision statements and mission statements and goals and objectives, however people have dreams. And dreams are our most powerful motivators. Hollywood is considered the city of dreams. I contend that mechanical engineering is the profession of dreams.
Without a doubt, the ASME leads the world in standards, from the dimensions of the smallest screw to the design of a nuclear reactor vessel. That fact was recently discussed on the NPR (National Public Radio) daily news program "The Takeaway," hosted by journalist John Hockenberry. One of those interviewed in the week-long series called "Meeting the Standard" was Mark Sheehan, Managing Director for Development Standards and Certification for the ASME. His remarks about how far-reaching the ASME standards go, and the importance of the mechanical engineers who have been designing components and systems according to those standards for 100 years, made me proud to be a part of this profession.
There is, however, another very far-reaching organization that sets the standard for the practice of engineering. That organization is the NCEES, the National Council of Examiners for Engineering and Surveying. They are best known as the organization that develops and administers the Fundamentals of Engineering (FE) Exam and the Principles and Practice (PE) Exams. Passing those exams, along with other educational and experience credentials, are the standards by which every state in the Union certifies engineers to practice legally in that state. Over the years, reciprocity has allowed the transfer of certification in one state to certification in other states, with some exceptions. Just as you cannot design, build, or install a pressure vessel that is not according to ASME standards, you cannot practice engineering in any state without meeting the standards set by that state, which are based on the standards set by the NCEES.
Currently, the motivation for a mechanical engineer to become a PE (Professional Engineer) has been considered less important than, for example, a civil engineer. In most areas of civil engineering, virtually all work must be legally approved by someone licensed in the state in which the work will be done. Not so for mechanical engineers, where most are employed by a company, working under that company's legal status. However, as more mechanical engineers choose to step out on their own, the percentage will increase. The problem is that the timeframe to become a PE is at least six months, and usually longer. Excluding the process of supplying their state board with the appropriate documentation on their education and experience, an engineer is faced with the daunting task of rebuilding their proficiency in the topics they studied in college. While the FE Exam can be taken in someone's senior year at an ABET accredited university, it typically takes four years after graduation to be eligible to take the PE Exam. And the PE Exam is not about what you have learned since graduation, but what you have not forgotten. The longer someone waits after graduation the more effort this rebuilding process will involve.
So, is the ability to legally approve the design of systems and their components, as well as their manufacture and installation, sufficient to make "The Argument for ME's to become PE's?" It should be, as it is the classic argument. However, I believe the future holds a much greater motivation within the practice of engineering, especially for mechanical engineers. More and more engineers will be driven to obtain their PE beyond just being able to legally sign drawings for the following reasons.
I believe the dreams of mechanical engineers will be realized by their coming together with other engineers, of all disciplines, to work on projects they feel passionate about. Not in traditional brick and mortar corporate entities, but as independent engineers with entrepreneurial and business skills forming alliances, each alliance directed at a single project. An engineer with a passion to solve a particular problem would recruit engineers from around the globe with just the right talents and resources for that project. Micro-companies could be formed for a specific project. When the project is completed, the alliance would be dissolved and everyone who had been involved could move on to other projects. An engineer might be part of only one alliance at a time, or more likely a part of many alliances. However, none of that can happen unless the members of those alliances are licensed. US licensure is usually considered sufficient around the globe, however licensure in other countries might be necessary.
One of the emerging areas where passionate engineers, especially mechanical engineers, are needed is in solving the challenges faced by those living in developing nations. Last fall, a new global development review, called DEMAND, was included with the October issue of ASME Magazine. This booklet highlights a number of case studies of problems in developing countries and the unique solutions that evolved. As it turns out, in the same NPR program mentioned earlier, the last interview was with two people concerned with developing technology for people living in Third World countries. They were Heather Fleming, who is CEO of Catapult Design, and Noha El-Ghobashy, who is Managing Director for Engineering Workforce & Global Development at the ASME. They each described many failures when designs did not meet the technology of the local community. As I listened, I could visualize whole networks of alliances, led by mechanical engineers, connecting across the globe, addressing the needs of the people in developing nations.
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