“Do the best you can until you know better. Then when you know better, do better.” Maya Angelou
The mission of Engineering Change Lab – USA (ECL-USA) is to be a catalyst for change within the engineering community, helping it reach its highest potential on behalf of society. In 2021 ECL-USA continued its work in exploring the most important and complex issues impacting the future of engineering. Summit 11 focused on engineering’s role in the challenge of climate change. Summit 12 examined the future of private sector engineering firms. The second edition of the Engineering Ideas Institute represented our return to in-person events with a focus on Engineering in an Age of Acceleration and Engineering and Racial Justice. We also initiated work on two focused initiatives that resulted from discussions at our summits – the Future of Licensure initiative and the Climate Change Noble Purpose for Engineering initiative. A third initiative related to engineering and racial justice is under consideration. In addition, we ramped up our efforts to share our message and our work with the Engineering Community through 17 presentations to engineering organizations across the country. We thank those who have supported our work in any way.
2021 was another remarkable year, with the momentous events of the year offering opportunities to build on the learning from our work this year and in past years.
January 6. On January 6, 2021, an angry mob of supporters of former President Trump attacked the United States Capitol injuring 151 law enforcement officers and delaying the peaceful transfer of power, an event unprecedented in our history. Research into the participants in the attack on the Capitol has revealed that their most common characteristic was that they were older whites living in communities whose demographics were shifting toward larger minority populations. These communities lack the important human connections between different demographics.
- Opportunity. The Engineering Community has a role to play in strengthening the fabric of communities that are being disrupted by all types of forces (demographic, environmental, economic, and technological). Through our “agency,” gained through our experience, expertise, and relationships, we can influence the connectivity, economic opportunities, and resilience of communities.
Pandemic. In the second year of the COVID-19 pandemic, two more waves of infection have rolled across the country with continuing impacts on individual health, the health care system, and the economy. While the virus continues to disrupt society, the primary tools that could help to end the pandemic, vaccinations and masks, have been vilified and under-utilized by large segments of the population due to the spread of misinformation.
- Lessons Learned. The pandemic continues to reinforce the need for preparedness – for future pandemics and other events that can disrupt society. The Engineering Community again needs to use its agency to encourage investments in preparation and resilience. The pandemic also continues to highlight the need for trusted leaders who can clearly communicate scientific and engineering issues in clear, concise, and understandable language taking advantage of new graphics tools when appropriate.
Climate Change. 2021 saw a continuation of recent trends of record-setting temperatures and other signals of the impacts of climate change. New research in 2021 has documented how climate change is increasing the frequency and severity of extreme weather events.
- Role of the Engineering Community. ECL-USA Summit 11 confirmed the role the Engineering Community can play in addressing climate change, through both the transformation of our energy systems and adaptation to a changing climate. As an outcome of Summit 11, ECL-USA has developed a Climate Change Noble Purpose Statement for the Engineering Community. Our goal is that this statement will impact the way that the Engineering Community does its work with greater emphasis on addressing climate change.
Infrastructure Bill. Passage of the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA) in 2021 represents needed and overdue investment in our country’s infrastructure systems.
- Opportunity. The IIJA can be a vehicle for the Engineering Community to help communities become stronger, more connected, more equitable, and more resilient, not just through our traditional roles in executing projects, but also by increasing our role in guiding the direction of these infrastructure investments.
Technology. 2021 also included demonstrations of how technology and engineering are often developed and deployed without regard to a full analysis of impacts on people. Facebook whistle-blower Frances Haugen, a graduate of Olin College of Engineering, publicly revealed Facebook’s practice of increasing profits, while ignoring the welfare of its users. Engineering Community whistle-blowers within Boeing revealed similar concerns in the development of the 737 Max.
- Lessons Learned. As developers and implementers of all types of technology, we have an obligation to broaden our view of protection of public health, safety, and welfare, considering the system-wide impacts of our work.
Happy Holidays to all, and I am grateful for those who have contributed to the work of Engineering Change Lab – USA in 2021.