BY PRESIDENT DAN WITTLIFF, P.E., F.NSPE
The activities I participated in during Engineers Week give me great hope for the future of engineering in our country. I was stunned by the accomplishments of the 36 teams of middle school students in the Future City competition and humbled by the accomplishments of the 22 federal government engineers recognized during the Federal Engineer of the Year Award ceremonies. These two events rank among the most rewarding and inspirational in my 40-year career.
At the Future City competition, I was privileged to serve as a judge in the finals of a competition that began months ago with some 35,000 students and culminated with 36 teams of presenters with three students each, addressing this year's design challenge: Rethink Runoff—Design Clean Solutions to Manage Stormwater Pollution.
Each of the presentations included a scale model with moving parts, visual aids, and imaginative role-playing by the presenters. Usually, one of the presenters would be the mayor or some other political leader, another would be the city engineer or urban planner, and the third presenter was usually a financial or industrial leader. (As an example of the imagination of these young engineers-in-the-making, the third presenter on the winning team was a magical genie granting three wishes to the mayor of the town.)
Settings for the projects ranged from Antarctica to Sweden and from Atlantic City, New Jersey, to a town in Northern India. It was amazing how much research went into these projects. They knew—in detail—the real-world climatic, topographic, groundwater and surface water, geological, historic, and cultural characteristics of the area. These budding engineers and planners showed enormous creativity and sensitivity to local customs and traditions in executing their design concepts.
Among other rewards, the grand prize winners received a trip to U.S. Space Camp in Huntsville, Alabama, provided by Bentley Systems Inc. The second-place team won $5,000 from the NSPE Educational Foundation. In addition, NSPE presented a special award to the team that best showed a regard for protecting the health, safety, and welfare of the public.
Second place went to the Veritas Homeschoolers team from Gilbert, Arizona, for their Future City, which they called Bahal. The team was made up of students Timothy Graunke, 13; Rachel Fisher, 13; and Jesse Friedman, 14; teacher Kathryn Graunke; and mentor Matthew Graunke of Intel. As a result of the team's performance, the Veritas Homeschoolers program received a $5,000 scholarship to buy scientific equipment that can be shared among the many families served by the program. (Currently, families must buy and share the expensive equipment themselves.)
Receiving the NSPE award for dedication to protecting the health, safety, and welfare of the public, we chose the project from Kentucky. These young people saw a tremendous problem in their community created by the closing of the coal mines in the mountains of Eastern Kentucky. To address this situation, the team built their future city inside the mountain with the undeniable logic that miners who had the skills and abilities to dig structurally sound mines could transfer these skills and abilities to excavating safe homes inside the mountains.
They even addressed capturing the old mine gas and using it to meet energy needs as well as using the old mines to store stormwater. A key piece of their design was setting up a corporation to finance the work. When NSPE Executive Director Mark Golden and I presented the award to the team, we congratulated them for their approach in dealing with a real-world issue that went beyond stormwater management alone. The teacher's passion for the issue was obvious as she explained that something has to be done: "Closing the mines is destroying our communities."
At the Federal Engineer of the Year Award luncheon on February 21 at the National Press Club, Surgeon General Regina Benjamin, M.D., provided the keynote speech. It was clear from her remarks that she holds the engineers of the U.S. Public Health Service in very high esteem and values their contributions to the protection of public health in this country and beyond. The event was also attended by generals, admirals, and senior executives from the military services and civilian agencies such as NASA and the Nuclear Regulatory Commission.
It was absolutely humbling reading the accomplishments of the year's FEYA winner, Capt. Richard Gelting, Ph.D., P.E., a team leader and senior environmental engineer with the Department of Health and Human Services, Centers for Disease Control & Prevention. Gelting manages the work of the water, sanitation, and hygiene team within the CDC. In this role, he coordinated the implementation of water safety plans in Jamaica, Guyana, Peru, Ecuador, Bolivia, Brazil, and St. Lucia. (Read more on p. 32.)
Like many of you, I am concerned about the many educational, regulatory, and professional challenges that affect our profession's ability to continue to protect the public health, safety, and welfare as well as the environment. My experience with the Future City competition and FEYA restored my confidence that there are 1) motivated and able young people on their way to taking their place in our profession and 2) talented government engineers successfully tackling the public health and defense challenges that face our nation. Taking part in these events made me realize that, despite the challenges we face, the engineering profession has a brighter future ahead.