Answering the Question

By Tim Austin, P.E., F. NSPE, President 2015–16

“What does NSPE do for me?” That’s a common question that I’ve heard during my visits to state societies over the past couple of years. It’s a question that I used to frequently ask as well. It is the question that compelled me to run for the North Central Region director position upon completion of my term as president of the Kansas Society of Professional Engineers. That same question caused me to almost drop my NSPE membership upon completion of my two-year term as NCR director.

The question later led to an opportunity. When then President Dan Wittliff led the Race for Relevance (RFR) effort, he contacted me to help lead the effort to bring relevance back to the organization. I, among many, saw the RFR for what it was: an opportunity to determine the answer to the “question.” Through the dedicated efforts of many, today the organization is better able to answer that question, for you and for me.

Over the past three years under the leadership of NSPE presidents Dan Wittliff, Robert Green, and Harve Hnatuik, as well as Executive Director Mark Golden, the NSPE Board along with NSPE staff have made significant strides in refocusing the organization on its principal mission—serving as the organization for the licensed professional engineers and engineer interns.

We have been active in defining, promoting, and protecting matters of licensure. We have advocated for licensure with federal agencies; we have supported state legislative efforts; and we have supported litigation that threatens to erode licensure requirements. These efforts are being timely communicated to members and others through numerous platforms, including daily e-mails, PE magazine,, Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn.

Additionally, the board has worked hard, and continues to work hard, to align the organization’s activities and functions with the RFR principles and the strategic plan. Sound fiscal controls have been implemented, and accountability for our activities has been established.

In 1934, NSPE was founded and David Steinman is credited as our founding father. We know that NSPE was organized to promote licensure; however, Steinman had another goal that was equally important, if not more important: build public recognition and appreciation for the licensed engineer. We have historically struggled as an organization to fulfill this second goal.

Thus, the RFR effort is not solely about making NSPE relevant to its members; it is also about making licensed engineers relevant to society, to fulfill Steinman’s vision of public recognition and appreciation. To do so, we must start by recognizing that licensed engineers are not self-governed. Licensure cannot be regulated or mandated without the public’s consent. If the public no longer sees a need for licensure and if a clear case cannot be made for licensure, then engineers will no longer be licensed. The public will find ways to circumvent or reduce licensure requirements.

In order to win our Race for Relevance, we have to find effective and economical ways to gain public recognition and appreciation for the licensed engineer. But we need a hook. One can be found in the speed of technological change, which is raising questions in the public’s mind about safety, security, and ethics. Autonomous systems, artificial intelligence, and robotics, for example, all involve critical policy and ethics questions.

In addition, the decades-old state laws that exempt industry engineers from professional engineering licensing laws no longer adequately protect the public, given the complexity of today’s technological revolution.

So, who better than licensed professional engineers, along with NSPE, to facilitate answering these questions? Who better than licensed professional engineers, who are committed to public health, safety, and welfare above all else? Professional engineers must rise to become leaders in the public discourse about the societal implications of emerging technologies.

My commitment as NSPE president to each NSPE member will be to move the RFR effort forward; to assure you that the organization is working for you, as David Steinman envisioned, by defining, promoting, and protecting licensure for the public’s health, safety, and welfare; by building recognition and appreciation for the licensed professional engineer; and by answering the question, “What is NSPE doing for me?”

Please don’t hesitate to contact me and let me know how we are doing.

NSPE President Tim Austin, P.E., F.NSPE, can be followed on Twitter @NSPEPrez2015_16, or he can be e-mailed at

Published June 29, 2015 by Tim Austin, P.E., F. NSPE, President 2015–16

Filed under: Race for Relevance, NSPE's Race for Relevance,

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