Dark Days Shine New Light on Profession, Community

May/June 2020

NSPE Today: Outlook
Dark Days Shine New Light on Profession, Community



Engineers are involved in everything. You may not be the people the public sees on the front line, but you are always there, supporting and contributing to the quality of life of every person, every day, in important ways. Often, however, these contributions can only be fully appreciated after the fact.

At the time this is being written, we are in the midst of a global pandemic. By the time you read this, things will hopefully look much brighter and more hopeful.

Nonetheless, for professional engineers, right now is a true test of our commitment to health, safety, and welfare. PEs are uniquely qualified to address many of the problems faced by society in the wake of the coronavirus breakout. This is especially true as we move forward to a time of rebuilding to recover from the crisis. (And we will recover.) More importantly, it is true as we work to prevent something like this from ever happening again. It is important, now more than ever before, that we band together and use all the resources provided to us through our community.

This crisis has forced us to learn to carry on in new ways, when the traditional work environment has been taken away from us. And the professional engineering community has responded heroically. Every day you are continuing to do what you can, overcoming challenges and disruptions—and what you can do is proving to be a lot.

On the most basic, operational level, many of us are now routinely using technology and communications tools that have been on our devices for years, but we never used before. We’re learning how to use them effectively.

Even when the pandemic is a thing of the past, what have we learned about being more effective and productive under duress are skills we need to preserve and carry forward once life returns to normal, even as we reintroduce the vital element of direct human interaction.

NSPE itself is not immune from the impacts that have rocked the general economy and commerce in our country. Virtually overnight, streams of revenue have slowed or been cut off entirely; invested financial reserves have dropped precipitately in value; and there is no way to predict how long these conditions will prevail, or whether the worst might be yet to come. This event is bigger than NSPE: Each and every one of you is facing equally existential challenges to your families, your employers, your homes, your neighborhoods, your livelihoods.

But your organization has responded quickly, made difficult and often painful decisions, and implemented aggressive cost-saving measures across the board to ensure sustainability of operations in the face of these challenges. Those necessary steps are usually measured in dollars, but there is a human cost as well. We have made reductions in staff both in areas where the volume of activity is down and in areas where some level of value creation and delivery can be sustained, but at a reduced level. Remaining staff has made sacrifices, too, accepting reductions in salary, even as they are called upon to do more to make up for their colleagues who are no longer here.

But we remain focused on what this is all for: The mission of NSPE is too important to put on hold for a virus. Even as we all deal with difficult and disruptive times, NSPE leadership, volunteers, and staff are resolute and firmly committed to doing the very best we can to be there for our members and customers, delivering relevant and important benefits in this time of need.

All of it—the painful cuts as well as the adaptation to keep vital services flowing and to create new ways to support our members—are aimed at sustaining operations in the short-term, continuing to deliver maximum value wherever we can, and staying strong in order to seize the opportunities for rapid and vigorous recovery when this crisis is passed.

But at times like this, we are reminded that your national society alone isn’t enough; your state society alone isn’t enough. You need that entire network that includes all these elements. I have come to understand with new immediacy how right the NSPE strategic plan was to ground itself upon the concept of a single, integrated membership, supported by seamless services provided through state and national societies and local chapters in concert and collaboration—even when external circumstances make that unbelievably difficult.

But “network” is really just another word for community. Community is just an abstract word for a group of individuals. Interdependent and interconnected. Where benefit created anywhere benefits everyone, and harm suffered by anyone, anywhere, diminishes each of us.

Or, as John Donne put it nearly four centuries ago in a collection of poems: “No man is an island entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main; if a clod be washed away by the sea, [the whole] is the less.”