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More on engineering and science

  • By Paul Heney
  • March 30, 2022

In January, I talked about how engineers and scientists really are kindred spirits, as they play on the same team of knowledge seekers. And hopefully you read the fascinating “Leadership in Engineering” feature article on Dan Arvizu, the Chancellor of New Mexico State University, who has been a leader and a trailblazer his whole career.

In the month since our discussion, I got to thinking about something Arvizu said to me about engineering and science, and how he saw the two disciplines constantly intertwine, based on his long career in research and development. He explained that engineering has a role to play in enabling the science to occur, but often times, it ends up gaining new tools from the science that happens.

“Think about how the National Science Foundation has contributed engineering feats,” he said. “It’s not that basic research goes to applied research, and that goes to the outcomes. It’s an iterative set of loops. And basic research is actually input into the engineering thought process and the concepts — because it’s new tools, it’s new capabilities, it’s new ways of looking at problems. There’s a fuzzy line between basic science and engineering. So even though I’m engineering trained through all my degrees, I frequently refer to myself as a scientist as well, because I love the idea of discovery science.”

Arvizu also made the interesting point that most everything he learned in school is obsolete based on what we know now. The idea of the engineering profession being something separate and distinct from the other disciplines is a foreign concept to him, he said, because it’s all integrated in so many different ways.

I think this is a great message to pass on to our kids, too, when they ask us about our careers. Do we think engineering could be a path for them? We should tell them that engineering is a marvelous profession because it offers us so many possibilities. Whatever your interests are, there’s a place for you in engineering.