Today’s engineering innovation and solutions cannot become someone else’s problem tomorrow.

Workforce Blog: Engineering a More Sustainable Future

Aug 11, 2022

by Michael Johnson

There are lots of ways to define what engineers do, but ultimately, they all boil down to this: engineers are problem-solvers. In a world where resources are finite and the temperature is rising, engineers have to innovate in ways that help address our global problems—and not inadvertently worsen them.

Inevitably, mechanical engineers must also be sustainability engineers.

As chief strategy officer, my main focus is to ensure that ASME provides leadership to the global engineering community across five strategic technological areas—robotics, clean energy, bioengineering, pressure technology, and advanced manufacturing. But the throughline linking all of these is the sustainability imperative.

Of course, sustainability is not just limited to carbon footprints. For an engineered solution to be truly viable, it must be financially and socially sustainable. It must deliver on both value and values—accomplishing the technical objective at a supportable cost and respecting the dignity and humanity of every individual it impacts, as well as the health of the planet.

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We will never meet the significant technical challenges of our time without expanding opportunities and drawing our engineering talent from a larger slice of the global population. 

Right now, women and people of color are severely underrepresented in the engineering profession. We are leaving a critical portion of the potential workforce on the sidelines.

Achieving equity in engineering opportunity—both in terms of access to the profession and availability of engineering innovations—is fundamental to delivering sustainable engineering solutions.

Our world is not sustainable when technological progress leaves entire communities behind. Equity means enabling universal access to necessities like clean water and energy, sanitation, efficient transportation, and medical technology, among other benefits of engineering.

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So, in a very real sense, diversity, equity, and sustainability go hand in hand. And they are at the heart of the ASME Foundation's philanthropic and workforce development efforts.

Through a robust array of philanthropic programs supported by donations to the ASME Foundation, the Society empowers diverse next-generation engineers to build a more equitable and sustainable future. Starting in grade school and continuing through college and early career, ASME is working to increase access to engineering education and technical careers, especially for those who are underrepresented in the profession.

Our K-12 education programs, focusing on Title 1 schools serving lower-income communities, illuminate the E in STEM, the only one of the four STEM disciplines not typically included in the K-12 curriculum. This work continues at the college level, where our scholarships help reduce the financial burden of obtaining an engineering education, especially for women and students of color, who represent half of all awardees.

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Our E-Fest programs engage aspiring engineers in the innovation process connect them to opportunities for internships, apprenticeships, training, and jobs. ASME's newest program, Community College Education Pathways, helps fill the surging demand for skilled technical workers by partnering with two-year institutions to better prepare young men and women—particularly those from underrepresented groups— for rewarding engineering and technical careers. And we are working with HBCUs across the country to enhance opportunity for their diverse graduates.

Our Engineering for Change Fellowships and E4C Digital Community engage young engineers in work to improve quality of life. And our ISHOW and Idea Lab initiatives provide direct support to entrepreneurs whose hardware innovations address the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals.

Through these and other philanthropic programs, ASME is working to build the more diverse and equitable engineering workforce that in turn will innovate a more sustainable future for all of us.

Michael Johnson is ASME chief strategy officer.
 

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