Are We Doing Enough to Protect the Public Welfare?
David J. Briskey, PE
That was the question posed by Tim Austin, NSPE President, as he spoke to the lunchtime gathering of professional engineers who attended the PSPE State Conference on September 24 and 25, 2015.
President Austin asked to see a show of hands on whether attendees obtained their PE license simply to advance their professional career or whether they wanted to show their commitment to protecting the public welfare. He went on to compliment the seven Professional Engineers who joined the Order of the Engineer at the prior lunch. By placing the silver ring on the little finger of their working hand, these engineers hear the tapping on their desk as they perform work, reminding themselves of their solemn obligation to uphold the standards and dignity of the engineering profession.
President Austin went on to discuss Representative Bruce Westerman, PE (R-AR), who filed a complaint against the EPA for failing to have a PE involved in the practice of engineering during Colorado’s August 5, 2015, Gold King Mine disaster.
In another matter, he discussed NSPE’s commitment to advocate for the ethical pursuit of innovation and technology concerning Artificial Intelligence (AI). He urged members to get involved with NSPE’s desire to establish a task force to discuss the implications of AI, particularly in the area of autonomous vehicles and the “Grand Challenge.” NSPE should be in the lead to address this issue, which Elon Musk, CEO and CTO of SpaceX and CEO of Tesla Motors, described as the biggest existential threat facing humanity.
During conference sessions, Eric Tappert, PE, continued the message of President Austin as he shared an Ethics Case Study: the Johnstown Flood where decisions that were made and not made by engineers and non-engineers lead to this catastrophe. Another ethics topic PSPE members heard was Expert Witness/Engineering Ethics: The Landslide of Unethical Practice. Beyond ethics, innovation was featured in topics about Job Site Monitoring Using Drones, PennDOT Bridge Replacement through Public-Private Partnership, and the Deployable Flood Wall at the World Trade Center. Sustainability was the theme for the Phipps Conservatory Reconstruction, the new Chatham University Eden Hall Campus, Understanding BIM, and Hermitage’s Self Sustaining Wastewater Treatment. Exciting infrastructure projects were addressed as well in the Diverging Diamond Interchange (I-70), the PTC I-95 Interchange, and the CSX J&L Tunnel Modification. Attendees heard how their visions can become reality by way of TechShop Pittsburgh in Bakery Square, Solar Generation—From Concept to Interconnect, or 3D Printing Applications. Other topics addressed Building Retro Commissioning, the Smart Grid, Geosynthetics in Roadways, and EXCELent Engineering Worksheets. Informative classes about Powering the Telephone and the Smart Grid expanded the awareness of how engineering affects everyday life.
Unlike other conferences, PSPE is able to provide a wide selection of topics as noted above for the many disciplines of professional engineers. Close to 125 attendees were present over the two-day period. Attendees could select from four tracks with many fascinating topics. A total of 44 sessions were offered, and engineers could obtain 12 PDH hours from this conference for their continuing education.
In addition to the technical sessions, attendees enjoyed the social events. Members attended an opening dinner at Atria’s Restaurant where fine food and good conversation were enjoyed by all.
The Order of the Ring Ceremony during Thursday’s lunch made everyone think about their obligation as an engineer when they read the following statement in unison:
“As an Engineer, in humility and with the need for Divine guidance, I shall participate in none but honest enterprises.
When needed, my skill and knowledge shall be given without reservation for the public good.
In the performance of duty and in fidelity to my profession, I shall give the utmost.”
The Thursday evening dinner and trivia contest raised the bar on what engineers should know! Who knew that an elephant can swim up to 20 miles in one day? Who knew that a mosquito has 47 teeth? We SHOULD have known that Panama is the only place where you can watch the sun rise over the Pacific and set over the Atlantic…but we didn’t! Congratulations go to the winning team that helped Lehigh Valley win $500 toward their MATHCOUNTS program. Before and after the fierce trivia competition, all attendees enjoyed the fantastic sound of Leap of Faith, led by saxophonist extraordinaire and current Southwest Vice President, Joe Boward, PE.
The conference concluded at the annual banquet on Friday night as members, spouses, and guests heard heart-felt thank-you messages from each of the winners. Amazingly, this was the second straight year that the Pittsburgh Chapter took home the awards for Young Engineer and State Engineer. This year’s added bonus is the fact that Young Engineer Melissa Fontanese, PE, and State Engineer Virginia Dailey, PE, are both women. This is the first time two women won these two awards in PSPE history. Great Job, Ladies! The Pittsburgh Chapter is proud and honored by these awards.
NSPE President Austin shared his enthusiasm about engineering as he installed the new Pennsylvania State Officers led by the Beaver Chapter’s Tim Ormiston. Tim shared his vision for the upcoming year before thanking all the hard-working committee members for organizing another fine State Conference. The Beaver Chapter of PSPE did a great job in organizing and hosting this event. Our Pittsburgh Chapter will be hosting in 2017 so keep your calendar cleared, and we encourage you to step up and help organize the event.