All Member Forum

National Engineers Week 2020

By Mr. Eric Rensel posted 02-18-2020 12:38 PM


As the son of a welder and grandson of a farmer and carpenter my integration into engineering ran much deeper than I could have realized growing up in Western Pennsylvania. Through high school I was focused on becoming an Architect and eventually I was accepted into the Penn State engineering program. In those early times I couldn’t have possibly realized just how rewarding it would be to spend my life helping others, having the opportunity to become a leader, and having the opportunity to give back to my profession through ITE involvement.

These days I seem to have entered the realm of “senior” and “experienced” professional – both of which I consider synonyms for “old”. But that’s OK because one of the things I have come to love as an experienced professional is the opportunity to provide my point of view to the next generation of professionals. Whether I’m speaking to my daughter’s fifth grade class, speaking at my son’s 8th grade career day, providing one-on-one mentoring through Gannett Fleming’s Connected Women mentorship program, or participating in an ITE student leadership summit there is great personal reward for me. It also provides me with the opportunity to embrace the idea of never forgetting to continue learning and focusing on self-improvement. Here are some of the ideas I typically share.

  • The most important thing I got from my engineering education are logic skills. Sure, understanding how to design a box beam bridge is also great but it’s the logic skills that give me the ability to think about problems and develop systematic processes to overcome those problems.
  • The most important thing a young professional can do is independently work on soft skills. Understanding the nuances of developing strong interpersonal relationships, public speaking, and other attributes they see from leaders in their lives they want to emulate. There are fantastic transportation engineering universities across this nation and abroad that will develop the technical skills necessary for success – but it’s the soft skills that will set you apart from your competition.
  • It is essential that you develop right-brain thinking as hard as you work at developing left-brain thinking. Through our technical development our left-brain thinking becomes the most valuable tool we have in our toolbox. However, life is about balance and that is certainly true of our brains. If we are not engaged in actively trying to hone our creativity, holistic thinking skills, and ability to consider open-ended questions we risk segmenting ourselves and missing the opportunity to be a guiding light on some of society’s most important questions.
  • A win for the community is a win for you. As transportation engineers our role does not normally result in being in the spotlight and garnering the praise for a job well-done. We certainly become esteemed among our colleagues but our very nature as professionals calls us to be humble and focused on societal benefits. As such there are important adjectives, we use to define our role such as leader, collaborator, or inventor. However, if we forget adjectives like empathetic, emotional, and aspirational then we will fail at what we try to achieve. By the way, adjectives like this don’t just describe success as a professional, they also describe success as a human.
  • There are a lot of great careers and jobs in the world, what makes this one so special for me is the ability to share in the successes of what we do and to be able to share those successes with the ones I love. When you think about how our lives are interwoven it’s hard not to think about the connections as the heart of what we do. For example, we work to make better connections to jobs. This helps drive our economy, make it possible for people to earn a fair wage, and sustain the way of life for our communities. Planning and building more connected communities helps us improve the health of our citizens, helps us reduce the impact of chronic disease, and helps us preserve the environment. Safe and reliable transportation systems help us connect our families more closely, make it easier to come together, and make it easier to stay together.
  • Finally, transportation professionals connect us to learning opportunities for children and adults. Connections made possible by transportation professionals are at the heart of everything – they weave together the fabric of our culture and they define what our evolution will look like.

I’m proud to celebrate National Engineers Week with ITE and Gannett Fleming. My hope for you during this week is that you become inspired to become a transportation professional, thank someone who helped you become one, or thank one you know for their support of your hopes and dreams.