Life hacks and laughs… A conversation with Innovation Nation’s Alie Ward

PHOTO CREDIT: Justin Zangerle

If you like your engineering and science with a dose of humor, Alie Ward’s got you covered. She’s the Emmy Award-winning science correspondent for CBS’s “The Henry Ford’s Innovation Nation with Mo Rocca,” and host of the smart and hilarious “Ologies” podcast. But her STEM exploration doesn’t stop there. She’s on the Science Channel’s “How to Build Everything,” and, along with Adam Savage of Mythbusters fame, she co-hosts GE’s “In the Wild” and finds time to be on Cooking Channel’s ongoing show “Unique Sweets.” She’ll also be part of two new science shows for Netflix, and when she’s not doing all that, Alie answers Q&As for NEF.

Q. You studied biology before earning a degree in cinema at UC Santa Barbara. Did you think then that you’d end up where you are today, telling fresh and fun stories about the engineers and scientists who make cool things happen and improve lives?

You know, I think if I would have known I’d have this cool of a job, I would have relaxed a little while I was in school. I always loved the arts but also loved science and I always thought — if I couldn’t pick just one of them — then I had to be really driven in both in case I needed one as a plan B. And I’m so fortunate that my work involves both science and entertainment; it turns out I didn’t have to chose just one. The other aspect of my job that I love is how inspiring the scientists and engineers are; hearing how an idea was born and the resourcefulness and hard work it took to make it a reality are just excellent fuel to keep me motivated in my own life, whether it’s in pursuing new projects or getting through a long travel and shoot day.

Q. One of the things we like about Innovation Nation is how much information and knowledge gets conveyed in a brief amount of time. Does that make it challenging to convey technical information, or is it a good forcing function to help you break down complexity and get to the core of what the audience needs to know?

It definitely is a challenge to convey the technical details in a short window of time but viewers can also do more research on the product or invention after the show. What is most painful to exclude, in my mind, are the amazing details about what might inspire the inventors themselves. We always keep those thoughts in the story if we can, but the full interviews we shoot about perseverance are so inspiring and I wish sometimes we had an hour per segment to include all the details.

PHOTO CREDITS: Stephanie Himango/Innovation Nation

Q. Tell us about the most interesting inventor you’ve profiled.

I was so blown away by Atlanta-based inventor, Lonnie Johnson. The man has so many patents for various inventions, was a NASA engineer who worked on the Galileo spacecraft that orbited Jupiter and also invented the SuperSoaker water toy, which ended up earning him millions of dollars. He uses that revenue to help fund other engineering projects, like batteries with improved efficiency, and to help fund robotics teams and mentorship. He’s just incredibly brilliant and inspiring and it was such an honor to interview him. I fanned out pretty hard and then also lost my mind with glee getting to run around this factory squirting water at targets.

Q. How about the inventor with the best sense of humor…

I have to give that distinction to then 73-year-old Merle Freeman, who came up with the idea for bracelet called Paxie, which helps alert parents about their children’s health and safety. She was so dedicated to keeping kids safe — but also had the most hilarious sense of humor off camera that might make a sailor blush. I adored our conversations when the cameras weren’t rolling, but uuuhhh… I could not relay any specifics in this publication. Trust me.

…so many innovators stress that failure is PART of success. You will have plenty of microfailures — and maybe some big ones along the way — and it’s all part of the creation and evolution of an idea.

Q. While those in the STEM fields take their work and research seriously, humor plays a big part in your storytelling – both on Innovation Nation and your own podcast Ologies. When did you first test using humor in science? Was it a natural fit or did you have to work at finding the right way to weave in puns and laughs?

I think it’s all about balance. I think some people might be intimidated by science because there’s a perception that it lacks a human element; that science is all data and numbers and impersonal. But actually scientists are curious and warm and hilarious and have great stories so it’s been a passion of mine to show that side of science as a way of breaking down that intimidation. Also, science is so genuinely funny. Natural science is all about weird mating behaviors and fear responses and any experiment starts with a question and has countless failures and mishaps before it’s successful. It boggles me why more people don’t approach it with humor but I’m not mad that there’s less competition; I’LL BE HONEST.

PHOTO CREDIT: Stephanie Himango/Innovation Nation

Q. You’ve interviewed engineering pioneers – from the inventor of 3-D printing to emerging engineering entrepreneurs like the creator of a Welsh inland surf park. A lot has been written about the advice successful innovators have for people aspiring to do the same, but we’d like to know: in the course of interviewing so many engineers and scientists, did they share pitfalls they wish they’d avoided along the way, or caution signs they missed as they pursued their dreams?

Please know that I milk these geniuses for life advice ALL THE TIME. It’s like: if anyone knows how to life-hack, it’s folks on the verge of a Nobel Prize. One great piece of advice I’ve heard is not to hoard your ideas because they’re not perfect yet. Rather, get them out into the world and ask for some help and input in making them better. There’s so much worry about imperfection that a lot of people would rather sit on an idea than never try and fail — but so many innovators stress that failure is PART of success. You will have plenty of microfailures — and maybe some big ones along the way — and it’s all part of the creation and evolution of an idea. I definitely took that to heart when I was wanting to make Ologies but was worried it wasn’t good enough to release yet. Every time an innovator would suggest just jumping in and making an invention happen, my producer Stephanie would give me a knowing smirk and a side-eye … until I finally launched the podcast. Turned out — those innovators were right. Just do the thing and figure it out as you go.

All in all, it’s been great to not only deliver science info that has relevance but at the end of the day — and literally at the end of each show — imparts the advice, “Dream big, and don’t quit,” which is a great motto for anyone.

PHOTO CREDITS (from left to right): Stephanie Himango/Innovation Nation; John Murphy/Innovation Nation; Lila Higgins

Q. What innovation haven’t you covered that you’d like to one day?

Recently, Innovation Nation was shooting a story on a jet-powered hoverboard invented by Franky Zapata and it was one of the most insane things I’ve ever seen. I’m still reeling from wonder and I can’t wait for it to air. And one story I keep wanting to cover is an app for speed-reading, upping the words per minute to something like 500. As someone who loves reading but is on the go all the time, I just want to put more books into my brain faster.

Q. What feedback do you hear from viewers? Is there a difference in what you hear from STEM folks and non-STEM fans?

I hear a lot of great feedback about how inspiring it is to see rough, ugly prototypes of items that have become so familiar: I love showing viewers that an idea will evolve and get better as you make iterations and fix the things that don’t work. A lot of otherwise-non-STEM fans I think extrapolate those principals to other areas of their lives, which I love. And many STEM fans love hearing the history of inventions and seeing what’s on the forefront in terms of new technology. All in all, it’s been great to not only deliver science info that has relevance but at the end of the day — and literally at the end of each show — imparts the advice, “Dream big, and don’t quit,” which is a great motto for anyone.

Emmy Awards honor the engineers who make TV worth watching

On Sunday, April 8, the National Academy of Television Arts & Sciences (NATAS) will honor winners at the 69th Annual Technical and Engineering Emmy Awards. Among the honorees is Lifetime Achievement Award winner Richard Friedel, executive vice president, Technology and Broadcast Strategy for Fox. We talked to Friedel and Robert P. Seidel, CBS vice president of Engineering and Advanced Technology and chairman of the NATAS Technology & Engineering Committee, about why it’s important to recognize engineers and the role of technology in entertainment.

 

Q: For generations, television has been an intimate part of our lives – bringing families together to entertain and delivering important news and information to the public. The NATAS Technology & Engineering Emmy Awards are given to individuals or companies “that either represent so extensive an improvement on existing methods or are so innovative in nature that they materially have affected television.” When it comes to making TV more enjoyable and compelling for the audience, what has been the most impactful technological advancement?

Robert P. Seidel: During the early days of television, there were two ways to present entertainment and news information. Specifically, live or film. The advent of video tape allowed for programs to be recorded, edited and broadcast very quickly. Many older viewers will remember the phrase “film at 11” because the six o’clock news was unable to present footage of the actual news event. The need to provide live breaking news led to the development of electronic newsgathering and the incorporation of multiple technologies such as video tape and microwave transmissions. The next growth of this technology was satellite newsgathering, which enabled the events of the world to unfold in your living room. This technology created a “global village” of television viewers and, in many cases, brought about social changes, such as coverage of the civil rights movement, the student uprising in Tiananmen Square, China, or served as a milepost in our lives; where were you during the Kennedy assassination, the first lunar landing, or the terror attacks on 9/11? The addition of High Definition television with its crystal clear widescreen images, surround sound and improved color fidelity enhanced the viewing experience by providing a “like you are there” window to the world.

Q: Let’s go back a bit to the start of your careers. How did you get into television?

Richard Friedel
photo credit: 21st Century Fox

Richard Friedel: Since childhood, I’ve always been interested in electricity and electronics. I would mess around with my parents’ hi-fi system and other things around the house. I was fortunate that my high school offered an electronics program. I jumped at the chance to learn the fundamentals of electronics. The third year, there was no set curriculum; instead, we had to complete a project. The school had just received some defunct television equipment from the old Dumont TV Network. A friend and I were assigned to turn it into a simple TV station for homeroom announcements. That project is what got me started.

At Drexel University, there was no student television activity, but there was a radio station. When they learned I could actually repair equipment, I was immediately added to the engineering department. That was the beginning of my experience with broadcasting.

Drexel had a cooperative education program, so I returned home to Washington, D.C. to work. While there, I enrolled in broadcast and engineering courses at the University of Maryland and became involved with the school’s radio station too.

After I graduated, a friend asked me to help him run the university’s Radio-TV-Film Department’s technical facility. There I learned about professional television equipment and system design, which eventually led to a job with WRC/NBC.

RS: I started dabbling in television at my high school when I got involved with their local cable access program called “Knight Life.” At Lehigh University, I was the chief engineer of the two radio stations and built two black and white TV studios for their local cable channels. After graduating from Lehigh with a bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering, I looked for a career in television broadcast engineering. I started as a design engineer with CBS in the mid-‘70s. Some of the projects I have worked on include designing studios for Walter Cronkite, mobile units for CBS Sports, a RApid Deployment Earth Terminal (RADET) (i.e. portable satellite uplink dish) that could be shipped to anywhere in the globe to cover a fast-breaking news event. In 1996, I headed up the team that made broadcasting history when WRAL-HD, the CBS affiliate in Raleigh, North Carolina became the first commercial high definition television station to sign on the air in the United States. On October 29, 1998 CBS launched their high definition network service with the coverage of John Glenn’s return to space on the Space Shuttle Discovery. The event was carried on eight early-adopter TV stations. In those days, we knew all our viewers on a first name basis. This was followed by the broadcast of four NFL games in HDTV. At that point in time, most prime time shows were photographed on 35mm film. In order to cover the cost of converting the film to HDTV, I had to go out and sell advertising to offset the cost. A graphic at the bottom third of the screen would inform the viewer “This program is in HDTV by Mitsubishi, or Samsung or Panasonic, or RCA.” If the viewer did not have an HDTV, then they knew they were missing something. For the 1999-2000 TV season, CBS converted most of their prime program schedule to the highest form of HDTV.

Robert Seidel (kneeling) cueing the Reading High School Knight Life Television Staff

Why is it important to celebrate television’s achievements in engineering and technology? How does your training as an engineer factor into your role?

RF: Television is a technologically driven industry. Whether it’s how we create programming, produce it, transmit it or monetize it, it all requires technology. I was taught that engineering is the business of technology. So, my engineering training was what I needed to be effective and successful at applying technology to business solutions. A lot of experience and a little luck helped too.

RS: It is important to recognize the achievements of engineers and technologists for innovations like HDTV and digital television because you want to encourage continued thought on how to improve existing technologies. In February 2000, Neil Armstrong spoke to the National Press Club regarding the advancement of understanding of the critical importance of engineering. He said, “…Almost every part of our lives underwent profound changes during the past 100 years thanks to the efforts of engineers, changes impossible to imagine a century ago. People living in the early 1900s would be amazed at the advancements wrought by engineers.” He went on to say that “…as someone who has experienced firsthand one of engineering’s most incredible advancements – space exploration – I have no doubt that the next 100 years will be even more amazing.”

In February 1981, CBS demonstrated HDTV for the first time in the United States at the Winter Technical Conference at the Society of Motion Picture and Television Engineers. At that point in time, it was unthinkable that we would be asking to replace every television set in America, every television studio, every edit room and every transmitter for this new technology. Yet today, HDTV has become a global phenomenon that permits the viewers to experience the event as if they were there. Recognition of these achievements helps motivate engineers and technologists to keep asking themselves how they can create something new or make an existing product or technology better.

It is important to recognize the achievements of engineers and technologists for innovations like HDTV and digital television because you want to encourage continued thought on how to improve existing technologies.
– Robert Seidel

give us a glimpse into what it’s like for the Technology & Engineering Achievement Committee to select the Emmy honorees. What consistencies do you see in the award-winning innovations that set the industry standard for excellence?

RS: Every year, a committee of approximately 55–75 television industry engineering professionals and innovators volunteer their time for a three-meeting cycle to consider technology nominations. At our first two meetings, we review category nominations submitted to the committee for consideration. These nominations are broad categories of technology and are not product specific. For example, a video storage nomination could include film, videotape, digital video disc, and solid-state storage. At the end of the second meeting, the committee votes on the technology categories that will be investigated and assigned subcommittees who will conduct in depth research into the technology including patents, first public demonstration, and organizations and individuals who have materially affected television with this technology. At the third meeting, the subcommittees present their findings to the larger group and specific products or individuals that may be “Emmy worthy.” A vigorous discussion usually ensues prior to the full committee vote. At the end of these discussions, a vote is taken by secret ballot. If the technology receives affirmative votes from two-thirds of the committee, an Emmy is awarded to the organizations or individuals recommended by the subcommittee. These results are kept confidential until the winning organizations and individuals are notified by the Chairman and a press release is issued by the National Academy.

Technologies or living individuals are awarded Emmys because they represent so extensive an improvement on existing methods or are so innovative in nature that they have materially affected television.

NATAS®

Richard, what’s it like to find out you’re getting the Academy’s Lifetime Achievement Award in Technology?

RF: Surreal. I had no expectation for an Emmy. I guess that sentiment is true for most of the honorees who receive this award. I still can’t believe that my peers recommended me for this honor.

Where will you keep this Emmy?

RF: I haven’t given that any thought. I’d like to place it publicly outside my office so my team can be inspired by it. They are the reason I’m being honored. Without their efforts and energy this could never have happened.

 

Richard, you’re responsible for overseeing FOX Networks Engineering & Operations including the network’s long-term technology strategy and day-to-day operations for the Fox Network Center in Los Angeles and the Fox Houston Technical Operations Center, home of Fox Sports’ regional networks, and providing technical support for 14 regional production centers… how important is it to stay on the cutting edge of technology in television?

RF: Staying current with technology, not just television technology, is essential. The media and entertainment business is being heavily impacted by consumer adoption of broadband connected electronic devices and new distribution methods utilizing the Internet. To succeed in the future, broadcasters and media studios must adopt internet technologies and computer science techniques to successfully compete. For example, to better understand what consumers like or want, we are now using big data technologies, analytics and AI (artificial intelligence) to better understand our audiences. We are investigating block chain techniques for use in tracking information about content creation and for our advertising sales and rights. We are also currently developing applications that leverage machine learning and AI to help discover and monetize content that we own.

To succeed in the future, broadcasters and media studios must adopt internet technologies and computer science techniques to successfully compete.
– Richard Friedel

Richard, What’s the most exciting part of your job at Fox?

RF: This may sound like a cliché, but, it is trying to understand what the future of television and broadcasting is as our business is being disrupted by both societal and technological changes. What could be more exciting than to help figure out how our society will all be educated, informed and entertained in the future? And how Fox will be a major part of that.

Robert, What’s the most exciting part of your job at CBS?

RS: As a toolmaker for the entertainment industry, I get to design and evaluate new technologies that enhance the story telling process for the creative community. We work with all divisions including CBS News, Sports, and Entertainment, helping to design, build, test and rollout new technologies into the production and distribution process. An example of a recent project is our Over-the-Top (OTT) Internet service, CBS ALL ACCESS, which provides access to the live-linear local station’s over-the-air signal, as well as thousands of episodes of CBS programming, on mobile phones, tablets, PCs, other streaming devices.

“With digital TV, we’re selling the value of being involved with a new technology,” says CBS’ Robert Seidel. The 1998 Winter Olympics were broadcast in HDTV.

What advice can you share for the next generation of network engineering executives?

RS: In addition to your engineering major, I would take a variety of economics and accounting courses. Join industry professional groups as a student member, such as Society of Motion Picture and Television Engineers (SMPTE) or IEEE. These will provide great networking opportunities.

RF: I think this advice applies to much of life. First, find a field that truly interests you. Second, be and stay curious about technology, the business and how society reacts to changes in both. Third, always strive to be the best. And, always help others along the way. These traits will help you throughout your career.

Finally, I would add that I have always believed that luck comes to those who are prepared. I’d suggest being active in at least one or two professional societies or trade associations that create standards and support industry endeavors. The fellow engineers you meet will help you stay on top of technology, develop networking skills and challenge you to work with them to invent the future of your business.

Robert Seidel and U.S. Rep. Greg Walden, R-Oregon, at the top of the Empire State Building, the home of the first HDTV station in New York City. Walden is a former radio station owner and chairs the House Energy & Commerce Committee.

Celebrate Engineers Week 2018

Q: Why is important to have an annual Engineers Week?

Leslie Collins

It’s important to bring visibility to engineers and the work they do. Engineering has been referred to as the “stealth profession.” The results of engineering are certainly visible and used daily. But engineers? They’re not recognized. If we are going to encourage future generations of STEM – emphasis on the E – professionals, they must have contact with engineers and the chance to try engineering, even in small, hands-on ways.

Q: What are you hoping young people will get from this year’s theme: Engineers: Inspiring Wonder?

I hope they will understand that engineers create today’s awe-inspiring wonders, from deep sea exploration to cloud-busting skyscrapers. I hope they are inspired to wonder what the next great innovations might be and how they can play a role in creating them.

Q: How can engineers, educators and parents help keep the inspiration going all year?

Continue to introduce students to role models. Be sure kids are getting the right messages to reinforce that engineering is creative, team-based, and helps people. Find ways for kids to explore engineering. There are simple hands-on activities at discovere.org along with tips on how to talk to kids at a variety of ages about what engineers do.  Engineering activities help kids understand how they can use the science, math, and technology they study.

Q: Introduce a Girl to Engineering Day is part of Engineers Week. Why is it so important to have a day dedicated specifically to showing girls the wonders of engineering?

We know that girls are under-represented in STEM education and in many STEM careers. Here at DiscoverE, we know that girls are interested in and more than capable of success in engineering. Look at the Introduce a Girl to Engineering Day event at the University of Texas – Austin where they host 6,000 girls. We’ve met current college students whose first engineering experiences were through a Girl Day event.

Q: How can people take the first step to participate in Engineers Week?

There are lots of ways to take an initial step or to take a big leap. First, whether a skilled volunteer, educator or parent, visit discovere.org.  Our mission is to support volunteers and everything we provide online is free and adaptable, whether you want to work with one youngster, a Scout troop, or in a more formal class setting.  And join the conversation on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram using #Eweek2018.

Investing in the Future

Photo credit: GE Foundation

As Executive Director for Education for the GE Foundation, Kelli Wells influences the future of American engineering. She’s focused on managing partnerships to close the skills gap and ignite a spark of passion in students as they realize what being an engineer really means.

Q: Solving the capacity challenge, or the “skills gap,” is a priority of GE Foundation. How do these efforts specifically benefit engineers?

As the first digital industrial company, GE is acutely aware of the need to expand the number of students who ultimately pursue degrees and careers in engineering fields and to broaden the participation of underrepresented populations. Increasing engineering skills for all students is critical to achieving a scientifically and technologically literate society that will enhance our nation’s global competitiveness.

Through our commitment to engineering, we are investing in the next generation’s problem solvers to look at what will be needed in the economy and address it through world-class education pipelines. We are working across stakeholder lines to equip all students with the education, skills and training that they need for the demands of the workforce and the global labor economy. Through our initiatives, engineers cultivate both technical skills and essential skills necessary for career success.

Q: Tell us about the concept behind the GE Brilliant Career Labs. How are the lab’s physical and virtual learning experiences helping students explore career options and find future engineering jobs?

The GE Brilliant Career Lab is a first-of-its-kind mobile and digital technology lab experience designed to prepare students for the digital industrial jobs of the future. The mobile lab combines experiential learning with career-readiness planning in high-demand STEM fields, offering both technical skills development and essential skills training. Through the mobile lab, students become familiar with new technologies, such as 3-D printers, laser cutters, milling machines, and programming tools. They are able to work on projects to help them understand the uses and features of the equipment. The Brilliant Career Lab’s virtual experience website houses career assessments that identify potential STEM and computer science careers paths for each student, and interactive activities that teach students about specific opportunities based on their interests and skills.

Q: Do you have a story you can share of a student who benefitted from the GE Foundation and went on to pursue a career in engineering?

Three years ago, a Boston student, Rafaelo, and his mother moved from Puerto Rico to Boston with nothing but the clothes on their backs. Shortly after arriving in the U.S., despite his mother having secured a job at Walgreens, they became homeless and landed in various shelters. Finally, an aunt was able to take them in. The apartment complex they lived in had rampant drug use, gangs and violence. Each day was a struggle because he was focused on surviving, which meant, staying out of gangs, staying clear of drugs and staying out of fights.

Six months ago, Rafaelo was introduced to the Brilliant Career Lab and began exploring various STEM careers for the first time. Rafaelo’s world began to open with possibility; he took a career assessment and fell in love with the idea of becoming an engineer. This spark has grown into a passion, and Rafaelo said, for the first time, “I can see myself going to college. I learned that I could study computer science and become a video game designer.” Rafaelo is currently working on his application to several Boston area colleges with the goal of becoming an engineer.

Photo credit: GE Foundation

Q: The course of your career includes an impressive twenty years at GE. Before your current role in corporate citizenship, you worked in asset management, quality, and international marketing. What have you gained from trying out different roles in different areas of the business?

For me, cultivating different perspectives is critical. I am grateful for the various roles that I have held because they inform my thinking now. I am able to approach problems from different angles.

I also think it helps me to be empathetic. In my work, I engage with business leaders, educators, students and politicians. Because I have worked in various roles, I am able to see different perspectives. I am able to build connections, identify shared values, and build cohesion among stakeholders.

As I talk to students, I stress my diverse background and tell them that the skills that they develop are not necessarily about specific technical skills, but more broadly about becoming a problem solver, a critical thinker, a dreamer and a doer. These are skills that are fundamental to success no matter the job title.

…being an engineer is the privilege of being the most creative problem solver in the world – with the tools to actually solve the problem! It doesn’t get better than that!

Q: What do you enjoy most about helping the next generation of engineers and scientists?

It is so exciting to see the spark of intrigue in a student. And then it’s even more fulfilling to watch that spark turn into genuine interest, turn into a college experience, turn into a career. Passion starts somewhere, and I am in the great position of being able to watch that process happen with students every day.

On a personal level, I love our country and love that we are a nation of innovators. At the heart of being an engineer is creativity and ingenuity. When people tell me that being an engineer or a scientist is boring, I am aghast. I tell them that being an engineer is the privilege of being the most creative problem solver in the world – with the tools to actually solve the problem! It doesn’t get better than that!

But when I look around our country, we have a problem. We have an education system that is not linked to industry. We have companies that have jobs that can’t be filled because the employee pipeline doesn’t have the necessary skills. I love my job because I am sitting at the crossroads of this challenge, and helping to solve it. I am strengthening our future economy and the health of our country by investing in skills and opportunities of our students. It is humbling.

Q: What’s next for GE Foundation?

The GE Foundation remains committed to empowering all 14-24-year olds to become globally productive citizens by providing access to learning experiences necessary for the workforce of tomorrow. We will continue our initiative in Boston and as we continue to achieve successes in partnership with our best-in-class nonprofit partners, we will extend impact across Massachusetts and the nation by scaling Boston assets and best practices, sharing learnings, convening the best minds and showcasing what is possible. As we move forward, our lens will be toward scale in the areas of collaboration, empowerment and innovation in the areas of education and skills.

 

Forge your own path: a conversation with Joann Michalik

Q. Tell us about your role. What approach do you take to helping businesses deploy advanced technologies and process improvements?

As Smart Building Practice Co-Leader, I need to be on the forefront of the industry. The role is a combination of leading a team of industry leaders and practitioners while creating the next generation of offerings for clients. At Deloitte, we try to be at the forefront of an issue, so gathering insights from our team, and developing the solution that will bring value to our clients is key. But consulting is more than the next solution – it is about trust in your service provider. My approach is to build relationships and trust over time by bringing the best of the firm, delivering value, and truly partnering with clients.

Last year I had the honor of interviewing over 12 CTOs and visiting 10 Department of Energy National Labs for a survey about “Advanced Technologies in Manufacturing.” This study highlighted what was working and not working in U.S. Manufacturing. The thought leadership provides value to my clients, well beyond any assignment. Instead of coming to me with an assignment, my clients now came to me for insights which led to assignments they had not considered.

The insights developed through these research efforts help business leaders ascertain advanced technologies critical to future competitiveness, and demonstrate the benefits of deploying such technologies. The insights can be used for businesses to see where they are on the maturity curve relative to others and to consider adoption and implementation of enabling technologies that make the most sense for the organization.

 

Q. What advice do you have for engineers who want to grow into a leadership role in business?

Engineers are particularly good at learning something new or experimenting with a new idea. The skills they need are people skills. One of the best things my mother told me as I went off to engineering school was to find time for “fun.” She was telling me there was more to life than what is found in books.

Leadership is built with the help of others. Your network and your ability to learn will see you through as long as you are willing to push yourself forward. You make mistakes, but that is OK – just don’t make the same mistake twice.

The rate of change is rapidly increasing and jobs will be changing. Your path to leadership is not the path I took, but the one you craft. Build a team. Implement a project. Ride each wave; grab the next wave and ride that one. Just don’t give up learning and trying new things.

Q. Your first job out of college was at General Electric. Tell us about your eleven years there, and what it was like starting out your engineering career at a renowned American company.

When I joined GE, it was the time before Jack Welch (Reggie Jones was CEO). GE and manufacturing were very different. Manufacturing was still a hot spot to grow a career and GE, with a history back to [Thomas] Edison, was the place to be. I don’t remember the percentages of women in manufacturing, but let’s just say it was not common, but I loved it from the start.

I started in the Manufacturing Management Program (MMP) – which was a two-year program for engineers to learn all about manufacturing and be ready to lead. Every six months I got a new job – first production control, then shop supervisor, maintenance engineer, and a raw steel buyer. I worked in the semiconductors, steam turbine & generator, and aerospace instruments businesses. Once I graduated from the MMP Program, I held many more assignments, including working in sales, plant consolidation, and as beta site manager for flow manufacturing (Lean Six Sigma). This rapid succession of new assignments, training, and businesses, allowed me to try new things, take risks in a relatively protected environment and grow.

Q. It appears you’ve had an interest and aptitude for engineering from a young age. As a high school recipient of the Rensselaer Medal and later as a graduate of the U.S.’ oldest technological university, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, whom or what do you credit for prompting your interest in STEM?

I credit my family. We were always fixing things, because we had to. I became very hands-on. Math was just fun. I became so good at math, I would often get to an answer without really thinking about it – it just came to me. (I can’t do that now –too many calculators!) But the turning point was my high school physics teacher, Dr. Eaton. Dr. Eaton, had found teaching after a career in industry as a chemical engineer. He made physics fun, saying, “You have to live physics.” He took an interest in me and suggested I consider engineering. At the time, I did not know what engineering was, and my family had less of a clue, but after winning the Rensselaer Medal, I decided to take a look at engineering –and never looked back.

Q. Anything else you’d like us to know?

I highly recommend working with people you like to be around. I am proud of the workplace accomplishments of Deloitte – which are many – but the best part is to be happy working with this team of talented, hard-working, caring and inclusive folks. The days fly by with new challenges and fun problems to solve.

Steven Gacin & Bob Salemme

Steven Gacin

Q. Tell us about what led you to be an engineer. Was there a moment or a person who inspired you to pursue this career?

SG: There was no one moment, but it started at a very young age. Like every developing engineer, I was fascinated with how things worked and I tinkered, and broke, many household items in order to understand exactly how they ticked and why. To calm my idle hands and mind, my father, who was a carpenter, would frequently take me with him on build activities. This only fueled my passion for creating, shaping, forming with meticulous attention to detail and ultimately becoming a “maker.” The STEAM (science, technology, engineering, art and math) programs and the rich and vibrant creative culture that I grew up with in Providence, Rhode Island nurtured my passion for art and design. Combining my love of tinkering, my fascination with creating, and my passion for the arts, science and technology, it’s no wonder that I ultimately became a design engineer!

BS: My high school counselor recommended I give engineering a shot because I did well in math and physics classes. During my first year of college, I was still undecided about what major I wanted to pursue. My academic advisor recommended that I take the Strong Interest Inventory. You answer 300 questions, and based on your likes and dislikes, the results tell you “here are the top ten careers you may enjoy the day-to-day grind of.” Mechanical engineer was third, after college professor and photographer, so I decided to go for it. It has been a tremendously satisfying journey so far.

Q. Your jobs are pretty cool. Which came first – a love of cars or a love of engineering?

SG: My love of engineering came first, and then came my love of cars. Vehicles are a great feat of engineering, the effort and complexity required to make a vehicle and to do it well takes a lot of time. The complexity of design and engineering is especially true for vehicles designed for the consumer market, where you are not just making a metal box with tires to get from point A to point B.

So much needs to be considered to make a vehicle catered to the customer’s needs and satisfaction, from the meticulous design of the transmission, suspension and programming systems for optimal performance on the road, to the extensive crash testing to provide the safest cabin space, and that small seemingly insignificant radius on the center console where your thumb may rest! To create a truly well-crafted vehicle, there is no one field of engineering to get you there. We need individuals from all backgrounds — mechanical, electrical, process, industrial and human factors engineers — to create something that consumers will love. It’s a great way to learn about methods and detail outside your field.

BS: My love for engineering came first, too. I always really enjoyed the lab portions of my engineering classes. There is something really fun about finding different ways to solve open-ended problems. When I started at Honda, my car knowledge was limited – I knew they had four wheels and an engine. As soon as I started the job, I bought myself a car with a manual transmission. I purposely bought a hoopty with the goal of learning how to fix it as it broke down. Honda also provided extensive training programs which enabled me to gain the necessary experience to confidently do the job of a crash test engineer.

Bob Salemme

 

Q. Steven, what is it about vehicle and occupant safety that you find most interesting? Most challenging?

SG: What I find most interesting about occupant safety is the challenge and complexity of it all. To develop a vehicle that will protect people in a worst-case scenario crash event is no easy feat, and there’s a lot to consider. Every aspect of every vehicle component, from its material selection, to its structure, shape, breaking strength and position, plays a role in a vehicle’s final crash performance. We can’t prevent all crashes from happening… yet. So, we’re tasked with trying to reduce the overall impact to the people in the vehicle, which can be generally done by slowing down the crash event.

How do we do this? First, we must understand that every crash event has three main phenomena:

  • The vehicle crashing into a moving or stationary object
  • The occupant crashing into the vehicle interior once the car’s motion has been affected
  • The occupant’s internal organs crashing into their own skeletal frame.

Injury generally increases as time to decelerate decreases. The faster a vehicle stops during a crash event, the higher the probability for injury. But, if you can increase the time or duration of each phenomenon, you can mitigate the severity of the impact. The longer it takes the vehicle to come to a full the stop, the more delay we see in the speed of impact of the person against the vehicle interior. That allows for the deployment and functionality of the airbag system. The airbag system then reduces the speed of impact of the person’s internal organs against their own skeletal frame, thus reducing injury. Each of these steps adds time to the event; you can think of it like the dream states in the movie Inception. In each of the three main crash phenomenon or “dream states,” there is a small compounding time difference (milliseconds or so) which ultimately accounts for a major difference in the crash that can positively or negatively impact the overall event, depending on how you design and control each part.

Every aspect of every vehicle component, from its material selection, to its structure, shape, breaking strength and position, plays a role in a vehicle’s final crash performance.

– Steven Gacin

Q. Bob, as a front crash engineer for many of Honda’s top-selling vehicles (Accord, Crosstour, Pilot, Odyssey), how do you collaborate with teams across the company to improve vehicle safety?

BS: With over 30,000 parts on the car, there are many different groups involved in bringing a final product to customers. Each group is focused on a different aspect– durability, dynamic performance, crash testing, and fuel economy just to name a few. Each group has priorities which have the potential to negatively impact other groups. For example, if the vehicle was built like a tank, passing safety targets may be easy, but the fuel economy folks may have trouble meeting their targets. The “trick” is finding a balanced system that satisfies all the various groups.

Steven Gacin

 

Q. Steven, what engineering principle(s) do you apply most to your work on steering wheel feasibility and restraint systems?

SG: The engineering principles I use most generally are manufacturing, testability, integrity, integration, ethics, and design/form.

Manufacturing: The steering wheel or restraint system should be easy and cost effective to create.

Replication: We need to be able to replicate the results and identify those items that can remain constant and isolate others – consistently.

Integrity: The steering wheel or restraint system should have structural integrity. Material selection and part structure are carefully considered.

Integration: The steering wheel or restraint system should have clear “one-way” integration into the system. It cannot be mis-installed, misaligned or misused.

Ethics: The parts should be developed with the best interest of the customer and the company in mind. NO SHORTCUTS.

Design/Form: The parts should be designed for a purpose and it’s GOTTA look good!

Q. Bob, a big part of engineering involves modeling & simulation (M&S) and test & evaluation (T&E). What M&S and T&E processes and technologies does Honda use in its vehicle safety programs?

BS: Prior to crashing any of the cars, there is extensive modeling done to simulate crash tests. We use various software packages to create, run, and post-process the models.

On the test side, during development, we run many component tests & front crash simulator tests (sled tests). Once we have demonstrated that the restraint system has prospect on the sled, we can then run the full-scale crash test. Once the full-scale crash test has been run, the simulation model can be validated. Did the simulation match the test? Why? Why not? How does the simulation need to be tweaked to closer match the physical test?

Once the simulation has been validated, we can confidently use the model to predict the effect of various changes.

Oftentimes, we get emails from people who have been in terrible car accidents. They will send us pictures and thank us for building a car that was safe enough for their family to walk away from after an accident. Moments like these really cement the realization that the work I am doing is helping to save lives.

– Bob Salemme

Q. How does a front crash simulator work? What capabilities does it have that would surprise or impress people?

BS: The front crash simulator uses a hydraulic piston to push a vehicle rearward on a track. As the vehicle moves rearward, the occupants engage the restraints (seatbelts & airbags). Here’s a good video link to demonstrate.

Front crash simulators are an important tool in a crash test engineer’s arsenal. They are a cost-effective way to try many different restraint tuning knobs before going to the full-scale crash test. A sled test may cost just a few thousand dollars whereas early prototype full-scale crashes can sometimes cost up to a million dollars.

Q. What’s it like to know that the work you do every day helps save lives?

BS: Oftentimes, we get emails from people who have been in terrible car accidents. They will send us pictures and thank us for building a car that was safe enough for their family to walk away from after an accident. Moments like these really cement the realization that the work I am doing is helping to save lives.

SG: It is one of the most rewarding experiences. When you work on a vehicle’s development for years, with the need to meet deadlines, cost and weight requirements, industry requirements, government requirements and consumer market trends, it’s easy to get enveloped in the process and lose sight of the underlying reason why you’re doing what you’re doing. But, when you receive that letter from a family you’ve never met, who has just been in an awful accident but walked away alive and with few or no injuries, it helps put things back in perspective and further justify what I do, and who I do it for.

Steven Gacin and Bob Salemme contributed to this Q&A in their personal capacity. The views and opinions expressed are their own, and do not necessarily represent the views of Honda R&D.

Readiness and resiliency: engineering that saves lives

In an image from the IMAX film, Dream Big, engineer Menzer Pehlivan and a group of children enjoy a ride on a roller coaster, a feat of engineering that brings fun and thrills to people everywhere. Photo credit: MacGillivray Freeman Films.

Q. What or who inspired you to become an engineer?

My interest in engineering started with the Kocaeli Earthquake and the devastation in Turkey, my home country, following that event. I was a 13-year-old living in the capital city of Ankara, located approximately in the center of Turkey, when the earthquake hit the northwest region of the country around 3:00 a.m. on August 17, 1999. Although the epicenter of the magnitude 7.4 earthquake was approximately 200 miles away from our hometown, my family and I awoke in fear due to the strong shaking in our apartment. There were more than 17,000 casualties, tens of thousands of injuries, and hundreds of thousands of people left homeless. Hearing that thousands of lives could have been saved if the structures had been designed to satisfy life safety criteria, inspired me to become a civil engineer and to focus on earthquake engineering. I have a strong desire to help reduce risk and increase resiliency —ahead of future natural disasters.

Q. As a geotechnical engineer, you specialize in engineering buildings that keep people safe. How do you learn which building designs and materials increase resiliency in natural disasters?

Geotechnical earthquake engineering is still a young and advancing field. The practice is steadily progressing with evolving technologies that make more advanced computations possible. However, we get the most valuable information through extreme events, which provide us with an opportunity to examine how hazard-resistant design practice performs because it is difficult to replicate the behavior of full-scale, naturally deposited soil over thousands of years in a laboratory. Understanding the performance when a disaster occurs and accurately documenting the post-disaster observations are crucial for advancing engineering practice to reduce risk and increase resiliency before the next natural disaster. Case histories from each event demonstrate the success of good hazard-resistant design practices as well as those that need improvement.
After the 2015 Gorkha Earthquake, I traveled to Nepal for post-earthquake reconnaissance with the Geotechnical Extreme Events Reconnaissance (GEER) team. I spent ten days in Nepal with the GEER team, and we collected valuable data on site response and topographic effects, liquefaction and other ground failure mechanisms, and damage to infrastructure including hydropower plants. During the mission, we had the opportunity to interact with local engineers and to discuss findings, remaining hazards in the region, and potential future actions needed to increase the resiliency, and reduce the earthquake-induced risk, especially for the developing hydropower infrastructure that is of prime importance for the country. We compiled the geotechnical field reconnaissance findings in a GEER Association Report (GEER-040). The report was made available shortly after the 2015 earthquake sequence for researchers and engineering professionals, who can help advance the local state-of-practice and reduce the risk associated with earthquake-induced hazards in the region.

“Every project has its unique challenges, and as engineers, our job is to find the most efficient solution to each problem.”

Dream Big delves into the inspirational story of civil engineer Menzer Pehlivan, who as a young girl experienced a devastating earthquake in Turkey. Here, Menzer uses everyday items to demonstrate to children how engineers design and build earthquake-proof structures. Photo credit: MacGillivray Freeman Films.

Q. Can you tell us about your job (interesting projects you are currently working on) and the skills you need to be successful?

After graduating with my doctorate from The University of Texas at Austin in 2013, I started working as a consulting engineer. I worked in New York City for couple years, and I am currently working as a geotechnical engineer with CH2M in Seattle. I specialize in the analysis of seismic site response, liquefaction and other natural hazards, soil-foundation-structure interaction, probabilistic seismic hazard analysis (PSHA), seismic design of foundation of structures, and performance based design in geotechnical earthquake engineering.

I worked on the geotechnical and seismic design of projects in the U.S., Mexico, Canada, and Costa Rica. Every project has its unique challenges, and as engineers, our job is to find the most efficient solution to each problem. Engineering requires teamwork, and I feel fortunate to work with talented professionals from different backgrounds throughout each project, which provides me with excellent learning opportunities every day.

Engineering is more than just math and science. It is more about imagination, creation, innovation, and teamwork. It is about being open to new ideas, new solutions, and new visions since the engineering profession is continually advancing.

“Engineering is more than just math and science. It is more about imagination, creation, innovation, and teamwork. It is about being open to new ideas, new solutions, and new visions since the engineering profession is continually advancing.”

Q. Do you have any recommendations for engineering grads starting their careers?

Throughout my career, I have benefitted from being involved with professional societies, and I strongly recommend industry participation for every young engineer. During my Ph.D., I took a leading role in the development of the National Student Leadership Council of the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) Geotechnical Engineering Institute (Geo-Institute), for which I served as vice-chair and chair. Recently, I played a leading role in the development of ASCE Geo-Institute’s Board Level Outreach and Engagement Committee, and I am currently serving as the chair.

Being active in professional organizations gave me the unique opportunity to interact with engineering professionals from different backgrounds, learn about the projects they are working on, and have a venue to showcase my work to other professionals. Through my involvement, I started building my network in the industry earlier in my career; now I have professional connections with different specializations across the world that I can collaborate with depending on the needs of a project.

Q. Anything else?

In 2016, I was one of the New Faces of Engineering selected by ASCE. Later on, that nomination led me to be a part of the Dream Big: Engineering Our World, an IMAX movie that aims to inspire next generation, especially girls, to follow STEM careers by changing the stereotypical image of engineers in society. Through Dream Big, we are hoping to reach to kids and show them engineering is fun. Through engineering, they can make an impact in the world and change the people’s lives for better. Moreover, the film shows that they can be successful in engineering regardless of their gender and their background. All they need is to believe in themselves and keep dreaming big. The movie premiered during Engineers Week in February 2017, and the feedback we have been receiving since then has been amazing. In one of the premieres I attended, a girl asked me the project I am most proud of is, and I replied saying “This is it!” It is very rewarding and satisfying when a little girl comes up to you and says “I did not think girls like you can be engineers and change the world! Now I want to be like you too.”

Powering the Heart of a Robot

A NEF conversation with WiBotic CEO Ben Waters

Incubator labs are popping up at research universities across the U.S., including the University of Washington where collaborative innovation hub and tech incubator CoMotion is the centerpiece of the university’s innovation district. A shining star in CoMotion’s startup universe is WiBotic, maker of wireless charging solutions for robots and robot fleets (and recent recipient of $2.5M in investor funding). Led by CEO and electrical engineer Ben Waters and co-founder Joshua Smith, WiBotic is pioneering autonomously charging capabilities for aerial, aquatic and mobile robots. Waters sat down with NEF to share WiBotic’s origin story, how the company’s innovation is giving wireless charging power to swarms of robots, and how he balances roles of engineer and CEO.

Q. Why a ‘wireless charging solution’?

As an electrical engineering undergraduate major at Columbia, I attended a talk given by a professor who was working on wireless power – few companies were working on it at the time, but I thought it was really exciting. That summer I had an internship with an engineering consulting company that does big commercial building projects and they live and die by the national electric code. Learning about that line of work got me thinking: “Wow, if wireless power becomes this popular area, it’s going to impact a lot more than just how we charge devices. Because you’ll no longer plug in, everyone will be on wireless, both for power and data.”

Then I had an internship at Intel and they were very interested in wireless for phones and the wireless charging pad concept. But as we learned more about the core technology, we realized there were a lot of great things you can do to make it very flexible for devices that really need wireless charging.

I was excited about identifying real-world applications that needed this flexibility. A great opportunity came up to make implanted medical devices, such as Ventricular Assist Device heart pumps, lighter, more flexible, portable and accessible from far away. While pursuing my PhD at the University of Washington (UW), my research colleagues and I thought about commercializing that technology in the medical device industry, but realized it was a challenging business model at the time, so we continued the work in the research lab.

Nonetheless, we continued scratching our heads for other commercial applications that needed flexible wireless charging. If medical devices weren’t quite right, what is? Shortly thereafter, robotic companies came into the lab and saw we had a flexible, high-power charging system and asked us, “Does it work with robots?”

As we started thinking about robotics as an industry that would be applicable, we began understanding requirements of fully autonomous robotic systems – think underwater systems for defense, industrial surveillance, manufacturing, drones…

We discovered one of the biggest challenges to achieving autonomy and highly reliable systems that don’t require downtime, is power. The heart of a robot is its battery.

We set out to solve that problem and grew the company.

We discovered one of the biggest challenges to achieving autonomy and highly reliable systems that don’t require downtime, is power. The heart of a robot is its battery.

Q. Are you surprised by where you ended up, considering your early focus on medical devices?

Yes and no. The main reason I was interested in medical devices was a clear need for flexible wireless charging. It solved a problem that inhibited patient quality of life. But with robotics we feel the same motivation – there’s a real opportunity to facilitate the entire robotics market and allow those systems to grow and allow companies building them to focus on the application or service and rely on existing infrastructure to grow quickly.

Q. A lot of people can succeed in engineering or business, but the idea of someone being able to translate an innovation into something commercially viable – that’s rare. How are you making that happen?

There were a lot of influences in my life that gave me a great appreciation for the importance of teamwork and enabling others. I played a lot of sports growing up and learned what it meant to be on a team… you can’t win a game on your own. My mom worked in corporate HR for a long time and oversaw writing “great place to work” applications for a lot of big companies down in Silicon Valley. I had some internships with some of those companies and was amazed with how important culture is to the executives.

So instead of being entirely heads-down focused on my own thing in graduate school, I spent time figuring out how to mentor others and figured if I could help someone else find a topic they were excited about and make it their own, then the success of all the projects in the lab would be amplified. When I saw that first-hand, I thought, “Okay, there is really something to this whole culture of leadership and balancing the work you have as an engineer with work you have as facilitating the output of others.”

I talked to as many people as I could to find what I didn’t know, being curious and always putting myself in a place to keep the learning curve steep, not allowing myself to get comfortable with the things I know how to do, but pushing myself and knowing what’s important for the company as a whole, and what’s important for me to be doing.

Q. How do you stay technically sharp while leading the company?

Our growth and R&D comes from our ability to innovate and engineer quickly and purposefully. At first it was very difficult to balance engineering and the business side. I felt like we didn’t have a big team so I felt like a lot of responsibility for both fell on me. It was tempting to think, “I have the knowledge, I have to do it.”

Then it got hard to manage.

In May 2015, all in the same month, WiBotic moved into an office space, I wrote my dissertation and I got married. Probably could have planned that a bit better, but I realized I had to stop spending all my time engineering and I started considering who I needed to hire, and that was scary because you see the impact to the budget.

But I pursued hiring technically creative leaders who were good at product development and turning it into something customers asked for and needed. I could contribute to technical directions but when it came to how we productized it, they were able to drive forward a lot of things. That really helped me understand where I can contribute to the engineering side.

And on the business side, while I stepped away from implementation, I focused on facilitating their output, helping them be on the right path. Ultimately my job as CEO is to help the team be inspired and excited about what they’re working on. I need no personal recognition – it’s my job to focus on the team, our customers and the company’s growth.

Q. What role does CoMotion have in WiBotic’s success?

Innovation and inspiring people to be a part of startups comes from having people rooted in the universities providing guidance.

I grew up next to Stanford and if you go there, regardless of your major, you meet people and you start a company and that’s just what you do. They put you in touch with investors, mentors and advisors.

That’s what I think has been a big contribution of CoMotion over the last several years. They have technology managers sending emails to engineers and offering advice and support, and as students start to talk more about that in the labs and professors establish companies and you see people turning a research project into a company… that culture catches on and inspires other people to do more of the same.

When they’re driven by recognizing a problem and creating a solution that is more cost effective or safer or enabling something to be more reliable – those are businesses that I believe can succeed.

Q. What makes you optimistic about being an American engineer?

I’ve been very inspired by the entire process, including the amount of work and thought that went into our strategy and financing and the diligence our investors did on our company. If WiBotic reflects other American companies in terms of the way they go about it, I believe there will be a lot of great companies that start-up. When they’re driven by recognizing a problem and creating a solution that is more cost effective, safer or enables something to be more reliable – those are businesses that I believe can succeed.

Q. What else do you want us to know?

It’s been quite a journey for me in discovering that what may have brought success for the first month of the company to the first year to second year and beyond isn’t the thing that continues to bring success. There’s always a sense of situational thinking and understanding where you are. And that’s been the most exciting piece of leading a small company and working with smart people.


For more information on WiBotic, visit www.wibotic.com and follow on Twitter @WiBotic

To learn more about UW CoMotion, visit comotion.uw.edu and follow on Twitter @UWCoMotion

Building Bridges, Making a Difference

Avery Bang, Chief Executive Officer of Bridges to Prosperity, talks about the human element of engineering and building a bridge to the future where all people have access to opportunity.

Q. What or who inspired you to become an engineer?

My dad is a civil engineer and worked on civil works projects throughout his career, including bridges. Our typical family vacations were not what you would call “typical.” We all piled into our car and visited public works projects. It was great because as a young kid I got to see the underbelly of engineering and grew up having a strong appreciation for it. I saw how important engineering is for everything.

Q. How can engineering structures, like the bridges built by Bridges to Prosperity, change people’s lives?

The built environment is the single most important part of our daily lives – the way we get to and from places, where we sleep, how we learn – and its engineers who create this environment. In the developed world, the everyday contributions of engineers go unnoticed because a working infrastructure is already in place, but in developing countries, that’s not the case.

Working in a place like Haiti, everything so bare – you don’t live in a house with insulation and bedrooms or have roads that resemble anything we would be familiar with in the U.S. When you work in an environment where there is not a lot already in place, to have something new is really obvious. Something so simple as a bridge in these developing landscapes can be the single most important part of the infrastructure and gives you an appreciation for the difference engineering can make in peoples’ lives. You can provide isolated communities with access essential healthcare, education and economic opportunities.

When you see engineering in a place where it is noticed and appreciated and people show up to volunteer because they know it is going to make a difference, it makes engineering very human.

Q. You have a double-major in art and engineering. What role does creativity play in engineering?

Creativity is vital. In engineering, you are doing two things – identifying problems and solving them. Creativity is at the crux of problem solving. Finding solutions is impossible to do without employing creativity because you are trying to come up with answers no one has thought of before.

It is important for society to see engineers as creative and the work of engineers as purposeful. As soon as we shift that perception, we will draw greater numbers of talented, young people. For me, engineering is creative, it’s human. It has hardly anything to do with a calculator.

Finding solutions is impossible to do without employing creativity because you are trying to come up with answers no one has thought of before.

Q. What have you learned from your mistakes in working in various communities around the globe?

I think failure is an important part of any career. As an entrepreneur, I believe in fail often and fail fast. At Bridges to Prosperity, we’re also good about naming our failures publicly and trying to learn from them. Along the way, we’ve learned different aspects of keeping people safe and now we have solid standards in place. We also know there is no one-size-fits-all solution and our bridge designs need to be locally relevant. We’ve had the humility to say we don’t know everything and it’s actually helped us grow and learn faster. We would not be where we are today without recognizing our failure along the way. That’s how engineering works – you fail, you learn and then you improve!

Q. What advice do you have for other young engineers on finding their passion and purpose?

Have a long attention span because finding something purposeful takes time and commitment. It’s a marathon so don’t be afraid to spend a decade working your way up in one place and be persistent when you find a purpose. Any truly meaningful work is going to be hard. We need engineers who are willing to put in the time and who will think and dream big.


All photos credit Bridges to Prosperity.

Keeping the Conversations Going

Sharing some top tweets from the incredible response to Vanessa Miranda Nadal’s NEF Conversation last week. We’re glad you enjoyed it as much as we did. Hungry for more? Scroll down to check out Q&As with other incredible American engineers and engineering enthusiasts.

 

ENGINEER++: VANESSA ADRIANA NADAL

Most of us remember the careful consideration we applied to the consequential decision of declaring a major and pursuing a degree. Medicine or teaching? Computer science or history? Engineering or law?

Few of us arrived at “Both.”

One fine exception is Vanessa Adriana Nadal, a 2004 graduate of MIT’s department of chemical engineering and 2010 J.D. graduate of Fordham University School of Law. The daughter of a trained civil engineer father and photographer and interior designer mother, Nadal muses, “perhaps that’s why I’m so split between STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering & Math) and HASS (Humanities, Arts & Social Sciences)!”.

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