My role as an engineer is to …

Fireball word cloud summarizes students’ responses

October 26, 2010

How would you answer the question:  What is the role of an engineer?

That was what first-year engineering students at McMaster University were asked as part of a workshop organized by the university’s chapter of Engineers Without Borders.

How did they respond?  Well, that has been neatly summarized in a colourful, computer-generated word cloud in the shape of McMaster Engineering’s Fireball.

Some of the more prominent of the dozens of words that make up the word cloud include:  world, problems, better, solve, technology, make, improve, help, create, society, people, innovate, lives, build, and design.

“This is who we are as engineers and the challenges we need to face,” interpreted Erica Barnes, past president of EWB McMaster and one of the main organizers of the exercise, after sifting through hundreds of responses written out on index cards. “This is a way to help break down the barriers to what engineering is and help students see the bigger picture.”

“I think it’s important for the rest of the university and the community to understand what is of concern to today’s engineering students,” added Erica.

The exercise was a new component of the “Root Causes of Poverty” workshop created by the EWB chapter at McMaster and now in its third year.  It was profiled in The Toronto Star and contributed to the chapter winning EWB’s national Most Improved Chapter award.

“This is a great example of the creative energy and broadening perspective that our EWB chapter brings to all McMaster's engineering students,” said David Wilkinson, Dean of the Faculty of Engineering.
“Root Causes of Poverty” is a week-long series of workshops that EWB volunteers present to all first-year engineering students in the Introduction to Professional Engineering course (1P03).  Material presented in the workshops encourages students to think about engineering from a big-picture perspective and to consider how their decisions affect people and their communities, whether in a developing country or here in Canada.



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“Students this year seem particularly engaged in understanding how they as engineers can help address the many problems they see in the world,” noted Robert Fleisig, assistant professor of mechanical engineering who teaches the course. 

Here is a sample of some of the full responses submitted:

“My role as an engineer is to make my continent “Africa” a better place.”

“My role as an engineer is to work towards the betterment of society through discipline, hard work and ethical choices.  Also, to fight for the common good and equal opportunity through use of my skills.”

“My role as an engineer is to use my knowledge and skill to take on and solve many of the challenges prevalent in today’s society, and to do this while maintaining my professionalism.”

“My role as an engineer is to change things for the better.”

“My role as an engineer is to help those who have problems that need solving.”

“My role as an engineer is to become a problem solver to the world.”