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Stott: Engineers’ work often taken for granted

Published: Thursday, Feb. 21, 2013 5:30 a.m. CDT

A tip from a reader alerted me to the fact that this week is National Engineers Week, as deemed by the National Engineers Week Foundation.

That means now is a time to recognize how important engineering is to our communities. The foundation’s website characterizes engineering as a “stealth profession,” because engineering plays an often-unnoticed role in so many things.

Engineers are very much behind-the-scenes workers whose goal is to create things that work effectively and without incident.

Engineers create things we use daily but likely don’t think about until something goes wrong. From roads and buildings to tiny mechanical parts and even complex chemicals, many elements of our lives are improved by effective engineering.

Growing up with a dad who is an engineer, I often struggled to grasp his role in developing roads, sidewalks and parking lots. He doesn’t lay concrete or stripe pavement, but I now know his plans are crucial to an effectively executed project. I’m learning more, too, in my master’s degree program, about how integral engineering is to our communities. I see every day the way civil engineers, electrical engineers and others contribute to productive societies. It makes me appreciate even more the important job engineers do.

The reader who tipped me off to this week of recognition, Don Brewer of Sycamore, also encouraged me to pay special recognition to women in engineering. As we work hard to establish equality in traditionally male-dominated fields, it is important to recognize the efforts of women and encourage diversity.

The Northern Illinois University chapter of the Society of Women Engineers is one organization that promotes women in the field. Although jobs in the math, science, technology and engineering are traditionally held primarily by males, organizations such as SWE are working to balance the roles and bring more opportunities to women.

Diversity is important in all fields because different people bring different perspectives that elevate the quality of work being done. Whether it’s different genders, difference races or different levels of experience, the possibility of positive contribution from diverse sources is greater than we can even imagine.

Engineering is just one example of an area where diversity can bring positive effects.

So this week, thank engineers of all backgrounds for the positive work they bring to society. Without them, our lives would be much different.

• • •

I wrote a recent column about a possible Sycamore water rate hike and a creative way (using less water) residents could combat the hike if it is approved. After that column was published, I received an email from a Sycamore resident who lives near Sycamore Middle School. She said she uses water from a well at her property, but that city sewer service costs are $120 billed every two months.

The reader noted that because the fee is assessed at a flat rate, less usage isn’t an option to lower costs. It is important to recognize that some fees are unavoidable, and sometimes an attempt to assess fair rates still leave some residents feeling as if they aren’t getting a very good deal because of a diversity of needs (in this case, city water users versus well users).

Fairness and equity are major hurdles that even the most progressive governments struggle to administer, and unintended or unforeseen consequences often arise out of policy decisions. One of the best ways to address equity issues is to bring them up to local decision-makers, especially if there are other, more fair options that haven’t been considered.

The only way the government can effectively represent its constituents is if it is aware of their opinions, so make sure the government is aware of yours.

• Lauren Stott is a Maple Park native and a graduate student at Northern Illinois University in the master of public administration program. She can be reached at lauren_stott@yahoo.com.

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