Where the Pact Between Engineering and Society Lies
In February 1955, when President Dwight D. Eisenhower asked Congress to take up the issue of financing and building an interstate highway system, he explained that it would bring the country together. “Together, the united forces of our communication and transportation systems are dynamic elements in the very name we bear—United States. Without them, we would be a mere alliance of many separate parts.” Within two decades, the Federal-Aid Highway Act of 1956 had built 41,000 miles of roads, remodeling American life.
Using visionary engineering projects to accomplish social cohesion is a long-running theme in American politics, but “it is in the daily grind that the deeper pact between engineering and society plays out,” writes the National Academy of Engineering’s Guru Madhavan. Today, when we drive from Eisenhower’s 60-year-old highways onto new overpasses, guided by satellites and phones, a throng of unseen people work out the nitty gritty of how these systems interact. By attending to the details of keeping our sewers, subways, and servers running, they accomplish an everyday harmony that is often taken for granted.
“All the grind challenges associated with care and conservation are at the core of the bargain between engineering and society—they distill the essence of accountability, values, and humility into professional practice and ethics,” he writes.
Read more about how considering the grind challenges can strengthen equity considerations in engineering.