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Opinion Piece: Need of Core Engineers in these Unprecedented Times

– Article by Sheetal Sohoni.

“Scientists investigate that which already is;Engineers
create that which has never been” -Albert Einstein

These are unprecedented times! It seems like all of us across the globe are stuck in a pretty bad sci-fi movie with no end visible. Like all of you, I have been checking on the well-being of my friends and family. During one such call, I got to know that unlike my husband and I, who are both working from home, one of our friends (an industrial engineer) is still going to work to help with fighting the deadly virus. This call made me realize that like the first responders (doctors, nurses, police, and other service providers), engineers are out there too. This is one of the major reasons for me for penning down this article- “Need of core engineering in these unprecedented times, and how we need to promote these fields to bring them to their former glory.”

Building fully functioning hospitals within days, manufacturing ventilators, masks, and gowns for care providers, making sure that the supply-chain of essential goods is maintained, delivering essential goods to the public, making sure that the electricity supply is not disturbed, and providing the Internet to all users… the list is endless where
engineers are working in the background and making sure that we do not lose hope in these trying times. But do we have enough core engineers to fulfill the requirements and the need of the hour? The four core engineering branches: Chemical, Civil, Electrical, and Mechanical have somewhat lost their glory wit advent of new fields like electronics, computer science, and software engineering. Although now we can’t imagine our lives without the new engineering
fields, can we ever imagine our lives without the core engineering fields? and make

According to a study done by the American Society of Engineering Education (ASEE), in 2014-2015 a total number of
106,658 students graduated in various engineering majors in the USA. The total number of students graduated in core engineering and related fields were 82,711 and computer science and software engineering were 23,947. If we compare this data with data published by MHRD 2018-19 about Indian engineering graduates, a total of 806,298 undergraduate students graduate every year in various engineering fields in India. A total number of 378,250 students graduate in computer and electronic engineering, and around 428,048 students graduate in core engineering fields. These numbers are staggering and show how few students are interested in core engineering fields. Are we ready to
face the challenges? What can be done to help and make these fields interesting and career choices for new aspiring engineers?

When asked, Dilip Chemburkar, a retired metallurgical engineer who currently tutors college and high school students in science and mathematics said, “Core engineering disciplines like mechanical, civil, electrical/electronic engineering have always been relevant.” Jayant Sathe, a retired civil engineer with over 30 year work experience in Construction Management and Project Management for new Products introduction further elaborated on the point raised by
Dilip, saying, “in order to build new factories, develop new processes, build new highways, ports, bridges tunnels, etc. for the infrastructure, to produce clean and green energy, we will need engineers in the core disciplines. Computer
Science and Computer related engineers won’t be able to build all these things without the Core disciplines.” When enquired about how to make these fields interesting or first career choice for young aspiring students, both Jayant and Dilip reinforced the idea that “core engineering can and should be supplemented by newer engineering disciplines such as information technology, artificial intelligence etc.”

Jayant also emphasized the importance of curriculum updating. He reinforced the idea of more hands-on learning
approach to give an immersive learning experience to the students. He shared one example from his undergraduate student life, where he learned to build walls with mixing concrete, using rebars and forms. The basic has not changed much in years, the new students don’t need to use the techniques or process that he used or followed to learn the skill, they can use 3D printing!

Dilip looked at this as an opportunity “to do the right thing”. Climate change is already resulting in rising sea levels with the dire predictions of many coastal cities in jeopardy. Scientists have been warning us that time is running out. It is quite interesting to note that many major megapolises around the world have registered drastically lowered air pollution levels. Challenges such as finding alternatives for the internal combustion engine and reliance on fossil fuels will be solved by using core engineering.

He also emphasized that, as economies around the world begin to recover from what is shaping up to be a deep recession, if not outright depression, there will be a need to create millions of jobs. Failure to do so will results in massive social unrest with disastrous results.m Industries that generate massive employment, such as energy, infrastructure, manufacturing and agriculture are heavily dependent on core engineering.

Even though the situation we are stuck in seems bleak, and no light is apparent at end of the tunnel,
we will beat this and will stand tall. Engineers have time and again shown nothing is impossible, be it a heavy
metal box flying in the air or floating on water. Let’s use this opportunity to reflect and come out as strong good-willed humans. Mr. Anil Pandit, retired chief engineer from GE Industrial Solutions, put it quite simply-we are engineers first, followed by different domain identity.

I would like to extend my sincere thanks to Mr. Anil Pandit, Mr. Dilip Chemburkar, and Mr. Jayant Sathe for collaborating and providing their insights on this topic. All three have extensive industry experience in core engineering fields and are active members of IUCEE’s Global Industry Advisory Forum (GIAF).