A conversation between an engineer and a home-owner – Part 1/7

The book Confessions of a Recovering Engineer by Charles L. Marohn, Jr., is about streets, roads, and transportation.

Because the PEI Public Library Service does not yet have a copy of the book available (it is on order), and not everyone will buy it, the Introduction: Conversation with an Engineer is being replicated here in instalments.


Eng.: Hello, Iʼm the project engineer. I heard you have a concern about the street improvements we have planned for your neighbourhood.

I was feeling nervous about going out to speak with her, so I had no reason to believe that this would go poorly. I extended a hand as she stepped out of her door and into the front yard. We had a firm but friendly handshake, and she gave me a smile.

I was the project engineer, and this was my job. I needed to be able to speak with the public, if I was going to advance in my chosen profession. I have been on many such visits with other more senior engineers, watching and learning from how they handled sensitive interactions like this. Now it was my turn. I waited for her to speak next.

Resident: Yes, I heard that you are planning to improve my street. What will this mean for my neighbourhood?

Perfect. I had anticipated this question, of course, and I knew exactly how to answer it. This is the reason why I was here. My confidence growing, I responded.

Eng.: We plan to correct deficiencies in the grade as well as deficiencies in the curvature of the existing alignment. We also plan to enhance the clear zone in order to bring the street up to an acceptable and safe standard.

She gave me an odd look, like I was speaking a foreign language.

Resident: So, you are going to make the street safer?
Eng.: Yes, of course.
Resident: How are you going to make the street safer?

Civil engineering is a four-year program, although most of my peers took five to earn their degree. The four-year pace is rigorous, while the coursework is deeply technical. Upon graduation, an engineer wishing to be licenced will take a grueling eight-hour test called the Fundamentals of Engineering Exam (FEE), after which they become an Engineer in Training (EIT).

The path to licensure requires the EIT to work for four years in an apprentice capacity under the direct supervision of a licenced engineer. This is a time to go beyond the theory and become knowledgeable in the standards and practices of the profession. After four years of gaining wisdom through working, and only with the support of another licenced engineer, an EIT becomes eligible to take the licencing exam and become a Professional Engineer (PE).

I attained my degree in four years. I passed the FEE on my first try. I had done my four years working as an EIT for some distinguished engineers, and I passed my licencing exam on my first attempt.

I stood in this yard, adjacent to a street I have been asked to design, as a licenced PE – the proud steward of wisdom that, in some respects, dated all the way back to the ancient Romans, Greeks, and beyond. This might be my first solo project, but I was confident because I knew what I was talking about.

Eng.: Well, first we are going to correct deficiencies in the grade and in the alignment.
Resident: What does that mean?

Safety is the primary responsibility of any licenced engineer. There really isnʼt a close second. Itʼs written in our code of ethics. Itʼs embedded into our design processes. Safety is the reason why this state requires a licence to practice engineering. Itʼs why the city hired my firm for this job. Itʼs why I was standing there.

To be continued …

Report an error, or send a question or comment by e-mail to:
newcharlottetownproject @ eastlink.ca

Author: New Charlottetown Project

Barbara Dylla has lived in Charlottetown since 2017. The aim of this blog is to inspire and encourage Charlottetowners to be more aware of municipal affairs, to participate as engaged citizens, to support an issue close to their heart, so that together we create a sense of the larger community we live in. And, along the way, become a united community passionate about making Charlottetown the best it can be.

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