The Structural Engineer as a HERO!

Inspired by the TED-Ed video by Matthew Winkler that describes the characteristics and journey of “heroes”, my colleague Ignacio Paya Zaforteza and I wrote a paper for Structural Engineer International [1] on the elements of the structural engineering hero that are parallel to the monomythical hero. The abstract states:

In the 19th century, the civil and the structural engineer received much public acclaim for their built works (e.g. Brooklyn Bridge, Eiffel Tower). One hundred years later, the engineer was perceived by many as “out” or as not requiring much skill.  This paper examines how this erroneous perception of structural engineering can change by presenting structural engineers as heroes.  Using parallels to the monomythical hero, and examples of engineers, the authors present the journey and characteristics of the structural engineering hero.  The journey, which has many paths, begins with the engineer leaving the comfortable “Ordinary World” of ordinary design into a “Special World”, where new forms, new materials, and/or scale for the project is needed. For underrepresented groups of people such as women and minorities, the heroic journey could be simply becoming an engineer and developing a career in conditions of equality and equity. As the structural engineering heroes enter the “Special World”, they may face trials of nature and criticism, and face constraints of economy, time, and knowledge.  In the final act of the journey, they return to the “Ordinary World” wiser, disseminate their knowledge, and inspire others.  The authors define the characteristics of the structural engineering heroes by four “P”s: they are prepared, they are planners, they have (super) powers, and they are persona grata.  The education of the structural engineer should train and inspire future engineers using the lessons learned from the heroes and their diversity. By doing so, what seems exceptional today, can become common in the future.

[1] Paya Zaforteza, I., Garlock, M.E.M. (2021). “The Structural Engineering Heroes and their Inspirational Journey”, Structural Engineering International (SEI), DOI: 10.1080/10168664.2021.1919038