The dirty “p” word

27 June 2018

Cities aren’t built by engineers, they are built by those who step up and lead,” according to Sevaun Palvetzian CEO of Civic Action, a Toronto based non-profi t coalition to address the region’s social and economic future. Her sentiment, while true, is aimed at building inclusive leadership at the civic level, an effort that is laudable. However, it’s also a message the industry should take personally. More people from the engineering and construction fi elds, as well as science, medicine and other professional realms, need to be involved in politics at all levels from the local school board to the federal government.

Not everyone is cut out to be a politician, but certainly politicians can and should come from professions other than law and social sciences— backgrounds from which US presidents and Canadian prime ministers draw heavily. In the spirit of this month’s NAT conference in the US’ capital city here are examples, courtesy of the University of Virginia’s Miller Center, of people who found success in Washington, without taking the LSATs.

Herbert Hoover graduated in 1895 with a degree in geology and found work as a mining engineer, living in San Francisco, Australia and China before he opened his own mining consulting business and eventually being elected president of the US.

Before he became the fi rst president of the United States, George Washington was a surveyor. Abraham Lincoln practiced law (self taught), among other work concerning railroads, river boats, as well as a career in the military and owning a general store. And Thomas Jefferson, while formally trained as a lawyer, is credited for being something of a jack of all trades, studying math, science and architecture among other disciplines, and later founding the University of Virginia.

There are also several farmers, as well as teachers and tailors in the history of the 45 US leaders. How these professions affected policy differently from other presidents with a more traditional law background is a question I’ll leave for another day, or preferably to political scientists. The takeaway is these professions didn’t preclude them from holding offi ce, and among the engineering and construction industry it still doesn’t.

For those without the desire to run for public offi ce there is a role to play in helping elect and encourage these candidates. For example in the US there is the political action group 314 Action (aptly named for pi) founded by STEM professionals, which is committed to electing more STEM candidates to offi ce, among other issues. The profession needs to become more visible, voice its knowledge and step up and lead.