By Dennis D. Truax, Ph.D., P.E., DEE, D.WRE, F.NSPE, F.ASCE
Civil engineers impact people’s lives every day. Our work helps provide a good foundation for communities and shapes the lives of the people we protect and serve, defining their quality of life.
As an educator, I learned that I impacted those around me, colleagues and students alike, without intending to or realizing it. I’m not talking about awarding grades or working on research projects. This influence came from my words and actions, which were of little significance to me at the time but had a profound effect on others.
I can’t count the number of successful civil engineers who have said they’d have left this field if not for something I said or did at a pivotal moment in their lives. I’ve discovered that people seek support, guidance, and instruction from mentors they trust and respect in the hopes of achieving personal and professional success.
In a blog post, leadership speaker Mark Sanborn identifies three categories of mentors: direct, indirect, and distant. A direct mentor is one who works within the construct of a mentoring program, such as ASCE Mentor Match. In these programs, a mentor-mentee relationship is agreed to at the outset. Some local ASCE sections also have established mentoring programs.
Distant mentors are those who write books, blogs, and other “training materials” that provide help to those seeking readily available career development resources.
However, it is the indirect mentor I often find myself being, resulting from the mutual trust and respect that I’ve built with another. While not part of a contract or agreement, this mentorship stems from interactions that provide opportunities for both parties to grow, learn, and improve. I believe this is the best kind of mentoring because the relationship evolves like a friendship but provides the foundation for a mentor-to-mentor or mutual mentor experience.
So, what’s my point? Simple! Like it or not, you are a mentor, whether you participate in a formal program or influence someone in your professional or personal sphere. Your words and actions leave a lasting impact. You can help individuals define who they are and determine the standards to which they will hold themselves.
And younger members: You don’t have to reach life member status to have mentoring impact. You have a substantial role to play in mentoring peers, recent graduates, and students. You have a better understanding of the questions faced by those entering the profession related to goals, expectations, and fears.
Therefore, I ask you to embrace and expand your mentoring responsibility. The new ASCE Code of Ethics challenges you to accept this calling. Look for an opportunity to become a mentor — direct, indirect, and distant. Develop a pattern of open communication, trust and reliability, and engagement with new civil engineering professionals. Ask them questions and answer the ones they pose. Discuss, contrast, and compare ideas. In the end, you’ll both learn and mentor each other.
Speaking of learning, ASCE Policy Statement 547 identifies five areas of professional experience that engineer interns should have to be consistent with the Civil Engineering Body of Knowledge, which is needed to become professionally and technically competent. These are: 1) assessment of risk and impacts of engineering activities, 2) communication skills, 3) professional ethics, 4) project management, and 5) business and governmental processes.
PS 547 emphasizes civil engineers’ professional obligation to be mentors and encourage continued learning so that young and future engineers can succeed.
I invite you to embrace this charge, this obligation. Consider each day as an opportunity to change the lives of those around you. As Sir Winston Churchill once said, “We make a living by what we get, but we make a life by what we give.”
This article first appeared in the January/February 2022 issue of Civil Engineering as “Mentoring: A Civil Engineer's Professional Obligation.”