President’s Message: Houston, We Have an Image Problem

I’m going to start this E-News off with a quiz. Look at the photos of the four men below.  Which of these men is a transportation engineer?traffic_engineersWould you be surprised if I told you the answer was “B” AND “D”?  Photo B is from the 1992 movie Singles.  That’s Campbell Scott, who plays a transportation engineer who firmly believes that all it will take is good coffee and good music to get people out of their cars and onto the train.  And Photo D is from Mission:  Impossible III, in which Tom Cruise claims to be a traffic engineer for the Virginia DOT.  To quote his character Ethan Hunt, “Traffic has a memory; it’s amazing; it’s like a living organism.”

It’s likely that most non-members and many of our members as well immediately guessed A or C.  We ourselves are often the worst at unfairly stereotyping transportation engineers!  I recently had another engineer say to me about a woman that “she didn’t look like your typical traffic engineer” (to which I responded, “What? You mean fashionable and glamorous?”  Hearty laughter ensues…) And it’s not just a generalization about appearance.  Frequently, often jokingly, we put ourselves into a box of being rigid; boring; uncreative; and unable to spell, write, or otherwise communicate in any effective way.

If there’s one thing I’ve learned during my career with ITE, it’s that none of these characteristics apply in a general way to our membership.  I’ll bet most of you think the same thing.  So let’s stop perpetuating the stereotype of the engineer as narrow-minded and socially awkward.  The end of “Traffic Engineer Bashing” needs to begin with ourselves.

Yours in ITE,

Karen AspelinKaren Aspelin, P.E., PTOE
Western District President