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When you study civil engineering, you learn how to apply scientific principles in civil works. When you practice civil engineering, your horizon expands dramatically beyond scientific principles. How you navigate this expanded horizon either chains you to mediocrity or propels you to significance.

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Scientific knowledge supplemented with humanities helps align your path with significance.

The larger your project in size, scope and complexity, the greater the number of teams involved in its planning, design, construction, and maintenance. Consequently, the diligence required of teams coming together for a successful outcome is much higher. That you must know how to apply scientific principles for civil works is a given. The larger the impact in size, scope and complexity you desire for your work, the greater the depth you must plumb in aspects other than scientific principles. In other words, it is the depth of understanding you develop about the “other aspects” of your profession, i.e. life itself that determines the complexity you can navigate with confidence for the successful outcome for your most ambitious projects.

The disciplines that comprise the expanded horizon can broadly be classified under the concept of humanities, i.e. the methods we use to function effectively by ourselves and in teams. This includes the disciplines of philosophy and ethics, effectiveness and leadership, and legal and social.

The Leadership Training Committee (LTC) of ASCE organizes and delivers content at its annual Regional Leadership Training Conferences for new and emerging leaders within the ranks of its volunteer-run Sections and Branches. The content delivered, as evidenced by looking through the list of sessions LTC runs, covers other aspects of the engineering profession but scientific, i.e. the dramatically expanded horizon.

An owner receives bids for the design of a project component and chooses the lowest bid to hire a professional. Soon after assembling the project, the component fails. Investigation reveals that the component was the cheapest on the market and not properly tested or documented by the vendor. It also reveals that the professional was not very well versed in the proper design of such components. What steps taken by who and when could have minimized the risk of failure resulting in the loss of resource investment by all involved? This is the expanded horizon your profession demands for significance.

When you purposefully align your professional interest with your rational long-term self-interest, i.e. human life, through relevant disciplines in humanities, you sow the seeds of significance that harness the best within you to do your best work. The legends we discover when searching bodies of knowledge from our profession inspire us to commit to do the best we’re capable of every day, one day at a time in a purposefully woven sequence of events that lead to the significance we seek.

This blog was written by Ranjit S. Sahai, PE, F.ASCE, and CEO of RAM Corporation. A variation of this blog appears on LinkedIn Pulse and as a Special Feature on the ASCE-NCS.ORG Website.