"I Am Responsible for My Creations": What it Means to Be an Engineer
Stevens inducts professors, trustees, and 177 graduating seniors (including three alumni and family members) into the Order of the Engineer
The Order of The Engineer is a society in which members pledge a lifetime of not only engineering precision, but also the utmost service and integrity.
While many are familiar with what engineers do — designing the fundamental systems and structures of our global civilization — few often consider what it means to truly embody the identity of the engineer and how critical this ethos is to shaping their path in the profession and their impact on the world. The Order of the Engineer serves as a reminder.
“Being an engineer is a privilege with great responsibility. You have the opportunity to work on projects that can change the world," said Alyssa Okun ‘23, B.Eng. mechanical engineering. “Whether you invent something that will help just one person or you work on a team that changes the way we use technology, engineering has the power to do real good. Being inducted into the Order feels great! It is the end of a journey and the start of a new one.”
A long and storied history
According to their website, the Order of the Engineer in the United States began in 1970 and is based upon the Canadian “Ritual of the Calling of an Engineer,” founded in 1926. The original Canadian ceremony “uses a wrought iron ring, conducts a secret ceremony, and administers an oath.”
In the US, the Order of the Engineer initiation ceremony includes reading the Obligation of the Engineer, similar to the Hippocratic Oath that new physicians take. Each new inductee is also given a stainless steel ring representing a promise to uphold this obligation that they wear on the smallest finger of their dominant hand.
At Stevens, the ethical aspects of engineering are just as important as the coursework and training. Once one joins the Order, they become not just someone with a degree in engineering: they become a capital “E” Engineer and promise to uphold all that this degree requires: integrity, humility, collaboration, innovation and responsibility.
“The ring is a symbol and reminder that we are powerful, to understand that we are responsible for the well-being of human beings. We must hold our standards strongly against business interests to ensure that what we build is safe,” said Jean Zu, Dean of the Charles V. Schaefer, Jr. School of Engineering and Science.
This year, Provost of Manhattan College and Chair of the Board of Governors of the Order of the Engineer, Steven Schreiner, presided over the ceremony, along with Zu and civil engineering Teaching Professor Leslie Brunell.
Zu was honored with a re-induction after her original induction in Canada at the beginning of her engineering career. “It was beautifully done and everyone felt special and proud to be an engineer,” Zu noted.
The silver ring: A symbol of pride and a cautionary tale
As Schriener explained, there is a reason for such solemnity behind the Order in its origin story. “The beauty of engineering is you don’t even notice it when it’s all working well, which is most of the time. All these things we take for granted, that we use every day, but we only notice when it goes wrong.”
In 1900, the Quebec Bridge collapsed under the weight of a locomotive when it was close to completion due to engineering error, killing 75 people. It was rebuilt but then suffered a subsequent collapse in 1916 as the center span was lifted into place, killing 10 more people. These tragedies prompted the leaders of engineering organizations to form a society that binds all engineers to a common acknowledgement of their own fallibility.
“We can never be off guard; we must be on guard at all times.” Zu reiterated.
Legend has it that the rings used in the Canadian branch of the society are forged from the original collapsed bridge (not true, but a fun part of the story) to make sure that a failure like this never happens again.
“It’s a hidden profession,” said Schriener. “Most people don’t really understand what an engineer does, we are behind the scenes operating in a professional manner, but knowing we have a tremendous impact. What we do touches every aspect of life. When I sign a document as an Engineer, my ring reminds me of my obligation to the people I’m signing with and the work I’m doing.”
He explained that in studying these famous (and uncommon) failures, it reminds current engineers that any human can make this kind of mistake. Thus, a non-negotiable part of the job for the true engineer is to always alert superiors and colleagues if he or she notices a potential problem.
“To call my boss out is not an easy thing to do. We have to become savvy about how to represent what is best. If you feel that something is going to go wrong in the future, bring it up the moment you feel it, build an instinct for that,” explained Schreiner. “You have to be the realist to say, ‘We can’t do that, but here is what we can do.’ Whether it be a bridge, an electrical device, an implantable device.”
"We want students to know that they matter and part of the profession is to make everything goes as planned. We are really obligated to speak up; if you do it, you can make a big difference and save lives.” said Schriener.
Stevens brings to the Order a new class of deserving inductees
The first official Order of the Engineer Ceremony at Stevens was requested by civil engineering students and conducted in 2016 by Brunell, who is also a member of the Order.
The first ceremony was a success and after a few years’ hiatus, Stevens has reinstated the tradition, including offering membership to qualifying alumni who hold engineering degrees, as well as trustees and professors.
This year in May, Zu honored four current professors:
Rainer Martini, Ph.D., associate professor in the Department of Physics and associate dean for graduate studies in the Charles V. Schaefer, Jr. School of Engineering and Science
Mishah Uzziél Salman, Ph.D., teaching associate professor in the Department of Mechanical Engineering
Zahra Pournorouz, Ph.D., teaching associate professor in the Department of Mechanical Engineering
Jason Rabinovitch, Ph.D., assistant professor in the Department of Mechanical Engineering
Sean Hanlon IV ‘80
Charles Buscarino ’85
Hermes González ’89
Virginia Ruesterholz ’83
Stephen Boswell ’89, M.S. Ph.D. ‘91; current Board of Trustees chair
Two trustee emeriti:
Joseph Ambrozy ’61 M.S. ’63
Frank Semcer, Sr. ’65 M.E., MBA (pictured below).
In addition to the professors and trustees, 177 newly graduating seniors and several alumni — Dakota Van Deursen ’19 M.S. ’19, Dylan Zenner M.Eng. ’19 and Anthony Tesori ’21 — were inducted.
“All engineers enjoy what we do because it gives us the ability to solve problems, to figure out a puzzle,” said Dakota Van Deursen, now Assistant Director for Core Engineering and Science Education at his alma mater. “Even though I am working to run a University, I still use that systemic engineering mindset that makes solutions possible.”
Not just a professional milestone, but a deeply personal promise
For Alyssa Okun ’19, who obtained her B.Eng. in mechanical engineering and plans to complete an accelerated master’s program (AMP) at Stevens for an M.Eng. in systems engineering in 2024, joining the Order also meant continuing a legacy in her own family.
“[This year] I was inducted along with my mother, Gina Ragazzo Okun, who is a Stevens alumna B.Eng. ’90 and M.Eng. ’91,” she said. “She is also a mechanical engineer and was one of my biggest role models throughout my life. Having the opportunity to share this milestone with her was an experience I’ll never forget.”
For Jake Millburn ’23, B.Eng. in biomedical engineering, who currently works as a project engineer for Pharmadule Morimatsu as well as at a startup for fracture repair implants, the Order is a code to live by that pervades every aspect of his career and life.
“To be an engineer is to solve problems. However, solving a problem poorly is almost always worse than leaving the problem alone. The Order of the Engineer argues that the engineer is a steward, both of the people and of the world,” he said.
“As an engineer sworn into the Order, I am responsible for my creations. While we were being inducted, the full meaning of that word "responsible" started to become clear to me. Somebody who receives one of my implants may outlive me; have I left behind enough information, enough resources for their implant to be replaced or repaired if need be? Can my company develop more designs and continue to improve lives after I am gone? I had been slowly stepping into the engineering perspective of immortalization, and being inducted into the Order of the Engineer confirmed for me that this is the right idea. Even if I can't guarantee long term survival, I should reasonably be able to guarantee ongoing maintenance.
“Ultimately it's an affirmation of responsibility for your work. We're engineers — if we mess up people can die. If we do good work, we can benefit humanity and continue improving, even saving, lives. This is what it means to live by the oath.”
To be an Engineer in today’s world as technology, climate and access to resources are all rapidly changing means to face some of the most daunting scientific and structural challenges of humanity to date, and find ways to bring us safely to the other side. Engineers will also be asked to make some of the most significant ethical decisions affecting the future of our species. The silver ring, though small, contains an enormous promise. Belonging to the Order is a reminder to be of highest service and do work not just from the mind, but also the heart.