ORIGIN: Starting the Conversation

Raising the Bar…

04.22.13 by Sarah Appleton
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The first and foremost responsibility of any engineering professional is to hold paramount the safety, health and welfare of the public.  As a structural engineer we take this very seriously.  The main focus of our career is on this one responsibility.  In order to keep this commitment foremost in our profession, Structural Engineering (SE) licensure is required and states should adopt a partial practice act requiring the SE licensure (larger and more complex structures would require the SE license, while small, simple structures could be designed by an engineer with a PE license).  Below are a few of the reasons why the SE licensure is now required in order to maintain the high standards to which we have always held ourselves:

  • Code Complexity: The multiple structural engineering codes continue to grow larger and more complicated than years previous.  It now takes a more advanced understanding of codes and the response of structures to fully understand the rules and requirements of the code.
  • Reduced Education Requirements:  In order to stay competitive in the education “market”, structural and architectural engineering departments are reducing the number of hours required to gain an undergraduate or master’s degree. Even the architectural engineering department for which I am on the advisory board is looking to cut 17 hours out of their degree requirements in order to be more competitive with the 4-year engineering degree programs.   This results in students coming into the workforce with fewer classes; and therefore, a less fundamental understanding of building components to build upon.
  • “Easier” Analysis Programs:  The programs we use to analyze a structure are becoming easier applications to use.  One would think this may help, but in turn it hinders the ability to maintain our high standards.  With the programs becoming more convenient, it also becomes much easier to make a mistake if you don’t fully understand the implications of each move you make inside the analysis program.

Personally, I passed the Civil Professional Engineering (PE) exam in California in October 2007, and recently passed the 16-hour SE exam in October of 2012.  As much as I dreaded the studying for and taking of this exam, I feel it is much needed in our profession.  The SE exam was MUCH more difficult than the PE exam, as it should be.  The SE exam is designed to set the bar higher than the PE exam.  It is designed to require you to use your experience and full understanding of structures in order to solve problems.  This way of thinking is used every day on complex buildings. Based on my personal experience and the reasons outlined above, I believe that partial practice acts should be implemented at the state level in order to require that an advanced understanding of structures (which is tested in the 16- hour SE exam) is utilized in the design of larger, complex structures.

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