Guest Blog by Brian Baetz: Mindful Engineering

Image result for brian baetz mcmasterDave Goldberg, emeritus professor at University of Illinois, teamed up a few years ago with Mark Sommerville of Olin College on a ground-breaking book, A Whole New Engineer.  Dave also created The Big Beacon initiative, where he and his collaborators envision and implement innovations to transform engineering education.

His 2016 Jack Hodgins Memorial lecture at McMaster had the thought-provoking title “What’s Love Got to Do With It? Educating the Professional of the Future”. For greybeards like me, seeing the L-word in an engineering talk may come as a bit of a surprise, but I think Dave Goldberg is on to something big.

What if we did our work as engineers from the basis of love – love for the communities we enrich, love for the people we serve, even love for the profession we practice within?  This is something that has been engrained in McMaster’s flagship Engineering and Society program, created by Professor Bob Hudspith in the early 1990s.  Former Dean of Engineering (and current W Booth School Director), Mo Elbestawi, used to affectionately refer to Engineering and Society students as ‘hard hats with heart’.  Sounds like love to me.

Goldberg gives us all a wonderful structure to envision the different dimensions that an engineer should bring into their professional practice.  He calls this the Six Minds of an Engineer, and argues we have done a superb job at developing an effective engineering education for the Analytical Mind (e.g. heat flow calculations), Design Mind (e.g. capstone design courses) and Linguistic Mind (e.g. report and memo writing, oral presentations).  So far, so good, but then he goes on to point out that these are necessary but not sufficient conditions for the training of a 21st century engineer.

So what are we missing?  Or perhaps not covering effectively enough?

The Big Beacon initiative puts a lot of emphasis on the development of an engineer’s People Mind.  Looking at what we do as akin to a “team sport”, weaving in aspects of psychology and emotional intelligence, to create skill sets that we used to call “soft skills” but which are now referred to as “deep skills”.  Empathy, compassion, kindness – all important attributes for anybody on a team.

Goldberg also emphasizes what he calls Body Mind.  This may be harder to nail down, but he’s talking about things like Leadership Presence (how a person greets someone, carries themselves, engages with others, as explored in an earlier post) and Intuition (listening to your gut, tuning in to your inner voice).

And last, but not least, Big Beacon promotes the development of a Mindful Mind.  Mindfulness is exploding right now, with so many Silicon Valley leaders adopting meditation and yoga practices.  Chade-Meng Tan of Google is developing the Search Inside Yourself Leadership Initiative.

We’ve been teaching our students at McMaster over the last ten years how to meditate through the student club Infinite Potential. Once a person gets in touch regularly with their true essence, and this can be attained through an effective mindfulness practice, they may be amazed at what they can achieve in their professional practice and their personal life.

Very best to all. Many thanks to Ishwar Puri for his kind invitation to write this guest blog.

Dr. Brian Baetz is Professor of Civil Engineering at McMaster University. He has research interests in the areas of sustainable and resilient communities, green infrastructure, and contemplative pedagogy. His bachelors and masters degrees in Civil Engineering are from the University of Toronto, and his PhD in environmental engineering is from Duke University. He is a former Chair of the Dept. of Civil Engineering at McMaster, a former Chair of the Dept. of Civil and Environmental Engineering at Tulane University in New Orleans, and a former Director of McMaster’s Engineering and Society Program. Dr. Baetz is a licensed Professional Engineer in the Province of Ontario and a Fellow of the Canadian Society for Civil Engineering.


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