Commencement Ceremonies Touch on the Principals of Societal Engineering
Story and Photos by Liz Sheeley
Using the skill of the engineer to improve society during a time of rapid technological change was the theme of the College of Engineering’s undergraduate and graduate Commencement Exercises last week. At separate ceremonies, more than 700 bachelor’s, master’s and doctoral degrees were awarded to the Class of 2018.
The undergraduate class of 2018, with more than 380 graduates, gathered at Commencement Exercises on May 19 in Agganis Arena to celebrate its accomplishments and graduation from the College of Engineering at Boston University.
“In a few days you’ll have your degree and in principal for the first time in your life, other than reading things for your profession, no one will force you to read any other kind of book,” said Dean Kenneth R. Lutchen. “But if you want to live a holistic life and be a contributing member of society, read a good fiction book. Don’t just go to a movie, read a good non-fiction book. Don’t just look at art, go to a museum of art. Don’t just listen to music, go to the symphony or a concert. Live a full life for what it means to be a human being beyond just your profession.”
Biomedical Engineering major Ryan Lim (ENG’18, MED’22), spoke about what it means to him to be graduating as a Societal Engineer. “Personally I understood that it was something that the College wanted us to develop into,” said Lim.
He spoke about two principles that he believes are paramount to living as a Societal Engineer. First, he said the graduates must expand lifelong learning to outside the sphere of traditional engineering and, second, to acknowledge and act on the responsibility that accompanies the higher education they have received. He recognized that the graduates were lucky to have been granted the opportunity to pursue their dreams.
“I hope that wherever those dreams take us that we advocate for those who do not have our same privilege,” said Lim. “I hope that we will all continue to make our communities better places, especially today when the ideas of isolationism and fear of those who are different seem to be gaining traction. The term Societal Engineer is what shaped us and will continue to be what unites us after today. And I hope that each of us will continue to live our lives by its principles.”
Jim Heppelmann, the president and chief executive officer of PTC, presented the commencement address, which focused on the accelerating progress of technology and how the graduates fit into that world. Heppelmann graduated from the University of Minnesota with a degree in mechanical engineering and an emphasis on computer-aided design. PTC is a global software company that delivers a technology platform and solutions to help companies design, manufacture, operate, and service things for a smart, connected world. PTC technology helps companies to quickly unlock the value now being created at the convergence of the physical and digital worlds through pathways such as the Internet-of-Things and 3D-printing.
“When I graduated about 30 years ago and I was sitting where you were sitting, I thought that it was a great time to graduate with an engineering degree,” said Heppelmann. “But right now, this is an amazing time to graduate with an engineering degree.”
He went on to speak about his journey to becoming an engineer and how his career developed during a time when the digital and physical were becoming more interconnected. Right now, he remarked, is a time when there is a fundamental and massive force of disruption and transformation and that the graduates are at the epicenter of that change. Heppelmann spoke about the interfaces between physical, digital and human capabilities and that each one has its strengths.
“With the image problem the technology industry now has, we have to think about how we can help humans better leverage their strengths,” he said. “The line between human and digital is relatively primitive and I’d argue that it hasn’t changed much in three decades. We have to learn how to balance all the improvements the machines have made to digital technology to find a better way to pass some of that capability onto humans as well.”
Lutchen presented the Outstanding Professor of the Year award to Associate Professor Michael Smith (BME, MSE) and the Faculty Service Award to Associate Professor Anna Swan (ECE, MSE). Department Awards for Teaching Excellence went to Associate Professor Joe Tien (BME, MSE), Assistant Professor Bobak Nazer (ECE, SE) and Lecturer Enrique Gutierrez-Wing (ME).
Two days before, more than 280 master’s and 59 PhD graduates were celebrated for their achievements in the Case Center Gymnasium, while their friends and families looked on.
“All of our success as a College is due to a lot of things, but primarily on the backs, so to speak, on the incredible energy, creativity and passion graduate students,” said Lutchen. “We could not get this good this fast without your talent.”
“Your PhD and your master’s degree prepares you to continuously question the basic tenants of your discipline to advance the forefronts of knowledge and as engineers convert that knowledge into technologies that will improve the world we live in,” said Lutchen.
“Almost all of society’s grand challenges and opportunities will be intimately linked to technology from transforming cancer care to improving urban function and resilience to tragedies and natural disasters and creating personalized health care,” said Lutchen. “We continue to innovate on an exponential pace, and if we are going to go forward, your generation is obligated to understand how that technology will impact all people and make the planet sustainable for all life. You need to embrace thinking outside your personal field and be involved in politics and advocation.”
Boris Shakhnovich, who graduated with a PhD in bioformatics and systems biology in 2005 from BU, spoke about how his education as a scientist made him a better businessman. “What I want to tell you standing here 15 years to the day after I sat where you are sitting now is that you know nothing, but can do anything,” he said. “Do not hide behind the skills you’ve developed or the knowledge you’ve obtained. Do not let anyone convince you that lack of experience is a disadvantage.”
“Use the tools you were given, the philosophy of the scientific method, to apply yourself to new and unexplored frontiers where you can make the most impactful contributions,” he added. “And trust in yourselves, you are in the best position to be the leaders and innovators of tomorrow.”