My Final Letter from the President of Purdue Engineering Alumni Association

by Nathan on August 25, 2011

This appears in our Fall 2011 Newsletter:

Fellow Purdue Engineers,

Looking back in history, there appears to have been two big developments that have shaped the course of mankind in the 20th Century.  One was the advancement of science and technology, and the other was the rise of violent global ideologies.  From the former we saw tremendous increases in the standards of living for billions of people.  Whether through the advent of the automobile or the airplane, people can now travel great distances hitherto unheard of before.  Advances in medicine and public health have contributed to a 30 year increase in the life expectancy of persons in the United States over the course of the Century.  However, from the latter, in the form of Nazism, Communism, and Fascism, mankind experienced a protracted depravity in the condition of humanity that had, sadly too, had hitherto been unheard of before.

But if you look closely at this tragic paradox of the 20th Century, you will notice something curious.  You will notice that even during these periods of intense global conflict the human spirit of innovation somehow flourished.  For instance, the Space Race was spawned out of the rivalry between the United States and the Soviet Union during the height of the Cold War.  And through this race, we have explored and gazed upon vast corners of the universe that were even beyond the imaginations of those a mere century before us.  This period culminated in Neil Armstrong’s famous landing which symbolizes the ultimate triumph of science and technology.

Throughout my tenure as President of the Purdue Engineering Alumni Association, I have had the opportunity to speak with many alums who attended Purdue during the Space Race.  The thing that strikes me about these alums is the passion with which they describe their decision to become Purdue Engineers.  They always speak with such conviction about their desire to change the world.

The interesting parallel about students today with students during the Space Race is that they too wish to change the world.  But the key difference is that they don’t think a career in engineering is the way one can serve society and have an impact.  Perhaps that explains why, according the National Academy of Sciences publication “Rising Above the Gathering Storm”, the United States ranks 27th among developed nations in the proportion of college students who receive their undergraduate degree in science or engineering.  And while the number of college diplomas is on the rise, the proportion of those students who are engineers, according to the Task Force on American Innovation, is only 16.8% (compared to a world average of 26.4%).  Students are simply choosing fields other than engineering.

I’m not sure how this happened.  Maybe the fall of the Berlin Wall which marked the end of the Cold War also dampened the sense of urgency for engineers and scientists.  I do, however, know that the best way to change the world into a better place is through advancements in science and technology.  As I mentioned earlier, it was engineers who created those miraculous inventions of the airplane, automobile, air conditioner, personal computer, among countless others, that have transformed human life over the past century.  And I also know that Purdue Engineering, with that remarkable sense of curiosity, courage and creativity running through its lifeblood, continues to be a leading incubator of innovation and a pioneer of new frontiers throughout the universe.

It has been a personal mission for all of us on the Purdue Engineering Alumni Association Board of Directors to talk to young students about the field of engineering and Purdue.  We tell them our personal stories, what we learned while we were here, and how Purdue has best placed us to change the world.  In fact, with the help of over 20 alums before the last Homecoming game, we filmed a video that the College’s undergraduate recruiters can bring to high school recruiting events.  The alums in this video explain all those frequently asked questions by students on what it’s like being an engineer.

So we’re asking you, as Purdue Engineers, to help spread the word to young people about the field of engineering and Purdue.  Explain to these young idealists that the best way to change the world is through the field of engineering, and the best place to learn about engineering is at Purdue.  A little encouragement will go a long way.

We’re hoping that this newsletter will give you a few ideas on how to encourage these young people and how to get involved.

Thank you,
Nathan R. Uldricks (BSIE 2006)

President, Purdue Engineering Alumni Association

P.S. If you would like to see the recruitment video it can be found on YouTube:

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