Magazine article ASEE Prism

Engineering in the Shadows

Magazine article ASEE Prism

Engineering in the Shadows

Article excerpt

Bill Nye the Science Guy is an engineer, but that is not something easily deduced from the blurbs on the back cover of his latest book, Everything All at Once. There, Nye is compared to Carl Sagan and made to sound like a hard-nosed scientist and science educator.

But if we read the flap copy, we learn that Nye received a bachelor's degree in mechanical engineering from Cornell and for years worked as a professional engineer at Boeing and other industrial firms. But Bill Nye the Engineering Guy does not have the zip to propel someone to media stardom.

"The Science Guy" moniker seems to suggest a personality that craves attention, something most engineers claim not to need. In his book, Nye even has a chapter explaining how he came to wear his signature bow tie, which he admits is to make him stand out from the crowd.

Nye has certainly earned the respect of the media, having won an Emmy Award for his eponymous television show and making a cameo appearance on The Big Bang Theory. And now, as CEO of the Planetary Society, which counts Sagan among its founders and whose mission is "empowering the world's citizens to advance space science and exploration," he marks himself even more the scientist.

Never mind that space science and exploration cannot advance without engineering, Nye has become so far removed from being associated with our discipline that who can be blamed for not knowing he is an engineer?

Scientists and engineers, by the very nature of their education and methods, can of course move freely from one field to the other, but the movement occurs largely along a one-way street. Scientists are hired as professors of engineering, chairs of engineering departments, and deans of schools of engineering, but off the top of my head I cannot think of one engineer who has been given the green light to go the other way.

Nye is thus a notable exception, and I would attribute his success as the Science Guy and CEO of the Planetary Society in part to his propensity for bow ties, signifying his willingness to stand out. …

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