Tech Stewards Expand the Scope of Responsible Engineering

CREDIT: Andi Edwards

As intentional stewards of technology, engineering groups and individuals aim to ensure multidisciplinary, culturally aware, and long-range decision making.

By Sandra Guy, SWE Contributor

The newly widespread access to artificial intelligence (AI) such as the ChatGPT chatbot has created a watershed moment to promote responsible engineering, or, as one initiative’s leader says, to “stop the current system that churns out ‘Dr. Frankensteins.’”

“In Mary Shelley’s classic novel, Dr. Frankenstein had the ability to create something he didn’t understand, but not the ability to stop it from becoming a monster that ran amok,” said Mark Abbott, P.Eng., director of Engineering Change Lab-Canada, an initiative whose mission is, in Abbott’s words, “to make ‘tech stewardship’ the new normal.”

“The concept of tech stewardship aims to ensure that engineers understand the nature of the technology that they are creating — not just its technical nature but the nature of its complex societal impacts — and have the ability to steward it responsibly,” Abbott said.

Today, engineering education and engineering as a profession are “shockingly un-self-aware,” Abbott said.

“If you ask an engineer the simple question, ‘What is engineering?’ you will often get troublingly vague responses like ‘Engineers are problem-solvers’ or ‘Engineering is a mindset,’” Abbott said. “However, you could say this about any profession or discipline. So, what types of problems are engineers being trained to solve, and with what type of mindset?”

“One of the greatest threats to the future of society is the current dominant engineering culture, which tells engineers they have a magical mindset that can solve any problem,” he said. “It’s not about a sinister bad actor. It’s conceivably about a well-meaning engineer whose naive techno-optimism will drive us off of a cliff.”

Engineering Change Lab-Canada describes the challenges with this clear-eyed description: “The profession is currently stuck or even backsliding due to chronic systemic challenges:

  • Lack of diversity
  • Failures of ethics and professionalism
  • Poor record of innovation
  • Exclusion of non-licensed engineers from the profession
  • Inflexibility of the academic accreditation system and education model
  • Siloing and commoditization of work”

The answer, Abbott said, is “a broad awakening.”

Mark Abbott, P. Eng., director of Engineering Change Lab-Canada
Electrical engineering and computer science professor Athina Markopoulou, Ph.D., associate dean for graduate and professional studies in the Samueli School of Engineering at the University of California, Irvine. CREDIT: Debbie Morales, UC Irvine

How an engineering awakening might unfold

“Engineering has an opportunity to play a leadership role and to open up to a tech stewardship mode where engineers, and ultimately everyone, become more intentional about the relationship we are shaping with our technology,” Abbott said. “It’s about making technology more purposeful, responsible, inclusive, and regenerative, with the latter going beyond merely producing sustainable outcomes.”

That’s a top-of-mind concept as no less than Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates wrote in a March 22 blog post discussing artificial intelligence as the most revolutionary technology he has seen in decades, on par with computers, cellphones, and the Internet.

Since its launch seven years ago, Engineering Change Lab-Canada’s platform has collaborated with 350 leaders from 150 organizations and engaged thousands more through workshops and programming. Its collaborators include workplaces, associations, universities, nonprofits, and government agencies.

The lab is now working on a variety of ways to help make tech stewardship the new normal in the engineering community and beyond.

The first cornerstone offering is a 12-hour online program designed to help engineers launch their personal tech stewardship practices so they can find opportunities within, as Abbott described it, “the tensions we face as we engage new technology.”

Such tensions might be between convenience and privacy when it comes to social media, or between centralized and decentralized power generation systems, for example, he said.

The lab also offers free, 30-minute drop-in tech stewardship practice sessions each week in which 40 to 100 people meet on Zoom to discuss and support one another around the tensions and questions they’re facing in their day-to-day work.

“It is still early days, but the lab is seeing great early success in introducing tech stewardship as a socioethical practice that weaves around the study and work of engineers and others,” Abbott said, “so that we realize the full potential of technology while avoiding the many possible pitfalls.”

More and more universities and a growing number of other organizations are either promoting or integrating tech stewardship into their cultures and offerings.

Teaching data privacy while parenting heightens urgency

A University of California, Irvine associate dean guides her students in studying the latest issues involving law, privacy, and policy, including in social media, AI, and computer networks.

“We look at end-user devices — smartphones, smart speakers, browsers, Internet of Things (IoT) — and explore and try to expose whether tech companies collect the data, and whether they use the data for targeting consumers,” said Athina Markopoulou, Ph.D., associate dean for graduate and professional studies at the University of California, Irvine Samueli School of Engineering. She also serves as faculty mentor for UC-Irvine’s new Women in CyberSecurity chapter.

Dr. Markopoulou formerly served as chair of UC Irvine’s department of electrical engineering and computer science and is a former director of the university’s Networked Systems Program.

“We look at privacy and data transparency laws — and study the disconnect between the technical side and the law-and-policy side of issues, and we try to bridge the gap,” said Dr. Markopoulou, who earned a diploma in electrical and computer engineering from the National Technical University of Athens, Greece, and earned her master’s and Ph.D. degrees in electrical engineering from Stanford University. She is also the director of ProperData, certified as a National Science Foundation Secure and Trustworthy Cyberspace program.

Dr. Markopoulou also oversees studies of such contentious issues as AI’s ability to produce disinformation such as deep fakes, discriminatory targeting, and inaccurate conclusions.

She said that, as a mom, she worries about the effects of these technologies on her teenager. AI is clearly the elephant in the [class]room, she said, and the ethical training around it needs to evolve as quickly as the technology.

Amy Squitieri, president and chief operating officer, Mead & Hunt
Lauren Evans, P.E., chair emeritus and founding president, Pinyon Environmental Inc.

Private sector takes on environmental justice training

Employees at Mead & Hunt, a 123-year-old national architecture, engineering, and construction firm, recognized that engineers and planners are too often disempowered or even stymied — by clients, project owners, or their own employers — from creating opportunities to advance environmental justice.

They collaborated with academic partners to create what they coined the Project Confluence Development Program to help professionals overcome the barriers and effect positive change, while, at the same time, build corporate support for their work.

“Real progress in delivering projects with a positive community impact requires moving beyond regulatory check-box exercises,” said Amy Squitieri, Mead & Hunt’s president and chief operating officer.

Mead & Hunt put the program through its paces. The firm assembled a team of 14 self-appointed change agents to learn the history of environmental justice and new practices required to achieve it.

The company hosted two, two-day, in-person gatherings in the form of a professional development course at the beginning and the end of the project. Seven weeks, including homework and instructor check-ins, separated the two gatherings. The course ended with a “capstone” of each team presenting its demonstration project to Mead & Hunt’s board of directors.

“Such a course fills a gap, since no tools or standardized approaches exist,” Squitieri said. “At the same time, it’s an opportunity to let engineers and related professionals get creative and inventive.”

An accomplished team of academics and educators designed and delivered the program. The resulting white paper, a case study yet to be published, noted that strong management support is essential to making the new ways of thinking work. The authors concluded that to perform environmental justice work, three professional groups must be addressed:

  • A small group of architecture, engineering, and construction (AEC) professionals who act as change agents and are highly motivated, empowered, and inspired to lead the transformation at their firms
  • A larger group who develop ground-level experience and expertise in applying environmental justice practices on individual projects and are a resource to other AEC professionals
  • The rest of the AEC professionals who will work with the above two groups to apply the practices on their projects, but who may not be experts in environmental justice

A necessary step is to train planners, engineers, architects, and construction workers to deal with community engagement in a project.

“They are often surprised by strong negative reactions to plans they propose during standard public comment/engagement periods,” Squitieri said. “That’s because input is often sought too late. Truly engaged communities collaborate during design development and may even help make a final decision on a project’s direction.”

The white paper noted that for the firm’s environmental justice services to be accepted, the contracting client must have a clear business case.

Since environmental justice services are new, AEC professionals must help interested clients develop that business case, the white paper concluded.

Drivers for the client business case, the research found, can include avoided costs, regulatory and policy requirements, access to supplementary funding from environmental justice sources, client social responsibility practices, and political and social goodwill in the affected community.

The goal of working responsibly will require new ways of reaching outside the engineering profession, too.

“We need to get much better at community outreach and community engagement,” said Lauren E. Evans, P.E., chair emeritus and founding president of Pinyon Environmental Inc., based in Lakewood, Colorado. The 30-year-old firm, with 85 employees, provides services in sustainability, water quality, air permitting, stream restoration, and environmental remediation.

“I’m not sure we even set up what we call the ‘public involvement process’ in a way that makes neighborhood residents [of a project] feel comfortable, or trust that their voices will be heard, or that they’ll be part of the solution,” said Evans, who witnessed engineers’ and regulators’ gradual shift from begrudging to welcoming each other over the past three decades.

Engineers working toward environmental justice also must wrestle with unintended consequences of their work, such as an improvement project leading to property tax increases and a neighborhood’s gentrification, said Evans, who earned a bachelor’s degree in geological engineering from the Colorado School of Mines.

“The flip side worries me,” she said. “[In some cases], we go into underserved neighborhoods [to make improvements], and the taxes go up and then suddenly the people can’t afford to live in their community any more. It’s a complicated road to navigate.”

The profession also faces a complicated situation, Evans noted, because experts say the United States needs 80,000 more engineers to meet the infrastructure projects that the Biden administration has initiated.

“We are not graduating enough engineers — especially civil engineers,” she said. “And from a private-sector perspective, companies must work within their budgets. [Given these circumstances] we sometimes have to make hard decisions.”

Kyle V. Davy, an architect and leadership consultant who helped co-found, along with a group of engineers, the nonprofit Engineering Change Lab-USA
Mike McMeekin, P.E., president and executive director, Engineering Change Lab-USA

Engineering Change Lab-USA offers solutions

Kyle V. Davy, an architect and leadership consultant — inspired by the Canadian lab — helped co-found, along with a group of engineers, the nonprofit Engineering Change Lab-USA (ECL-USA) six years ago. The lab seeks to explore the engineering profession’s future in the United States to address today’s complex issues.

“Our work involves a deep dive into the future of the engineering community, taking responsibility for the past, reflecting on the current context, and imagining new possibilities as we explore macro-ethics, racial justice, public policy, emerging technologies, engineering licensure, and many other facets of that future,” said Davy, the lab’s creative director and lead facilitator.

Mike McMeekin, P.E., president and executive director of ECL-USA, said he, like other busy professionals, spent 20 years focused on overwhelming day-to-day tasks when he led Lamp Rynearson, a civil engineering firm based in Omaha, Nebraska.

“For 20 years, we were short of people,” McMeekin said. “We worried about filling needs.”

He said that he realized, after taking a broader look at the engineering industry’s challenges, how closely the issues of workforce scarcity and issues such as equity, diversity, and inclusion are all a piece of the puzzle.

“The fact that many people don’t even consider engineering as a career contributes to the workforce shortage, and that leads to a lack of a complete perspective of how we do our work,” McMeekin said.

Other barriers are embedded into the way engineering projects are funded and designed. For example, McMeekin said transportation-infrastructure funding requirements and the procurement system, in both the public and private sectors, force engineers into solving narrowly defined problems. There’s limited room to involve the community, brainstorm more innovative solutions, or consider a broader worldview, he said.

“Our vision is to catalyze change and inspire leaders of change to increase the contributions of the engineering community to the challenges of the 21st century,” he said.

Engineering Change Lab-USA has set out to do its part. First, the lab defines a responsible engineer as one who:

  • Constantly learns
  • Looks beyond the immediate problem to see larger systems at work
  • Takes a long-term perspective
  • Works collaboratively with social systems, including the people who will be impacted by technological choices and evolutionary paths
  • Considers how technological solutions may impact people, both positively and negatively
  • Accepts accountability, is willing to own their results, and ensures that mistakes aren’t repeated
  • Offers leadership on significant challenges that society and communities face

And since leadership involves action and taking responsibility, ECL-USA is pushing further into public policy.

Its June 20 summit focused on public policy and changing the predominant mindset of “believing that we only implement the policies and ideas of others to [one of] active engagement in defining the right problems in the right way,” according to the lab’s website statement.

McMeekin said the lab’s mission also foresees engineers becoming change agents within their own organizations, actively seeking opportunities where engineers can lead a collective action when necessary.

Toward that end, the lab hosts summits where engineers think together and delve into rich conversations about issues that matter to the profession, such as equitable communities, climate change and resilience, and AI and other emerging technologies.

Engineering Change Lab-USA’s annual Engineering Ideas Institute, scheduled Sept. 25-27 in Boulder, Colorado, will use “scenario planning” as a technique to envision alternative futures.

Despite the daunting tasks ahead, Davy said he is optimistic. “I am hopeful. I think there are so many good people of good intent within the engineering community,” he said. “These smart, well-meaning people are committed to adopting these mindsets, to moving forward, and to becoming better stewards and leaders.”

Tricia H. Hatley, P.E., executive vice president of operations for Freese and Nichols, a 129-year-old engineering, planning, and consulting firm, said she was inspired to join ECL-USA’s working group on racial justice after she learned at a Change Lab summit about America’s controversial past building major highways through underrepresented communities.

“That was eye-opening to me,” said Hatley, a 30-year veteran at Freese and Nichols, of the insights she gained into how racism shaped the history of highway building.

“If I had learned that in school — how our cities developed and the role that politicians and engineers played — I would have thought differently about certain municipal roadway projects,” said Hatley, whose mission has always been to ensure that engineers approach their work ethically and to help women advance in their engineering careers.

But Hatley inherently understood the importance of ethics and sustainability in civil engineering.

“To me, it’s the right thing to do,” she said. “We’re designing infrastructure that will be in place for 50 to 100 years. We’ve got to think about how it will impact future generations.”

Hatley, the 2020-2021 president of the National Society of Professional Engineers, chairs Freese and Nichols’ corporate social responsibility steering committee, which is focused on sustainability, and kicked off the firm’s “Women Empowered” employee resource group to support women engineers for leadership roles.

“People encouraged me to take on leadership roles,” said Hatley, who earned her civil engineering degree from Oklahoma State University. “I want to show other women they can be leaders if they want.”

Hatley, who was often the only woman in her college engineering classes, would also like to see higher percentages of today’s undergraduate women earn engineering degrees. And while they’re studying engineering, Hatley said she wants tomorrow’s engineers to learn while they’re in school about racial justice issues and the impact their work can have on future generations.

“It seems that engineers don’t look at social or racial justice as an ethical responsibility,” she said. “They see themselves as technical people. They typically understand life safety, but not the social justice issues.”

Tricia H. Hatley, P.E., executive vice president, operations, Freese and Nichols. CREDIT: Freese and Nichols
Melissa Montgomery, P.E., chief programs officer of the Denver-based Engineers Without Borders USA

How to Measure Progress?

Even as a growing coalition of engineers and professionals in waterworks, public transportation, and environmental justice support infrastructure sustainability, how is that sustainability measured?

“Everyone says, ‘We can be doing more. We can be doing better. How do we create the systems to incentivize and allow us to do that?’” said Anthony Kane, president and CEO of the Institute for Sustainable Infrastructure. “‘What does that mean? How do I know if it’s sustainable?’

Anthony Kane, president and CEO, Institute for Sustainable Infrastructure

“To quote the late management guru Peter Drucker, ‘You can’t manage what you can’t measure,’” Kane said.

Sustainability has become the watchword for responsible infrastructure building. It refers to developing projects in a way that’s most socially, economically, and environmentally beneficial, for the least amount of money, Kane said.

The goal is to “unlock a whole new realm to create solutions in a whole new way,” he said.

To help bring about this systemic change, the Washington, D.C.-based Institute for Sustainable Infrastructure developed Envision — a sustainability framework and rating system, similar to the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) system but specifically designed to be used on civil infrastructure projects.

The institute worked on Envision for several years with the support of the three largest U.S. engineering organizations and with its academic partner, the Zofnass Program for Sustainable Infrastructure, formerly housed at the Harvard University Graduate School of Design.

Envision provides a framework so engineers can assess equity, resiliency, and sustainability in civil infrastructure projects. That includes planning, design, and construction of projects involving energy, water, wastewater, landscape, environment, transportation, and information.

The architecture, engineering, and construction (AEC) professional community also uses the framework. It encourages the collaboration that engineering change-makers prize, not least because all of the disciplines that contribute toward project sustainability goals may use the same criteria. That includes project managers, planners and designers, and sustainability and construction professionals, as well as those responsible for projects after they become operational.

Envision not only asks, “‘Are we doing the project right?’ but [also], ‘Are we doing the right project?’” Kane said.

“When you look at impacts, infrastructure plays a really important role in global well-being, quality of life, and future generations,” Kane said. “If we’re not looking at the sustainability of our infrastructure, there’s little hope of achieving our goals.”

The Institute for Sustainable Infrastructure works with colleges and universities, public agencies, and infrastructure owners to use Envision to think more holistically about project problem-solving.

The institute also trains engineers and other infrastructure professionals in the Envision program and certifies them with an Envision Sustainability Professional credential. More than 7,000 professionals have earned the credential, and Envision has been used in a combined $130 billion worth of infrastructure involving 140 projects with the formal certification.

Kane said he is hopeful that investors, local governments, and young professionals agree with Envision’s mission.

“The younger generation is passionate about sustainability and knowing that the projects are having a positive influence on the environment and the community,” Kane said. “Companies are now looking for talent who have an alliance with sustainability.”

Another hopeful sign is the Justice40 initiative, the Biden-Harris administration’s commitment to ensure that 40% of federal climate investments go to frontline communities most affected by poverty and pollution.

“It’s like a mounting pressure,” Kane said. “There are now specific line items in infrastructure bills for clean water, renewable energy, and reconnecting communities (especially those previously divided by highways).”

And finally, investors are scrutinizing companies’ investments in environmental, social, and corporate governance issues, known as ESG.

“We still have a long way to go as far as seeing that all infrastructure be sustainable,” Kane said. “That’s our mission.”

Engineers Without Borders recognizes women as key stakeholders

Engineers Without Borders USA started offering engineers the chance to make a huge difference in people’s lives 21 years ago.

That’s when Bernard Amadei, Ph.D., a professor of civil engineering at the University of Colorado Boulder, visited a community in San Pablo, Belize, to assess the water supply. He learned that the 950 Maya living in the heart of the Belize jungle lacked clean water and sanitation infrastructure, and that most of the community’s children missed school because their first priority was to collect water, according to the Engineers Without Borders website.

That sense of mission remains the nonprofit’s underpinning: To facilitate student and professional volunteers in partnering with underserved communities — in the United States and internationally — to build a more sustainable world by addressing engineering needs.

The community-driven partnerships address essential needs with climate-conscious infrastructure, and, as a result, cultivate the volunteers’ and partners’ engineering and leadership skills.

At the same time, the engineers make sure that community members own the projects so local residents can provide the leadership, capacity, and financial wherewithal to ensure that the solution, whether a bridge or a water well, endures, said Melissa Montgomery, P.E., chief programs officer of the Denver-based organization. Engineers Without Borders USA supports nearly 200 chapters comprising student and professional members.

“We respond to a wide variety of requests — water, energy, sanitation, bridges, roads, schools, and community centers — mostly civil engineering work,” said Montgomery, who earned her bachelor’s degree in environmental engineering and her master’s degree in agricultural and biological engineering from the University of Florida. She learned about Engineers Without Borders USA when she served as a Peace Corps volunteer in Peru.

“Our partnerships with communities often last several years while we complete multiple projects,” she said. One of the secrets to a successful project with community involvement is making sure the women are involved, Montgomery added.

“Often, it’s the women who are managing the water situation in their homes and who are responsible for their family’s health and education,” she said. “If women are engaged, the system will get maintained.”

Engineers Without Borders USA ensures that its approach to responsible engineering aligns with its values:

  • Community voices and vision
  • Purposeful partnering
  • Ethical and sustainable solutions
  • Student and professional development
  • Prioritizing health, safety, and wellness

“We make sure the water coming out of a system is clean,” Montgomery said. “We verify it with lab tests.”

Engineer volunteers return to project sites to do impact reviews. This ensures that the project functions, is being maintained, and has changed local people’s lives in the way it was intended.

The engineers now review projects with climate-change policies in mind. In 2022, Engineers Without Borders USA made climate-impact trips to New Orleans, Ecuador, Guatemala, Nicaragua, Puerto Rico, Sierra Leone, and Uganda.

Magnus Egerstedt, Ph.D., Stacey Nicholas Dean of Engineering, Henry Samueli School of Engineering at the University of California, Irvine. CREDIT: Steve Zylius, UC Irvine
Janna Rosales, Ph.D., associate teaching professor and faculty member of engineering and applied science at Memorial University of Newfoundland. CREDIT: Rich Blenkinsopp

Reinventing Engineering Education

Educating engineers in a holistic way is key to transforming the profession. Hopeful signs are emerging there, too.

Magnus Egerstedt, Ph.D., dean of engineering for the Henry Samueli School of Engineering at the University of California, Irvine, worked to obtain a $50 million gift from Susan Samueli, Ph.D., and Henry Samueli, Ph.D., to create three new multidisciplinary research institutes at the university.

Unified under the banner “Engineering+,” the Engineering+Health Institute, the Engineering+Society Institute, and the Engineering+Environment Institute will enable researchers from diverse disciplines to conduct transformational research aligned with engineering stewardship.

A portion of the gift, announced June 5, will be used to create the Office of Inreach, dedicated to the well-being, academic success, sense of belonging, and career opportunities for undergraduate students.

“On the educational side, the focus is more on what happens outside of the classroom,” Dr. Egerstedt said. “I really wanted to elevate the power of the cohort on campus because it’s always lonely [for women and underrepresented students] to be in the minority. That means student clubs, maker spaces, and undergraduate research.

“SWE is a beautiful example of a cohort that creates meaning, texture, and joy for the members,” he said.

“When I talk about how we should be thinking about technological solutions, it’s about how solutions fit within our societies, how humans connect, and how we live our lives,” Dr. Egerstedt said. “It’s about civil and environmental engineers working together to think of ‘built’ infrastructure from an equity standpoint.”

As part of that mission, the university’s new Engineering+Society Institute will team students majoring in business, public policy, the arts, and in law school with engineering students.

“My sincere hope — without lots of wheels being reinvented — is to create a model that’s emulatable,” Dr. Egerstedt said. “I think important solutions will result.”

A faculty member of engineering and applied science at Memorial University in St. John’s, Newfoundland and Labrador, Canada, aims to be part of the future solutions.

Janna Rosales, Ph.D., an associate teaching professor, has developed four courses that integrate into Memorial University’s curricula.

“Instead of one course dropped into the middle of the engineering program — a course that students had seen as a hurdle — two of the courses act as bookends and encourage students to consider the big-picture context of engineering, such as had been raised in the National [Academy] of Engineering’s groundwork,” Dr. Rosales said.

The bookended courses — Engineering Professionalism I, scheduled in students’ second year of study, and Engineering Professionalism II, in the fifth, final year — highlight the need for such skills as active listening and asking the right questions.

That enlightens students to issues such as ethics; equity, diversity, and inclusion; design bias and sustainability; and ways to stay open-minded and responsive to societal changes.

“We encourage students to look at a much bigger system, rather than seeing this kind of thinking as one course dropped into the middle of a program,” Dr. Rosales said.

The other two courses — Ethics in a Technological World and Critical Thinking About Technology, Science, and Engineering — are electives that encourage students to become technology stewards, to see the need for diversity and inclusion, to bring their values and “lived experiences” into the questions they ask, and to see engineering as a caring profession in which empathy is important, Dr. Rosales said.

She said she is hopeful because Generation Z — and presumably Generation Alpha — “seek more purpose from school and work, and crave more meaningful connections with people in ways that progressive engineering curricula are trying to address.”

The students’ priorities dovetail perfectly with today’s need for responsible engineers.

“Engineering isn’t simply finding a technical solution to a technical problem anymore,” Dr. Rosales said. “Engineering is also about critical self-reflection. Who you are matters to how you solve a problem. At the same time, students want to be able to bring their whole selves to their paths through engineering.”

Biden Administration Infrastructure Priorities Underpin Community-Conscious Efforts

In the United States, the Biden administration’s infrastructure funding initiatives have revitalized programs such as the Environmental Finance Centers and created new programs such as the Environmental Justice Thriving Communities and Training and Technical Assistance centers. These programs aim to bridge funding gaps and elevate community voices that most need support and funding.

The U.S. Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, which President Joe Biden signed into law in November 2021, provided $284 billion to modernize roads, bridges, transit, and railways, and other civil infrastructure.

The funding comes at a time when one in three bridges in the U.S. needs repair or replacement, according to the American Road & Transportation Builders Association.

The law also created the Reconnecting Communities Program to provide funding and technical assistance for projects that aim to reconnect neighborhoods by removing, retrofitting, or mitigating transportation barriers such as highways and railroad tracks.

It also provides federal money for transformative community-led solutions, including capping interstates with parks; filling in sunken highways to reclaim the land for housing; converting inhospitable transportation facilities to tree-lined streets; and creating new crossings through public transportation, bridges, tunnels, and trails.

The program also supports measures to help communities adapt to higher seas, stronger storms, and more frequent flooding.

Engineers Without Borders USA, for example, has benefited from Biden’s priorities because its domestic philanthropic arm of programmatic projects is executed through the Community Engineering Corps (CECorps) program, which falls under the new federal initiatives.

CECorps provides pro bono engineering consulting to underserved and overburdened communities throughout the U.S. and its territories.

The CECorps program mirrors that of a for-hire consulting service model. It provides a safe and proven framework for engineers to give back to their communities by volunteering.

It also addresses engineering infrastructure issues and provides a professional engineering report to support a community’s application for funds such as Community Development Block Grants and state revolving funds/loans.

Engineers, community members, and community-based organizations have leveraged CECorps to problem-solve their failing infrastructure — an opportunity that ensures the community can thrive.

For the past nine years, CECorps has sustained its programmatic operations with support from its founding partners — Engineers Without Borders USA, the American Water Works Association, and the American Society of Civil Engineers — as well as from other federal and nonfederal funding.

One example of the CECorps’ role was its ability to repave a critical area of Foxburg, a town of approximately 160 in rural northern Pennsylvania, and replace its crumbling infrastructure using previously unavailable Community Development Block Grants.

The road was in a historical section of the borough. Before CECorps’ support, the secretary of the borough worked with the city council to find funding to demolish two abandoned houses that were causing a hazard to the community, but through that work, it became apparent that the road was deteriorating and threatening to slide off the hill and into the homes below. But the borough didn’t have enough money budgeted to hire an engineering consulting firm. The CECorps’ engineering services covered the cost of the engineering consulting. That enabled the community to win more than $100,000 in CDB Grants and to hire a local firm to rebuild the dilapidated road.