Geriatrics, Not Pediatrics

A civil engineering colleague of mine, David Lowdermilk, was recently named Engineer of the Year by the Delaware Valley Engineers Week Council, and was interviewed in yesterday's Philadelphia Inquirer for his take on bridges, stimulus, and engineering education. I loved his analogy at the end of the interview: colleges teach the equivalent of "pediatrics" - designing and building new bridges - but a lot of what engineers do is "geriatrics" - helping 75+ year old bridges to last longer.

Especially in old-infrastructure parts of the US like Philadelphia, this is an apt analogy. However, as Lowdermilk points out, "geriatrics" isn't as sexy as "pediatrics": engineers, like politicians, want to be associated with creating something new, not preventing something old from falling apart. Let's hope we don't need more bridge collapses like what happened in Minneapolis in 2007 to spur more of us towards the "unsexy" but important work of infrastructure "geriatrics."
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