Engineering Month: At the helm of our contemporary world

With the skills to handle the tools that can help overcome the challenges of today, engineers work in areas ranging from climate change to power and communications. Here, employees share their testimonials as a tribute to the engineers working at Tecpetrol.

A world without engineers is unthinkable, but today their contributions are everywhere to be seen. In their role, they respond to the problems of global climate change, energy supply and the housing deficit, driving transformative changes in transport and communications. They’re on the front line of our attempts to overcome the great challenges of a contemporary world that, moreover, seeks to protect its resources for future generations. .

The future is bright for engineering professionals. Today, this university degree qualifies them to work in the field of technology, with tasks that embrace a diversity of roles from management and maintenance to product development and innovation. Although engineers have always been involved in production processes, when engineering first emerged as a discipline, its remit was very different.

In the region of South America, the first traces of the profession emerged in Mexico. In the 1970s, the person in charge of the historical heritage department of the Faculty of Engineering of the UNAM discovered that a Royal Mining Tribunal had been created on July 1, 1776. This body held a "Royal Seminar", which led to the production of books and teaching curricula for the first engineering schools on the American continent. National Engineer's Day has been celebrated on a yearly basis there since 1974.

The many great challenges of our contemporary world. Engineers today are leading the response to the threat of global climate change, of energy sources and power supply, as well as the housing deficit, contributing to the transformation of transport and communications.

In Argentina, the first engineering studies curriculum offered only 18 subjects and focused on training in technical drawing, geology, mathematics, mineralogy and construction, given at the University of Buenos Aires. This was where the Department of Exact Sciences was created, on June 16, 1865, laying the foundations for the engineering degree course, which is why this is the date of Engineering Day in Argentina. There’s another good reason to celebrate this June anniversary, as the 6th of the month marks the graduation of Luis Augusto Huergo, the country's first engineer.

In other Latin American countries, the anniversaries pay tribute to the first moves to associate among professionals. June 8 is the Day of the Peruvian Engineer, celebrating the day when the College of Engineers of Peru was created, decreed in in 1962, some 30 years after the first proposal to set up a society of professionals. In Colombia, the date honors the foundation of the Colombian Society of Engineers (SCI), on May 29, 1887.

A new era for women engineers

More recently, it’s been the turn of women engineers to receive recognition for their merit and efforts. June 23 was chosen in 2014 to commemorate International Women in Engineering Day and recognize the work carried out by women in a sector traditionally dominated by men. It’s also an appropriate moment to recall the triumph of Elisa Bachofen, the first woman to graduate from engineering in Argentina, in 1918. Still in the minority, today, women’s university enrollment rates for this subject stand at about 20%, compared with the overall percentage of women at university which reaches 60% of its population. 

Behind these numbers also lies a particular sociological explanation, known by experts as the ‘Matilda effect’. Matilda Joslyn Gage was a writer and activist who contributed to women’s suffrage at the end of the 19th century, barred from the medical profession because only men could study medicine at the time. She wrote an essay called ‘Woman as an Inventor’ which eloquently protested the commonly-held assertion that women had “no inventive or mechanical genius”. In 1994, Cornell University historian of science Margaret Rossiter dubbed the denial of recognition to women scientists “the Matilda effect”.

Although there is a growing participation of women studying STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics), the far-reaching problem of perception remains a problem, as these are still seen predominantly as male careers.

Matilda and women in engineering in Latin America is the title of a compilation of contributions from professionals which delves into the myriad issues raised by this phenomenon across the continent. Published by the LACCEI regional consortium and the CONFEDI council of deans, there have already been four editions of the Matilda periodical, showcasing experiences, essays and recommendations for shortcuts to make ideas a reality, so that women from different positions can contribute with their creativity and commitment to the path of development in the region.

Almost two centuries after this specialty’s first experiences, the role of engineers today has expanded and is very much looking to the future, as they lead innovation in the search for answers to the problems of today and tomorrow. Their importance in cutting-edge fields such as programming, robotics, data analysis and artificial intelligence only serves to confirm the vital contributions that engineers make to society. But the one thing that hasn’t changed since the early days is their desire to improve and transform.

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