Ah, Ute!

Utah, University of Illinois, urbanism. Besides as an alliterative hook, why am I touting the letter "U"? Perhaps it's a subconscious remnant of working with my five-year-old on his ABCs (we just finished "T"). On a conscious level, it has to do with my travel itinerary—and with sharing a glimpse into the mind of an 18-year-old would-be engineer.

05/01/2004


Utah, University of Illinois, urbanism. Besides as an alliterative hook, why am I touting the letter "U"? Perhaps it's a subconscious remnant of working with my five-year-old on his ABCs (we just finished "T"). On a conscious level, it has to do with my travel itinerary—and with sharing a glimpse into the mind of an 18-year-old would-be engineer. As you may recall, last issue we debuted the Campus Report, a series we hope will provide readers with a window into the minds of what today's engineering students are looking for in an M/E/P engineering career. OK, what's the Utah connection? Like me, many of you will be travelling to and from the Beehive State this month for NFPA's annual conference and expo in Salt Lake City. Not surprisingly, fire and life safety are heavily featured in this issue, which focuses on large, open assembly spaces, one of those mentioned being the new conference center of the Mormon Church in Salt Lake.

Speaking of Mormons, Utah and Illinois, my state of residence, share a rather infamous bond. Some 160 years ago, the founder of the Mormon movement, Joseph Smith, was murdered in a western Illinois community, and his followers were summarily expelled from the Land of Lincoln, thus beginning their exodus to Utah. The state of Illinois, just last month, finally officially apologized. The people of Utah, fortunately, are forgiving, and in fact, have embraced a pair of Illinois transplants—my wife's brother and his spouse, two University of Illinois graduates (physics/architecture) who now instruct the Utes, er, youths, of the state.

On the subject of the U of I, my eldest son and I just returned from a campus visit to Urbana-Champaign. My son wishes to study civil engineering, so I suggested he visit the school, which has one of the top programs in the country. Like many teens, my son believes he knows everything and vehemently objected to having to visit such a "congested" school that you had to be a "genius" to get into—at least the college of engineering. Invoking my pocket veto, I insisted we go—and no, I'm not an alum. Not to crow, but he liked the place despite his preconceived notions. This, I feel, is important to note, because just the previous week we visited U of I's sister campus on Chicago's West Side before visiting the offices of a fire-protection firm who was hosting an open house to show off its new digs in a rehabbed cold-storage facility. On the way into the city I was subjected to more of his provincial opinions (we live in the suburbs), including his thoughts about large urban areas: "Anyone who lives in a city is stupid." 'Nuff said. Of course, after our brief visit, he admitted the city was "kind of cool." Shockingly, he also thanked me for taking him to see the firm's office, where he particularly enjoyed a demo on fire modeling. Ah, youth. Anyway, to make a long story short, if my son is any indicator of the average potential engineering student, I advise firms to get to kids while they're still in high school. Invite them to "cool" demos and perhaps even an off-campus elective course involving real engineering up close and personal, because frankly, most kids don't have a clue about engineering and are more than a little scared of the profession.





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