Convocation speaker urges grads to step up to leadership roles

At the summer convocation services for the Ira A. Fulton College of Engineering and Technology, Dr. Richard Balling, a professor of civil and environmental engineering at BYU spoke to the graduating class of engineers and technologists.

Balling began by sharing a Neil Armstrong quote that read “I am and ever will be a white sock, pocket protector, nerdy engineer.” Balling agreed that he is and ever will be an engineer.

He continued by asking what people think of engineers and technologist. Hollywood writers make jokes about engineers because they do not understand the fundamental difference between science and engineering. He quoted Armstrong again saying, “Science is about what is. Engineering is about what can be.”

He explained that engineers need to be creative because design, which is the hallmark of engineering, is a creative process.

“Engineers design solutions for man’s basic needs for shelter, water, energy, transportation and information,” he said.

While the 20th century was the century of engineering, according to Balling, the 21st century brings about 14 grand challenges of engineering for the graduates to face. A few challenges he listed were making solar energy affordable, engineering better medicines and advanced health informatics, and securing cyberspace. When facing these challenges, Balling encouraged the graduates to think outside the box.

He spoke about the challenge of restoring and improving urban infrastructure, a challenge that he has heavily researched improvements for, and gave graduates some of his ideas on how to make the problem better.

He then encouraged graduates to step up and take leadership roles in business and technology.

“The economic success of this country depends heavily on engineering innovation, and the protection of this country from man-made terror and natural disasters depends on engineering solutions,” he said. “Are you ready and willing?”

His father, a city engineer for Bountiful, Utah for three decades, saw firsthand how much the world needs engineers when the mountains got a heat wave after a cold and long winter. Balling told how the three small streams became rivers of water, mud, and debris, sweeping roads and houses away. His father had to step up in this situation and design a solution for the issue, which he did. He took the role of a leader and Balling urged graduates to do the same in their lives.

Balling admitted he did not have any secrets of success to share, but said “I do know that our Heavenly Father has carefully engineered this planet we live on to provide us with a personalized learning experience.”

He encouraged the graduates to learn love because that is what they are here on earth for.

“We learn love as we help others solve problems. Our profession is a people serving, problem solving profession and you will find satisfaction as you help people without fanfare,” he said.

He ended by telling the audience to remember that the love of God is most desirable above all things.

“If you will remember that this is why you are here, you will be the best engineers and technologists you can be.”

Richard Balling received his PhD from University of California Berkeley in 1982. After that he came to BYU and has been a professor of civil and environmental engineering for 34 years. His area of research focuses on structural and multidisciplinary optimization. He has published 117 peer reviewed manuscripts, which have received more than 2,000 citations, and authored 10 course textbooks. He has received $2.3 million in external research funding, including 20 years of continuous funding from the National Science Foundation. His most recent publication, “A Car-Free Polycentric Urban Paradigm with Multi-Level Skybridges and ETFE Atria” can be found in the July 2016 issue of the Journal of the Council on Tall Buildings and Urban Habitat. For nine years he has served as director of the China Mega-Infrastructure Study Abroad Program. Currently, he is writing a book titled “Megastructures: Icons of Civilizations.”

Balling's full remarks at the convocation can be heard here.

Convocation Details

The engineering and technology convocation ceremonies were August 12, 2016 in the Smith Fieldhouse at 11 a.m.

The student speaker was Charles Paul Curtis Jr., a mechanical engineering student. Curtis' full remarks are available here. Mary Hoskins performed a vocal solo of “Weepin’ Mary,” by David Fletcher, and was accompanied by Kymberly LaNieve Stone.

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