The flexible professor

The "Professor," Timothy M. Scruby, answers a few questions about himself, the Engineering Profession, Engineering Education.


Who: Timothy M. Scruby, PE, LEED AP, BSME

What: Senior Project Manager, Facility Dynamics Engineering Timothy M. Scruby, PE, LEED AP, BSME

Where: Afton, Va. 

About: For the past 15 years, Tim has been responsible for the commissioning of mechanical, electrical, plumbing, and control systems for a wide variety of commercial, industrial, and institutional projects. His work also has included being an owner’s technical advocate, and remedial engineering design.

Q: When you first wanted to be something in life, what was it?

A. A farmer.

Q. What changed your path? Or what helped keep you on that path?

A. My father, who was a chemical engineer, made me realize that I could teach myself almost anything I was interested in, including farming, and that an engineering education would provide me with an education furthering those abilities, and a means of making a living. He was right.

Q. What is working well in the engineering profession?

A. Use of computers and information technology to better understand, design, build, and operate our world.

Q. What is not working well in the engineering profession?

A. Engineers are becoming too specialized. Too many engineering firms produce plans and specifications using a production line approach where the project manager is a person who coordinates the work of specialists and liaises with the customer, and no one on the design team really sees the whole picture of what is being designed. In addition, the designers often don't see and rarely have to operate or maintain what they have designed. One of my favorite authors, Robert Heinlein, summed it up well in Time Enough For Love (1973): “A human being should be able to change a diaper, plan an invasion, butcher a hog, conn a ship, design a building, write a sonnet, balance accounts, build a wall, set a bone, comfort the dying, take orders, give orders, cooperate, act alone, solve equations, analyze a new problem, pitch manure, program a computer, cook a tasty meal, fight efficiently, die gallantly. Specialization is for insects.” This applies to engineers too.

Q. What one thing is missing from engineering education?

A. The “hands-on” side. I firmly believe that I have a job because of the current disconnect among the trades required to construct a facility or system, those who must operate and maintain it, and those who design it. Engineers need experience, either in school or early in their chosen career or both, in building and operating what they design. My perception is that unless a student is in a work-study co-op program, this is often missed in our top engineering schools. Engineering educators have a tough job trying to fit in all of the fundamentals—computer, communication, and analytical skills—needed by today's engineering graduates; however, we need to realize that students will become better engineers if they have spent some time in the shoes of those who will build and use their designs.

Q. What one piece of advice would you give to someone considering a career in engineering?

A. I would have to say the same advice that my father gave me—regardless of discipline, engineering can provide you with a logical method of problem solving that is applicable to many things outside of technical fields, plus a lot of technical background and a means of making a living. You can teach yourself the rest if you're interested.

Q. If you were mentoring a younger colleague, would you recommend he or she get certified or accredited in something? What would you recommend?

A. For those working outside of industry and government, or desiring to ultimately consult (and who are eligible by education or experience), I believe that a professional engineering license is invaluable. For young engineers, and for those who have learned engineering by hard work and self-study in a technical environment, I think other certifications can be valuable. The downside of certifications is that we have so many available to us today. I value most those that are based on experience and knowledge, and least those that are obtained by taking a short course followed by a test. In some ways, too many certifications in the building industry water down the meaning of a professional engineering or architecture license, which is based on experience, knowledge, and a code of ethics.

Q. How would your coworkers or clients describe you?

A. I've probably been called a lot of things behind my back. I like “professor.”

Q. What life adventure is still on your list?

A. There is more than one; hiking in the Himalayas and Andes is high on the list.

Q. What one word best describes you?

A. Flexible.

Q. What makes you laugh?

A. Many things. Children and adults behaving like children. Funny movies. Jokes.

Q. What fascinates you?

A. Mechanisms, computers, electrical power distribution, control systems, music, astronomy, optics, psychrometrics, woodworking, thermodynamics, fishing, ballistics, religion, fluid mechanics, gardening, charcuterie, politics ... pretty much everything.

Q. Where is the best place you’ve ever been, and who were you with?

A. Anywhere outdoors with my wife and family.

Q. What do you want to learn more about?

A. Everything. When I stop learning, I'll be dead.

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