Embracing the Future
By Dan Dumbacher|April 2019
Recent experience with the International Space Station partners, the European Service Module for Orion, and global aspects of the Boeing 787 Dreamliner illustrate that the trend lines of aerospace tilt toward international cooperation. What does the aerospace profession need to be successful in the future as global interaction intensifies and challenges become increasingly complex? Air travel is reaching new parts of the globe with increased speed and humans are going further into space—for longer duration missions—with moon settlements and eventually to Mars. We must develop and implement the tools, policies, and approaches that enable everyone to participate. Only with diverse perspectives at the table will we, the aerospace community, succeed and thrive.
Over time, it has been proven that a variety of perspectives, backgrounds, and experiences applied to complex problems offers improved technical and more socially forward-thinking solutions. Groups such as Engineers Without Borders working in developing countries have found similar results. We know that if product operators are brought into the initial planning, design, and development, products improve. Automakers are focused on the user experience. It shapes their software and ergonomic design—down to the cup holders and interaction with the vehicle’s electronic systems. Our phones and communication devices are all designed and developed by a team of engineers, psychologists, artists, and other skilled professionals. The Boeing 787 took full advantage of technology advances in composite structures to improve the passenger experience with higher in-cabin pressure levels and improved lighting. Boeing used psychologists along with the engineers to create an “airplane for the people.” This is all done to make the product appeal to a broader market—and it often leads to lower costs and increased efficiency as well.
To embrace the future, the engineering workforce must also become more cognizant of the anticipated demographics of the U.S. population. Using U.S. Census data from 2017, the National Action Council on Minorities in Engineering has reported that by 2050 the general U.S. population will be over 51 percent non-white. This same report states that presently less than 34 percent of engineering degrees are awarded to non-white students.
With our local sections, regions, and student branches, AIAA is in a unique position to champion increased diversity and inclusion and make the case for why it is so important. We can partner with schools and education professionals to develop and implement STEAM activities at the local level. Our members can proactively visit local elementary, middle, and high schools. AIAA members can engage with schools in underserved communities and establish mentoring programs to assist minorities through the middle school STEM gap and increase their long-term interest and passion in these areas. We need to show underserved and underrepresented students that they are needed in aeronautics and astronautics. We must help them see themselves in these careers! We can unite with the National Society of Black Engineers, Society of Women Engineers, National Society of Hispanic Engineers, Women in Aerospace, and many other worthwhile organizations to convince the next generation that everyone has a place in aerospace.
Our mission is simple: “AIAA exists to help aerospace professionals and their organizations succeed,” but achieving it will take all of us working together. I ask each AIAA section, student branch, and member to join with all of AIAA leadership in being intentional in our actions and to include those who are not typically considered. With these purposeful and deliberate actions we can become more welcoming to a broader community, develop and expand our community, strengthen our existing community, and enhance the industry’s ability to address complex challenges. All this will help us deliver exceptional results in our industry with the products and programs we design, build, test, and fly. Let’s keep “Shaping the Future of Aerospace” and building the needed broader community. ★
We need to show underserved and underrepresented students that they are needed in aeronautics and astronautics. We must help them see themselves in these careers!Dan Dumbacher