Sometimes the rules (need to) change

December 2006 » Columns » PERSPECTIVE
Recently, looking through some old files that I probably should have thrown away long ago, I found some correspondence concerning the beginning of my engineering career.
Alfred R. Pagan, P.E., P.L.S.

Recently, looking through some old files that I probably should have thrown away long ago, I found some correspondence concerning the beginning of my engineering career. An exchange of letters between me and the secretary/director of the New Jersey State Licensing Board of Engineers and Land Surveyors documented my efforts to obtain permission to take the last part of the professional engineer licensing test. At that time, I was only certified as an Engineer-In-Training. Successfully passing part three of the test would have ushered me legally into the professional engineering fraternity.

On July 25, 1958, I wrote to the secretary/director after my application to take part three of the licensing test was denied, presumably because of insufficient experience. "I would like to know whether it would avail me to apply again for the December 1958 test," I wrote. "By then I will have, I feel certain, four years of experience or the equivalent."

My experience at that time included a bachelor's degree in civil engineering from Rutgers University (1951); a master's degree in civil engineering from Stanford University (1955); three and a half months as an office engineer at the San Jose Water Works, San Jose, Calif.; two years as a hydraulic engineer with the U.S. Weather Bureau in Washington, D.C.; eight months as a drainage engineer for Boswell Engineering Company; and six months as a hydraulic engineer for Bergen County, N.J.

My plea to the secretary/director continued: "As you can see, my total experience is three years, five and one-half months. [Talk about splitting hairs!] I believe that my master's degree from Stanford University is equivalent to one year of professional experience, which would bring my total experience to [at least] four years. The above summary does not include two months of surveying experience after graduation from Rutgers University, four months as an engineer for Lin-Hill Construction Co., and 33 months in the U.S. Army, where a considerable amount of my time was spent in engineering duties."

I received a prompt reply, although it was not the response for which I had hoped. The secretary/director wrote, in part, "The law does not provide that a master's degree is to be considered as equivalent to one year of professional experience, nor that land surveying may be considered to be professional engineering time."

So I waited, picking up additional days of what I knew to be acceptable professional engineering experience. I finally was permitted to take the final part of the licensing procedure in July 1959, and I passed. Since then I have had a long and satisfying career, serving in both the public and private sectors.

Today in New Jersey, the rules have changed, and a master's degree is the equivalent of one year of engineering experience. But this raises the question: Are there any states which, at this time, still do not permit a master's degree in engineering to be equivalent to one year of engineering practice? (See "Council votes to increase amount of education required for engineering licensure," on page xx.)

Additionally, does any state allow more than one year of experience for more advanced degrees? For example, Stanford University awarded the degree of "Engineer" for two years of graduate study. Also, most, if not all, universities that grant Ph.D.s in engineering require three years of advanced study beyond a baccalaureate degree.

I am aware that many professors with doctorates in civil engineering do not bother to become licensed as professional engineers in the state in which they teach. I believe this diminishes the profession. For example, if college professors could become licensed more easily, more of them might get licenses, and thus enhance our profession with membership in state professional societies.

Times change, standards change, and what is considered to be important also changes. In my opinion, such changes are mostly for the better. A greater acceptance of the equivalency of advanced study to time spent in the profession of engineering is one of those changes.

Alfred R. Pagan, P.E., P.L.S., is a consulting engineer in Hackensack, N.J. He can be reached at 1-201-441-9719; or e-mail him at pagan@cenews.com.


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