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Pioneers of Progress

From The Shoulders of Giants
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Written by: Eyad Alrabbat
Published on: February 20, 2020

TSoG Quote.jpg

Every year, more than 120 combined engineering societies and corporate agencies observe National Engineers Week, yet many people have never heard of it. It began in 1951 by the National Society of Professional Engineers in order to celebrate the contributions of engineers and emphasize the importance of science, math, and engineering. Oddly enough, it’s observed during the same week as President George Washington’s birthday. Due to his work as a professional land surveyor, he is regarded as the nation’s first engineer.

This year’s theme is Pioneers of Progress. A pioneer is generally regarded as the first to discover or apply a new area of knowledge, but anyone can be a pioneer of progress. Think of all the things you’ve done to progress to where you are now. You’ve had to problem solve and make tough decisions and learned new things along the way. You’ve pioneered progress in your life many times and will continue to do so. Here at TSoG, we are pioneers of progress. We are improving access to STEM education by providing an invaluable curriculum to all who seek it, with no financial barriers whatsoever.

Although any of us can be pioneers, there’s much to learn from those who have dedicated their lives to science, math, and engineering. A lot has changed since the time Aristotle laid down the foundations of knowledge in 300 BCE. Sir Isaac Newton discovered calculus and the universal law of gravity. Benjamin Franklin discovered electricity. Thomas Edison created the light bulb. Robert Goddard created rockets that ultimately led to us landing on the moon. We’re still going. Elon Musk has his eyes set to Mars. So much has changed, it’s hard for someone born in the 21st century to appreciate all that’s come before them. If they take a moment to look back, however, and learn about the challenges these pioneers overcame, they’ll be better equipped to tackle their own.

TSoG Alumnus Grace Zhang touching up the quote on the wall in our studio's lobby. We have a lot of love for this quote around here.

You don’t need to have a science or math degree to understand their work, because there’s more to them than just their work. Sir Isaac Newton is a prominent example. He was a humble man, who submitted his ideas with humility. However, where Newton was the protagonist, Robert Hooke was the antagonist. He bashed on Newton’s ideas and Newton disdained his ego. Hooke yearned to be one of the giants and was aggravated by Newton’s intelligence and the ideas he proposed. In fact, it was due to Hooke and his fellow critics that Newton withdrew from public debate. During one quarrel, Hooke claimed to have discovered diffraction. Newton was intrigued but recalled that he had seen diffraction experiments prior to Hooke’s work. Out of respect for the true founders of diffraction, Newton urged the Royal Society to dismiss Hooke’s findings. To quell Hooke’s furious response, Newton sent him a private letter stating in it that Hooke’s work was indeed a contribution that progressed the original findings of Descartes. His concluding statement “If I have seen further it is by standing on the shoulders of giants” is what The Shoulders of Giants was founded upon.

There’s a lot of takeaways from Newton’s life, but one of the most essential ones is to appreciate and respect the work of those who came before you. He understood how progress works. It’s not one person making all the contributions, but a combined effort evolving over time. When we look to make an impact in our community and lead change in a field, let’s look back to the works of those who came before us and take lessons from it. Only then can we stand taller and move forward. Stay humble, stay passionate, and above all, continue being a pioneer of progress.

TSoG is a non-profit 501(c)(3) organization that runs on the kind donations of our sponsors and the community. Visit our donation page to learn how you can become a pioneer of progress.