Not Everyone is Good at Math (and why that matters)

According to Bruce Grewcock, CEO of Kiewit Corporation, engineers, scientists, mathematicians, and other professionals often have to communicate with politicians, regulators, media representatives, and members of the general public. Many of these people do not enjoy math or any of the other specialties in which engineers are trained.

Grewcock lauded Mines for producing “great technically-based people…with a heavy emphasis on the math and the sciences,” but warns students that “what you’re going to encounter in the real world is some people that actually don’t like math. …You’re going to encounter a whole bunch of people that are going to have a tremendous impact and influence on projects you are working on and business and the industry and whatever you get involved in, they’re going to have a tremendous influence on you…I will guarantee you will come across…people, some of whom might have a technical background, but odds are most of them won’t. They don’t get it. Even the well-intentioned ones.”

Grewcock said that to successfully interact with the necessary and helpful non-technical people, students and professionals must learn certain skills that are rarely taught in school. He claims that engineers need to learn to broaden their interests and perspectives, develop communication skills, and ask people’s opinions. Grewcock conveyed that he believes that these skills, in conjunction with a good sense of ethics, can help engineers both on a personal and industry-wide level.

Grewcock emphasized the need for technically-based professionals to create and maintain good communication skills, pointing out that everyone in this industry knows what it is like to be treated to “death by Powerpoint.” He said that students need to focus on learning how to communicate in their writings, through spoken word and presentations, and by simplifying concepts enough for those with different levels of training or education to understand the essentials of any idea.

Additionally, Grewcock stated that students should take care to learn how to listen to other people. He claimed that listening to people and asking their opinions is a very important part of the job and that the question “What do you think?” can be a professional’s most powerful tool.

In order to be able to really listen to other people well and understand their ways of thinking, Grewcock said that engineers and others in the industry need to broaden their perspectives through “intellectual curiosity,” which largely involves asking questions whenever possible or necessary.

Grewcock advised his audience to be well-read, not just in terms of technical journals, but books, magazines, other journals, and other, possibly unconventional, sources of culture, news, and education. He claimed that working to develop and maintain these skills will help professionals with their people skills and in creating relationships, which everyone needs. Relationships are powerful, Grewcock said, so he advised students and professionals alike to develop a tolerance for difference.

He said that students need to stay in contact with people from school and work to create and maintain a network of contacts, as well as seek out mentors once they get into their industry. A mentor, Grewcock said, can be a safe person to vent to as well as somebody to talk a professional through problems and provide him or her with good, candid feedback.

Grewcock concluded by pointing out that students here “Are part of a very unique institution…everybody [in the professional world] knows Mines” and he said that developing the skills he had mentioned would help students and professionals to be more successful and happier in both their personal and private lives. He also advised anyone already in the industry to try this way of operating as it is “never too late to get started.”

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