Inspiring Engineers: Your Professional Role Models Revealed

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Who is your engineering role model? We asked fans of ASME’s Facebook page to weigh in on the engineers who’ve inspired them most.

The top vote-getter was Nikola Tesla, a mechanical and electrical engineer probably best known for his work on the modern alternating current system of electricity. One commenter called him “the selfless father of modern engineering.” Tesla amassed almost 300 patents worldwide and developed a steam-powered oscillator, a bladeless turbine, and radio remote control. Today, Tesla’s legacy lives on. There are commemorative holidays for Tesla in Serbia, Croatia, and Canada, and even the corner of 6th Avenue and 40th Street in New York City is named for him!

Tesla’s name is also used by the engineer who came in second in our Facebook poll, Elon Musk. Musk is the CEO of Tesla Inc., manufacturers of electric vehicles and clean energy products. His other projects include private spaceflight pioneer SpaceX and the Hyperloop transportation system.
According to your replies, other well-regarded engineers include:
  • Thomas Edison, who developed the phonograph, the movie camera, and the lightbulb, and who held nearly 1,100 patents
  • Wernher von Braun, credited with building the Saturn V rocket, which was used to launch NASA’s Apollo missions and Skylab, the United States’ first space station
  • Henry Ford, founder of the Ford Motor Company who in 1913 established the assembly-line mode of production
Some ASME fans cited specific reasons to look up to the engineers they chose as role models.
  • The team of engineers who saved the Apollo 13 crew. They inspired me to be an engineer.”
  • “Astronaut Mike Massimino twice repaired the Hubble Space Telescope.”
  • Chung Ju-yung, the founder of Hyundai. Started with nothing and built up one of the largest multinational conglomerates in the world.”
  • Allan McDonald…who wasn’t afraid to speak up against the launch of the Challenger Space Shuttle, citing possible O-ring failure.”
A few people are lucky enough to know their professional role models personally, naming family members, coworkers, and professors as their engineering idols. And a couple of commenters need only look in the mirror to find their engineering inspiration. “I am my own role model,” said one person.

One engineer who got several votes isn’t even a real person! Facebook commenters said they take inspiration from the comic book and movie adventures of Tony Stark, also known as Iron Man. As Stark said in Iron Man 3, “You know, it’s moments like these when I realize what a superhero I am.”

Studies have shown that having a role model isn’t just for your own benefit—your role model affects how others perceive you, too. Having a role model helps you learn what success looks like, bolsters your professional reputation, and teaches you how to be the best engineer you can be. One day, it might even help you become someone else’s engineering role model.

Wendy Felton is manager, social media, at ASME.