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Cultivating best practices and bright minds at CME

Professor of Practice, Dr. Christopher B. Burke, shares a few thoughts about civil engineering and his vision of the "Citizen Scientist"

Christopher Burke shares a laugh with CME Students. Always connected: Dr. Christopher B. Burke shares a laugh with students in CME during finals week.

With commencement taking place a few short days from now, the Department of Civil and Materials Engineering's very own Professor of Practice, Dr. Christopher B. Burke, will be speaking at commencement to UIC's brand new generation of civil engineers.

Burke had always intended to teach in Chicago, giving back to the city he was raised in, and mentoring civil engineers who had "real-world" perspectives that matched their technical abilities.

A few years after he started his own company, Christopher B. Burke Engineering, Ltd., a full-service engineering and surveying consulting firm, Burke also began teaching, initially at IIT. The demands of his company and the time necessary to teach were at odds, unfortunately, so Burke returned his focus to his firm. He wouldn't stay away from teaching for too long, however.

"I came to UIC because I was asked to serve on the advisory board by the late Dr. Bryant, who was a former colleague of mine. I started [teaching] because a faculty member teaching the water courses [in CME] gave very late notice of his departure—CME could not find a replacement in time. I was asked to fill in, and I said, 'Sure, but only for this one semester,'" he said.

That was 13 years ago, as of this summer's end.

"I've never left the university in 13 years mad—I just enjoy the interaction with the students. They're very diverse, intelligent, and they're always respectful—and they don't even fall asleep in my classes!"

As a professor at CME, Burke has taught a mixture of classes, both undergraduate and graduate, helping students understand the technical and intrinsic components of engineering in society, and encouraging them to become Citizen Engineers.

"The people graduating now are the ones that will sustain our profession in the future," Burke said, "and we want you to be there to take over the many organizations in our societies—not just by working in corporations, but by volunteering and getting involved as leaders in our society."

Although there is the stereotype of the engineer working in the background to build, repair, solve problems and generally produce stunning varieties of technical innovation, Burke feels that this same intellectual capital can be used to improve the community—especially by engineers early in their careers.

"Over the years I have started out my classes asking students questions like, 'Who is the Governor of Illinois?' No better than 20 percent know. It's worse if I ask about how state officials. There is a very strong representation by the legal and business communities in politics, but if you look at the leaders in the City of Chicago, the State of Illinois, and beyond—there are no engineers. This can't go on.."

As Dr. Christopher B. Burke prepares his commencement speech, he knows he cannot advise every student about how to carry out their futures, but he hopes each one will understand when he says, "Start your career path as a citizen AND a scientist. Get involved early in your career by joining organizations that allow you to use your intellect and passion for problem solving to make those changes in your community. You have energy, opportunity and time—use this time to get involved."

Topic revision: r3 - 2014-06-25 - 21:22:37 - Main.sbhat3
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