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Presidents Message - December 2011

By Mike Dugger

You're a tribo...what?

A new STLE partnership aims to make tribology a household word with a key audience—high school students looking for careers.  

Most people in our profession have stories about the responses they get when meeting people outside of our field and discussing what we do for a living. “A tribologist? Are you a social anthropologist or studying three of something?” The phrase “lubrication engineer” frequently elicits quizzical looks as well.

However, a joint project with ASM International, a society for materials science and engineering professionals, has the potential to change all of that.

Technical associations exist to facilitate interactions among their members and for the advancement of science and engineering related to their areas of expertise. Education is an important part of that mission, and associations have a responsibility to contribute to major national and international priorities.
One major issue facing communities everywhere is the lack of students pursuing careers in science and engineering. This problem is particularly acute in the United States, where the percentage of college students pursuing degrees in science and engineering is decreasing.1

Science and engineering professionals are the engine of innovation and critical to the economic success of any nation. A decrease in students pursuing careers in science and engineering eventually leads to reduced economic competitiveness. Many initiatives have begun in the last 10 years with the goal of improving education in science, technology, engineering and mathematics, or STEM education.

The leaders of STLE and ASM International are discussing areas where a partnership between our organizations could bring increased benefits to our members. These discussions recently identified an opportunity for STLE to participate in the STEM education of high school students. The basic premise is that students become more interested in science and engineering if the material is taught with hands-on demonstrations rather than abstract methods.

ASM has developed a Materials Camp program to create hands-on methods for students to learn. Teacher camps are used to provide educational materials and demonstrate equipment to high school teachers, who then take the materials back to their schools and reach about 100 students each year. The teacher camps take place during the summer and are sponsored so that teachers only need to travel to the camp location—all other costs for housing and participation are covered.

The ASM Materials Camps represent an existing infrastructure for delivery of educational materials, and they have invited STLE to participate. Our goal is to have a module on tribology and lubrication for delivery at the summer 2013 teacher camps. This would consist of training on basic concepts in tribology and lubrication engineering and a “tribology kit” that would enable teachers to demonstrate important principles back at their high schools. In addition to helping young people get more excited about careers in science and engineering, an added benefit for STLE would be that hundreds of high school students each year would begin to understand how important the profession is for efficient transportation, equipment maintenance, power generation, food production and even the joints in our bodies.

STLE Treasurer Maureen Hunter of King Industries is chairing a committee to develop STLE’s content for the ASM Materials Camps. She will be joined by former President David Scheetz of ExxonMobil Lubricants & Specialties, and the chair of our Early Career Tribologists Committee, David Burris from the University of Delaware.

Maureen and I welcome your thoughts on what types of information our tribology module should contain.

1National Academy of Sciences, “Rising Above the Gathering Storm: Energizing and Employing America for a Brighter Economic Future,” National Academies Press, 2007. Available at http://www.nap.edu/catalog.php?record_id=11463.


Mike Dugger is a Distinguished Member of the Technical Staff with Sandia National Laboratories in Albuquerque, N.M. You can reach him at mtdugge@sandia.gov

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