The New Generation Gap

Michael P. Duncan | TLT President's Report August 2019

We must continue educating young people about the role our products play in making the world a better place.

Whether you’re in industry or academia, encourage your younger employees or students to get involved in STLE. 

One of our strategic goals for the STLE board of directors is to communicate with the general population (people not familiar with tribology and lubrication engineers) in order to inform and advocate the merits of our organization for the betterment of society. With that in mind, I would like to share a conversation that my son and I had a few years ago. 

My son came home after a day at school during his freshman year of high school and said to me, “Dad, you’re a chemist, right?” I said, “Yes,” and he continued, “You make stuff that is bad for the environment?” I thought for just a second because I knew he was taking a course in school on the environment. I responded with, “My company wouldn’t stay in business if I didn’t consider the effect of our products on the environment. Yes, we produce chemicals, but we are a responsible producer. We minimize waste and follow all laws and regulations regarding air and water emissions and possess the necessary licenses and permits to operate. 

“Also, our products extend the life of cars, trucks, planes, trains and heavy machinery exponentially, thus reducing the need for additional energy. If we didn’t manufacture chemicals for this purpose, we would be irresponsible to the environment. We are always trying to find better ways to manufacture our current products. We also work with our customers to develop cleaner, greener and longer-lasting products.”

He looked at me and said, “Well, that is good then,” and walked away. 

Obviously we need to remember that learning happens everywhere, not just in the classroom. And, obviously, we need to be better advocates for our profession. 

My advice to you—connect with our younger generation in some fashion, and the earlier the better. Perhaps just talk with your children or grandchildren in the car on a family vacation or a young relative at a family get together. Consider getting involved in a local STEM activity in your community. Volunteer to be a science fair judge in your local town or city. Encourage a younger employee to become more active in an STLE local section. Our younger STLE members seem to be able to better understand and connect to the younger generation.

In addition, STLE Past President Maureen Hunter is heading up a poster contest for children as part of our year-long 75th Anniversary celebration that culminates at the 2020 Annual Meeting & Exhibition in Chicago. There are four age divisions ranging from four to 18, and you can learn more details, including how to enter, at Keep your eyes open for further information of this activity.

Have a great summer.

Mike Duncan is vice president of technology of Daubert Chemical Co. in Chicago. You can reach him at