MECHANICAL ENGINEERING | NOVEMBER2014 | P.20 TECH BUZZ || ONE-ON-ONE BY JEAN THILMANY
ME: Can you talk about your move from engineering
M.H: That was interesting because it wasn’t intentional.
But I was always sort of fascinated by the nexus of sci-
ence, technology, and policy, and it was pretty evident
when I was still in school that scientists and engineers
don’t always engage in policy debates at the level that
I would like to see for the importance of those fields. I
got more involved in politics over time and decided to
run for Albuquerque City Council in 2003.
When I was in House of Representatives I was on
the Strategic Forces Subcommittee, a subcommittee
of the House Armed Services Committee that deals
with nuclear deterrence and space-based issues,
from satellites to space debris. I was representing
two national labs in New Mexico (Los Alamos and
Sandia). It was a great fit for me because I go back to
colleagues in the House and explain things like the
budget ramifications of certain cuts.
ME: Does being the only engineer in the Senate come
up in your senatorial or wider political dealings?
M.H: I’m always surprised by who brings it up. There
aren’t a lot of engineers in elected office, so it’s fairly
unique. I wish there were more of us. I’d love to have
an engineering caucus in the Senate.
ME: Why do you think there aren’t many
engineers in elected office?
M.H: Politics is a world that doesn’t necessarily work
based on data and deliverables. What I try to bring
to it is an understanding and tolerance of the politics
that allows me to focus on policy and science. That’s
important but there’s no question that that turns a lot
of scientists off and I can certainly understand that
perspective. But I feel it’s also really important to have
a scientific perspective in all those conversations.
I was having a conversation recently with the faculty
at the University of Missouri College of Engineer-
ing about the need for communication to become
part of the engineering curriculum. We do a good job
educating engineers to be engineers but many of the
projects I’ve worked on over the years succeeded or
failed not on merits of the projects themselves but on
how well they’re communicated to the public.
For instance, take the San Juan-Chama Project in
New Mexico and Colorado. I used to be the chair of the
Albuquerque Bernalillo County Water Utility Authority.
That project took years to do, but because the public
embraced it and we had an active communication pro-
cess, that project’s working today. It moves water under
mountains. There have been similar water projects not
embraced by the public.
ME: What do you find rewarding about your work?
M.H: I get to meet young people who just blow your
socks off. I meet kids from all around my state and the
country who care about science and are clearly going
SEN. MARTIN HEINRICH, DEMOCRAT OF NEW MEXICO,
is the only engineer in the U.S. Senate. Prior to being
elected to the Senate in 2012, Heinrich served two terms
in the U.S. House of Representatives and four years as
on the Albuquerque City Council. After earning a bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering at the University of Missouri (where he delivered the commencement
address to the College of Engineering last May), Heinrich
began his career at Phillips Laboratories in Albuquerque
as a contractor working on directed energy issues. He
also founded a small public affairs consulting firm. He
lives with his wife and two children in Albuquerque.
to be incredible leaders for our country. When you’re around young people
with so much talent, intelligent, optimism, and drive it makes you optimis-
tic, even in challenging times.
ME: What political issues should mechanical engineers be involved in
or pay attention to?
M.H: They should be engaged in transit legislation and investment in infra-
structure, particularly transportation and mass transit. Also STEM legisla-
tion because that’s the pipeline for the future of engineering in the country.
They should also be engaged on issues like immigration reform because
we see the best and brightest university graduates leaving. All that intel-
lectual capital students received at our land grant universities and take
elsewhere, out of country, we could be putting to use at home. ME