Featured blog post by Robert O. Peruzzi, PhD, PE, R. Peruzzi Consulting, Inc.
Professional Engineers, and the National Society of Professional Engineers (NSPE)
The state of Wyoming, in 1907, was the first to enact an engineering licensure law. Now every one of the United States, through licensing, grants only Professional Engineers (PEs) the authority to offer their services to the public or to sign and seal engineering plans. There are exemptions for engineering licensure for employees in certain situations, but obtaining a PE license is a legal requirement to practice as an engineering consultant.
Several steps are required to become a licensed PE. First, one must earn an engineering degree from an accredited engineering program. Second, one must pass the Fundamentals of Engineering (FE) exam to earn the title “Engineer in Training” (EIT). (The best time for engineers to take the FE exam is during their senior year of undergraduate Engineering study. The second best time to take the FE exam is now.) Four years of progressive engineering experience are required before one may take the Principles and Practice of Engineering exam to earn the title “Professional Engineer” (PE) and obtain the PE license. Beyond obtaining a license, continuing education is a requirement in most states including Pennsylvania. See www.NSPE.org for further information on licensing.
Independent Practice as an Engineering Consultant
After more years of experience, and perhaps after a nudge by one’s employer, many engineers go into private practice. Depending on an engineer’s skills, experience and interests, opportunities are found in project management, project evaluation and planning, engineering design and engineering inspection and verification. Situations span the spectrum from contract engineer for hire to validation, inspection and sign-off on large complex projects. Providing an unbiased outsider’s opinion can catch errors and flaws that might have otherwise gone unnoticed, saving millions of dollars.
Forensic Engineering, and the National Academy of Forensic Engineers (NAFE)
Forensic engineering is defined by NAFE as the ‘application of the art and science of engineering in matters which are in, or may possibly relate to, the jurisprudence system, inclusive of alternative dispute resolution’. NAFE is a chartered affinity group of the National Society of Professional Engineers (NSPE). Its members and associate members must be licensed PEs and have experience in forensic engineering case preparation. Full members must have testified as an expert witness in at least two cases. NAFE has continuing education requirements which are similar to those of NSPE. NAFE membership enhances one’s credibility as an expert witness. See www.NAFE.org
Testimony by Expert Witnesses:
A witness who is qualified as an expert by knowledge, skill, experience, training, or education may testify in the form of an opinion or otherwise if:
(a) the expert’s scientific, technical, or other specialized knowledge will help the trier of fact to understand the evidence or to determine a fact in issue;
(b) the testimony is based on sufficient facts or data;
(c) the testimony is the product of reliable principles and methods; and
(d) the expert has reliably applied the principles and methods to the facts of the case.
In addition to engineering, expert witnesses practice in areas such as medical, business/financial, human resources, family/custody, insurance, police/penal, real estate and more. There is no defined requirement for declaring oneself an expert, however, the expert and his/her retaining attorney must convince the court of their expertise.
Engineers of any engineering discipline can and should enhance their career by obtaining their PE license, whether or not required by their present employer. Engineers well-established in their careers may see expert witness cases fall into their lap without any effort. To seriously pursue this path, search online for “Expert Witness Training”. A licensed PE with some expert witness experience may apply for NAFE membership to further establish their career as a Forensic Engineer and Expert Witness.