UNO Engineers Celebrate "Cap Day"
The courtyard outside the University of New Orleans' College of Engineering crackled with excitement Thursday as graduating engineering seniors gathered to participate in several traditions unique to their craft.
"Every semester now we have Cap Day," said Dean of the College of Engineering Norm Whitley. "And then...we have the Order of the Engineer ceremony."
Fifty-eight undergraduates majoring in engineering will receive their UNO diplomas this month at Lakefront Arena, Whitley said. Following tradition, they came to the courtyard at lunchtime to receive a railroad engineer's cap symbolizing their new profession.
The informal handing out of caps preceded a formal indoctrination into the Order of the Engineer, where students pledged an oath written by freemason and prize-winning poet Rudyard Kipling and received a special ring signifying their membership in a lifelong society.
"It is a meaningful and serious thing that we ask of you today but we believe it will make a difference in your future," Whitley told the graduating seniors as they took their oaths and received their rings.
The founding dean of the UNO College of Engineering — a native of Germany named Fritz Dohse — started the engineering school's tradition of wearing railroad caps at commencement, Whitley said. Dohse based what is now a longstanding UNO tradition on a bonafide rite of passage known among engineers in Canada as "The Calling."
The Ritual of the Calling of an Engineer is a secret ritual in which students about to graduate from an engineering program at a university in Canada, Canadian professional engineers and registered engineers-in-training are allowed to participate.
According to that tradition, a presiding group called The Corporation of the Seven Wardens, Inc. leads a ceremony in which participants pledge the "Obligation of Canadian Engineers" and receive the profession's traditional Iron Ring. Canadian engineers may wear the wrought-iron ring throughout their lifetimes to signify their belonging to the engineering profession and to show they have pledged an oath of ethics in engineering.
The Canadian tradition dates to 1922 when seven past presidents of the Engineering Institute of Canada decided they needed a tradition to surround the ethical obligation pledge penned by Kipling, according to Institute history. The swearing-in ceremony was designed to give new engineers heightened consciousness of their profession and its social significance, as well as to demonstrate to more experienced engineers their responsibilities in welcoming and supporting newer engineers entering the profession.
Changing of the Caps
On Thursday, UNO graduating seniors majoring in engineering received blue-and-white-striped railroad engineer caps that they will bring to commencement, where the traditional changing of caps will take place, Whitley said. The UNO engineers will at a certain point during the commencement ceremony after receiving their diplomas collectively remove their traditional mortar-board graduation caps and replace them with the working man's caps. The caps are worn as both a point of pride and a humble reference to the creative and genius work that U.S. engineers have performed for centuries.
Each semester at UNO, the College of Engineering distributes the railroad caps at an informal outside ceremony designed to bring engineering students and administrators together in a festive environment where they can share undergraduate experiences and celebrate their hard work and success, said Kim Jovanovich, assistant dean.
The changing of the caps has been a UNO engineering tradition for more than 40 years, said UNO alumnus Pierre Champagne, who received his own railroad engineer's cap from UNO in 1976 and helped preside over yesterday's Order of the Engineer indoctrination ceremony.
Order of the Engineer
Following a hamburger lunch, graduating seniors proceeded into the Engineering auditorium, where they were formally inducted into the Order of the Engineer, self-described as the formal roster of engineers in the United States who have participated in an Engineer's Ring Ceremony and publicly accepted the "Obligation of an Engineer."
Link 118 of the Order of the Engineer was chartered at UNO in 1991, said Engineering Professor Norma Jean Mattei. The UNO chapter is the first established in Louisiana and served as a model for the chapter later established at Louisiana State University School of Engineering in Baton Rouge.
"The purpose of the Order of the Engineer is to call attention to the obligation of the all engineers to use their technical education ethically in shaping the world around them," said Whitley, who has taught engineering at UNO for more than 30 years. "Ethical practice of engineering occasionally requires great courage and always requires that we maintain the highest standards of personal integrity."
The swearing-in ceremony encourages engineers to "recall that the professional purpose of engineering involves the pursuit of a learned art in the spirit of public service," said Whitley, before leading students through the formal Oath of the Engineer.
"The intent is to bind engineers to one another," said Mattei.
One-by-one, engineering students signed their names into membership in the Order, accepted formal certificates and received shiny stainless-steel rings. The rings, modeled after the Canadian engineers' Iron Ring, symbolizes the pride which engineers have in their profession, while simultaneously reminding them of their duty of responsibility to the public, Whitley said. The ring is worn on the small finger of the working hand.
Acceptance of the ring and indoctrination into the Order of the Engineer "means more than the right to practice a learned profession or to enjoy a reasonably affluent life," UNO Engineering Professor Bhaskar Kura told students. "Wherever our profession leads, whether it is creating a cleaner environment, designing a better bridge, devising a more useful product or developing a safer community, there our talents should be applied."
The certificate students received is both their creed and their pact with the profession, he said.
"Read it thoughtfully. Display it publicly. In times of anxiety, look upon your ring and take courage," he said. "In times of honor, regard it with humility. Wear it proudly and with distinction. May long life and success attend your efforts."