As college graduates have walked across stages this month to receive their degrees, many displayed honor cords that symbolized their achievements in various disciplines. Thanks to alumna Jenny Painter '22, engineering graduates who have passed the Fundamentals of Engineering (FE) exam are also wore honor cords.
Due to Painter’s efforts to recognize this important achievement, the National Council of Examiners for Engineering and Surveying (NCEES), a nonprofit organization dedicated to advancing professional licensure for engineers and surveyors, recently started distributing FE honor cords nationwide.
Painter was preparing for her own graduation last spring and had just passed her hardest test to date. “Everyone was taking graduation photos, getting their honor cords, and it was a really exciting time,” she says. “I had just passed the FE exam, probably my biggest accomplishment, and I thought it would be great if we could show that off.”
Painter approached Juan Caicedo, civil and environmental engineering department chair, and asked how the college could recognize passing the exam. As a temporary measure, he obtained simple black cords for the spring 2022 commencement. According to Caicedo, recognizing FE licensure underscores the value of engineers and the high professional standards to which they are held.
“Professional licensure is crucial for engineers, given the significant impact they have on society,” he says. “Engineers design, build and maintain the essential systems that enable our society to function, such as transportation infrastructure, aqueducts, dams and levees. It is therefore imperative that we maintain high standards for professionals.”
Caicedo also shared Painter’s proposal with Jimmy Chao, president of Chao and Associates in Columbia and civil engineering adjunct professor. Chao presented the idea to the South Carolina Board of Professional Engineers and Surveyors and thereafter the NCEES southern zone meeting, where it received overwhelming support. The NCEES developed and produced red and silver cords representing FE licensure and distributed them to all participating universities this spring.
“Jenny has done a wonderful job with this. Her idea resulted in a national movement that originated in our state,” Chao says. “It’s important that we recognize student achievement and also use this as an opportunity to encourage other engineering students to follow suit and pursue FE licensure.”
After only one year since Painter’s original request, 69 universities across the country use NCEES honor cords. The faculty’s support of her idea is a testament to the cohesive environment fostered by the CEC. “This initiative highlights the importance of creating an environment where students feel comfortable reaching out to faculty and department leadership,” Caicedo says. “It also reminds me about the importance of having a close connection with alumni and industry. The department is committed to listening to and addressing the concerns and ideas of each student.”
In recognition of her efforts, Painter will be recognized at the May 23 meeting of the South Carolina Board of Professional Engineers and Surveyors. “I never thought this would become a national initiative,” she says. “It will be fun to see future graduates wearing the cords, and it was nice that my idea was important to the faculty and that they helped bring it to life.”
Painter joined Thomas & Hutton in March as a civil designer, where she prepares site development construction drawings, engineering designs, and permit applications for commercial and industrial projects across South Carolina. She is a certified engineer-in-training and an active member of the University of South Carolina Alumni Association.