have fallen back on old educational metaphors. To a certain extent, both students and faculty are burdened by the tyranny of the assumption that “courses” are the primary (and in many cases almost the sole) mechanisms for student intellectual development.
As we move forward, we must boldly reformulate engineering education. To put it bluntly, by sticking to existing models, we are losing the battle for the imaginations of young people. Many of the best, most creative, most idealistic, and most energetic young people do not see a future for themselves in engineering that engages their passions. Instead, many see engineering education as a formulaic, boring, individualistic endeavor driven largely by the acquisition of highly atomized, esoteric technical skills. The connection in students’ minds between engineering and the issues they care about is obscure. Even those who recognize engineering as a venue for solving major problems facing humanity often become discouraged in the early years by the seemingly endless drudgery of courses that appear to be largely disconnected, not only from their interests, but also from the broader picture of what engineering could be, and should be, about.
Besides losing the battle for the imaginations of young people, we are not addressing the rapidly changing nature of professional practice. Considering the rapid pace of change and the internationalization of technical labor, there simply will not be jobs for our students unless we begin to think more creatively about the kinds of skills and personal development they will need to be competitive.
I am arguing for a dramatic, fundamental transformation of the educational process. Instead of an education based on courses, we should focus on participation in multidisciplinary, multisectoral, multicultural, even multinational teams addressing the grand challenges facing our world. Let engineering capture the intellectual high ground of transforming higher education across disciplines by challenging the fundamental structure of undergraduate education. In this reformulation, the heart of the curriculum is participation—in interdisciplinary teams and in substantive research projects. This new approach might be called a “grand challenges curriculum.”
Examples of grand challenges could include: the development of effective, low-cost wastewater treatment technologies to make clean water accessible to more people around the world; new health care diagnostic technologies; the transformation of decaying urban infrastructures; and so on. Because the lines between science and technology are