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Educating the Engineer of 2020: Adapting Engineering Education to the New Century
the changes with which engineering and engineering education will need to contend leading up to 2020 and beyond.
The engineer of 2020 will need to learn much new technical information and techniques and be conversant with and embrace a whole realm of new technologies, but some old problems are not going to go away. They will demand new attention and, perhaps, new technologies. In some cases, their continuing neglect will move them from problems to crises.
Although the United States has arguably had the best physical infrastructure in the developed world, the concern is that these infrastructures are in serious decline. Because it is of more recent vintage, the nation’s information and telecommunications infrastructure has not suffered nearly as much degradation, but vulnerabilities of the infrastructure (or infrastructures) due to accidental or intentional events are well recognized and a serious concern. Natural resource and environmental concerns will continue to frame our world’s challenges. For example, in 2020 the state of California will need the equivalent of 40 percent more electrical capacity, 40 percent more gasoline, and 20 percent more natural gas energy than was needed in the year 2000 (CABTH, 2001). Forty-eight countries containing a total of 2.8 billion people could face fresh-water shortages by 2025 (Hinrichsen et al., 1997). The populations of developed countries will “age” and engineering can be an agent for developing assistive technologies for aging citizens to help them maintain healthy, productive lifestyles well beyond conventional retirement age.
SOCIAL CONTEXT OF ENGINEERING PRACTICE
The future is uncertain. However, one thing is clear: Engineering will not operate in a vacuum separate from society in 2020, any more than it does now. Both on a macroscale, where the world’s natural resources will be stressed by population increases, and on a microscale, where engineers need to understand how to work in teams to be effective, consideration of social issues is important to engineering.
By the year 2020, the world population will approach 8 billion people, and much of that increase will be among groups that today are