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1 ~trocluction Context of the Study Engineering is a central feature of the technology development pro- cess. As such, it is a critical element in the economic fortunes of indus- trialized nations, both domestically and internationally. Our concern about the decline of smokestack industries in the United States and the growing strength of competitors such as lapan, as well as our enthusi- asm for new products and new industries such as computers and bio- technology, are both linked to the health of engineering. In recent years a rapid expansion in key disciplines of engineering has placed the profession under considerable stress. Calls of crisis have come from engineering schools, panels of business and professional leaders, and government reports. The highly publicized problems of our American economic system over the past several years, particularly in the face of increasing international economic competition, have helped focus even more attention on problems in the engineering field. The greatest emphasis has been on problems in engineering edu- cation.~ Faculty shortages, overcrowded classrooms, inadequate lab- oratory and teaching equipment, aging facilities, low graduate enroll ~ One of the first tasks of the present study was to conduct a survey of recent publica- tions on this subject and to compile a report of concerns and responses regarding engineering education. That report to the committee summarized the problems identi- fied and solutions recommended by 66 separate reports, articles, and other documents. 21
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22 ENGINEERING EDUCATION AND PM CTICE meets, and questions about curriculum quality and content have been seen as central and pressing issues affecting many, though certainly not all, engineering colleges. To a lesser extent, problems in the utilization of engineers in the contemporary American workplace have also been illuminated. Dis- cussion has been directed at shortages of engineers in certain critical fields and surpluses in others. Another important concern is technolog- ical obsolescence and potential job displacement among engineers in rapidly changing fields. The rapid emergence of such new fields as semiconductor electronics and new engineering disciplines as bioengi- neering produces considerable stress on the system. Finally, the chang- ing nature of engineering work has created confusion about what an engineer does and about the distinctions between engineers and other technical workers. The many studies that have examined these problems in recent years have varied in identifying the key difficulties and their assessment of the urgency involved, although most have reported considerable cause for concern. A broad range of solutions has also been proposed, urging increased attention and assistance on the part of both industry and government as well as new attitudes and practices on the part of employers, universities, professional societies, and individual engi- neers. Finally, most of the previous studies have focused on only one side of the engineering equation education or utilization, usually the former. Problems relating to the social and sociological aspects of engineer- ing have been given less emphasis in previous studies. There is, how- ever, a persistent concern among engineers about their professional image and status in society. Related to this concern is the public's inadequate understanding of technological matters. The engineering profession has also encountered difficulties in satisfactorily attracting and incorporating blacks and other minorities. Questions about the recruitment and assimilation of women into engineering also persist. The Committee's Approach Because this critical time for the economy of the United States and the world seemed to call for synthesis, for examining the whole rather than the parts, the intention of the committee has been to look at problems of the engineering profession as an integrated whole, to devise workable solutions with potentially far-reaching effects, and to project those solutions in an effort to define and help structure the profession through the end of this century.
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INTRODUCTION 23 One of the most pressing requirements, especially for an integration effort such as this, was a means to identify and characterize the differ- ent elements of the engineering profession. Previous formulations and models were incomplete and did not take into account the ways in which the engineering profession adapts and responds to external and internal conditions. Accordingly, one of the primary activities of the committee was the effort to define contemporary engineering and the elements of the engineering community, to consolidate and analyze existing date pertaining to engineering, end to examine the dynamics of movement within and through the profession. The committee also formed panels to examine in detail the different aspects of engineering and the institutional forces that influence the widespread and diverse engineering community. A subcommittee on engineering educational systems conducted a broad study of contem- porary undergraduate and graduate engineering education, engineering technology education, and continuing education for engineers. A panel on engineering employment characteristics attempted to identify cur- rent patterns and trends in demographics and practice within the engi- neering community and to assess the capabilities of the engineering work force relative to present and future national needs. A panel on support organizations focused on mechanisms by which government at different levels, industry, schools, private practitioners, and society at large can provide positive support for improved functioning of the engi- neering system. Last, a pane! on engineering's interactions with soci- ety examined the development of the profession in the United States and attempted to characterize its changing role vis-a-vis society in generals The rationale for the pane! reports was to cast as wide a net as possi- ble while maintaining the goal of synthesis and integration. The result- ing in-depth, coordinated reports thus provide the raw material necessary for understanding the engineering profession in this age of technological, social, economic, and political change both at home and worldwide. Report Structure This report of the committee is a crystallization of those themes that emerged out of the broad study. It begins with a brief discussion of the 2 See Appendix A for an organizational description of the committee and panels and Appendix B for a list of panel reports and background papers prepared for the commit- tee.
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24 ENGINEERING EDUCATION AND PRACTICE role of engineers and engineering in building and shaping America and in maintaining America's economic power, world influence, and high standard of living. The report next examines the status of engineering today. Chapter 3 looks at the nature of the work, the organizational and occupational structure of the profession, and its support network. Chapter 4 assesses the strengths and weaknesses of contemporary engi- neering education. Chapter 5 discusses characteristics and trends of the engineering work force. Chapter 6 attempts to specify world economic and technological features to which the engineering community must be able to adapt in the year 2000. The report concludes with a review of some of the educational and professional characteristics that the engineering com- munity must acquire or maintain in order to adapt successfully. Findings, conclusions, and recommendations of the committee per- tinent to each chapter are presented at the end of that chapter.