ASPIRATIONS AND ATTRIBUTES OF ENGINEERS OF 2020
Within the context of the changing national and global landscape, the Phase I committee enunciated a set of aspirations for engineers in 2020. These aspirations set the bar high but are believed attainable if a course of action is set to reach them. At their core they call for us to educate technically proficient engineers who are broadly educated, see themselves as global citizens, can be leaders in business and public service, and who are ethically grounded. The committee took the aspirations a step further by setting forth the attributes needed for the graduates of 2020 to reach them. These include such traits as strong analytical skills, creativity, ingenuity, professionalism, and leadership. It is our hope and expectation that the implementation of the recommendations below will allow these aspirations and desired attributes to be met.
REENGINEERING THE ENGINEERING EDUCATION SYSTEM
Given the changing landscape sketched in the Phase I report, a number of possible implications for engineering education were evident. Supplemented by discussions at the Summit and deliberations by the Phase II committee, these “implications” formed the basis for the recommendations set forth below.
It is evident that the exploding body of science and engineering knowledge cannot be accommodated within the context of the traditional four-year baccalaureate degree. Technical excellence is the essential attribute of engineering graduates, but those graduates should also possess team, communication, ethical reasoning, and societal and global contextual analysis skills as well as understand work strategies. Neglecting development in these arenas and learning disciplinary technical subjects to the exclusion of a selection of humanities, economics, political science, language, and/or interdisciplinary technical subjects is not in the best interest of producing engineers able to communicate with the public, able to engage in a global engineering marketplace, or trained to be lifelong learners. Thus, we recommend that
1. The baccalaureate degree should be recognized as the “preengineering” degree or bachelor of arts in engineering degree, depending on the course content and reflecting the career aspirations of the student.
Industry and professional societies should recognize and reward the distinction between an entry-level engineer and an engineer who masters an engineering discipline’s “body of knowledge” through further formal education or self-study followed by examination. The engineering education establishment must also adopt a broader view of the value of an engineering education to include providing a “liberal” engineering education to those students who wish to use it as a springboard for other career pursuits, such as business, medicine, or law. Adequate depth in a specialized area of engineering cannot be achieved in the baccalaureate degree.
To promote the stature of the profession, engineering schools should create accredited “professional” master’s degree programs intended to expand and improve the skills and enhance the ability of an engineer to practice engineering. Thus, as an addendum to Recommendation 1, we recommend that
2. ABET should allow accreditation of engineering programs of the same name at the baccalaureate and graduate levels in the same department to recognize that education through a “professional” master’s degree produces an AME, an accredited “master” engineer.
With the increased robustness of information technology and the rapidly expanding number of educational models being developed at engineering campuses, one could conceive of an engineering “program” at institution A that consists, in part, of courses offered online by institutions B and C, and internships at industrial site D. As long as institution A defines its outcome goals, has rigorous metrics for their attainment, and stands behind the “program,” one can conceive that such an approach could be accredited. Such a hypothetical model is meant to be illustrative of unconventional approaches that can be explored. A renewed effort to mine the promising approaches that were developed by the coalitions could be a source of inspiration for such efforts. Thus, we recommend that
3. Engineering schools should more vigorously exploit the flexibility inherent in the outcomes-based accreditation approach to experiment with novel models for baccalaureate education. ABET should ensure that evaluators look for innovation and experimentation in the curriculum and not just hold institutions to a strict interpretation of the guidelines as they see them.
Based on the curricular experiments that have been conducted under the National Science Foundation (NSF) Coalitions Program, it is apparent that students who are introduced to engineering design, engineering problem solving, and the concept of engineering as a servant of society early in their undergraduate education are more likely to pursue their engineering programs to completion. The same approach apparently is also more appealing to women and underrepresented minority students who are in such short supply in engineering programs and much more likely to drop out. Treating the freshman year as a “sink or swim” experience and accepting attrition as inevitable is both unfair to students and wasteful of resources and faculty time. Thus, we recommend that
4. Whatever other creative approaches are taken in the four-year engineering curriculum, the essence of engineering—the iterative process of designing, predicting performance, building, and testing—should be taught from the earliest stages of the curriculum, including the first year.
Curricular approaches that engage students in team exercises, in team design courses, and as noted above, in courses that connect engineering design and solutions to real-world problems so that the social relevance of engineering is apparent appear to be successful in retaining students. However, the designs of such approaches and assessment of their effectiveness in terms of how to evaluate individual student performance are still not well rooted in rigorous investigation. Changes in engineering learning experiences involving curricula, pedagogies, and support services should be based on research on learning. Thus, we recommend that
5. The engineering education establishment, for example, the Engineering Deans Council, should endorse research in engineering education as a valued and rewarded activity for engineering faculty as a means to enhance and personalize the connection to undergraduate students, to understand how they learn, and to appreciate the pedagogical approaches that excite them.
At the application end of engineering practice, there is a growing disconnect with engineering education that begs for enlightened industrial engineering leaders and a new generation of faculty able to bridge the gap more effectively. For their part, if engineering faculty, as a group, are to adequately prepare students for practice, then some population within that group must have credible experience in the world of non-academic practice. This is not a recommendation that all engineering faculty must have “n” years of experience in industry. It is a recommendation that departments need to more closely examine the mix of skills and experiences possessed across their cadre of faculty to determine how best to provide students with the knowledge and experiences essential to engineering practice. The engineering education establishment should strengthen the ties binding engineering education to practice not only through curricular design and provision of co-curricular activities, but through the experiences of engineering faculty in industrial research, product design, and/or production. Thus, we recommend that
6. Colleges and universities should develop new standards for faculty qualifications, appointments, and expectations, for example, to require experience as a practicing engineer, and should create or
adapt development programs to support the professional growth of engineering faculty.
The half-life of cutting-edge technical knowledge today is on the order of a few years, but globalization of the economy is accelerating and the international marketplace for engineering services is dynamic. In such an environment, an engineer is like a small boat in a storm-tossed sea if he or she cannot recognize global trends and lacks the ability, instinct, or desire for continuous learning. In the vein that one can provide the means, if not ensure the ends, we recommend that
7. As well as delivering content, engineering schools must teach engineering students how to learn, and must play a continuing role along with professional organizations in facilitating lifelong learning, perhaps through offering “executive” technical degrees similar to executive MBAs.
Real-world problems are rarely defined along narrow disciplinary lines. Undergraduate students would benefit from at least cursory learning about the interplay between disciplines embodied in such problems. Thus, we recommend that
8. Engineering schools introduce interdisciplinary learning in the undergraduate environment, rather than having it as an exclusive feature of the graduate programs.
It is sometimes said that, when a technical effort goes poorly, valuable knowledge from that failure is lost, the innocent are sacrificed, and the guilty are promoted. This dooms future engineers to make the same mistakes. The management of knowledge is somewhat better in the case of successes, but it is questionable whether the real elements of success are identified separate of the marketing “spin” for the product or service. In this case, following the “same” path to success may be an illusion. In the interest of promoting success and avoiding failure, we recommend that
9. Engineering educators should explore the development of case studies of engineering successes and failures and the appropriate
use of a case-studies approach in undergraduate and graduate curricula.
Approximately 40 percent of baccalaureate graduate engineers have had some community college experience along the way. Community colleges provide a vital pathway for an engineering education for lower income students, from both majority and underrepresented groups. Facilitating articulation between two-year and four-year engineering programs is a critical factor in ensuring that the pool of potential engineering students from two-year institutions has a fair opportunity to complete a four-year degree. Ironically, the greater flexibility provided to four-year schools by the ABET Engineering Criteria 2000 makes the dovetailing of curricula more difficult. Thus, we recommend that
10. Four-year engineering schools must accept it as their responsibility to work with their local community colleges to ensure effective articulation, as seamless as possible, with their two-year programs.
Graduate students from all over the world have flocked to the United States for years to take advantage of the excellent graduate education available. U.S. universities must recognize that there is rapidly increasing competition for these international Ph.D. students that will likely persist even if post-9/11 immigration challenges and restrictions subside. They must posture themselves to compete for foreign graduate students, who have typically represented half the “life blood” of engineering departments. At the same time, however, they cannot afford to neglect domestic students. Indeed, improvements in engineering education that energize the undergraduate experience may encourage more domestic students to pursue advanced degrees. Thus, we recommend that
11. U.S. engineering schools must develop programs to encourage/reward domestic engineering students to aspire to the M.S. and/or Ph.D. degree.
To recruit the most highly qualified, best-prepared students from the nation’s secondary school system, colleges, universities, and community colleges should play a prominent role in ensuring that all Americans have the opportunity to pursue an engineering education, if they
so choose. There are many local efforts in progress to help secondary school students understand the nature of engineering and some, such as Project Lead the Way and the Infinity Project, which are active in multiple states. Efforts to share successful practices from these programs and propagate them even further are essential. Thus, we recommend that
12. Engineering schools should lend their energies to a national effort to improve math, science, and engineering education at the K-12 level.
It is in the enlightened self-interest of engineering schools to help the public understand what engineers do and the role that engineering plays in ensuring their quality of life. Moreover, a country weak in technological literacy will have increasing difficulty competing in the technology-driven global economy of the twenty-first century. Thus, we recommend that
13. The engineering education establishment should participate in a coordinated national effort to promote public understanding of engineering and technology literacy of the public.
As indicated in a paper by Busch-Vishniac and Jarosz, provided to the Summit participants, there appears to be an unlimited number of different engineering curricula structures and the attendant engineering education schemes they imply offered by the multitude of engineering programs across the country (2004). While engineering faculty, as experts in the domain, might understand and appreciate the different possible approaches, it is highly unlikely that a high school junior or senior, his or her guidance counselor, or parents could understand the alternatives and deduce which scheme and which school might be most suitable for enrollment. In the spirit that the engineering community must “sell” the value and excitement of an engineering education, the community must make every effort to help interested students make an informed choice. The American Society of Engineering Education (ASEE) has an excellent website (http://www.asee.org/about/publications/profiles/index.cfm#Online_Profiles) containing statistical profiles of undergraduate engineering programs, but we believe that it would also be informative to collect information from the point of view of the
student, for example, about program philosophy—engineering up front, availability of team design activities, etc., and about student outcomes in terms of retention, years to degree completion and securing jobs at graduation.
14. NSF should collect and/or fund collection, perhaps through ASEE or the Engineering Workforce Commission, of comprehensive data by engineering department/school on program philosophy and student outcomes such as, but not exclusively, student retention rates by gender and ethnicity, common reasons why students leave, where they go, percent of entering freshman that graduate, time to degree, and information on jobs and admission to graduate school.
Busch-Vishniac, I., and J. Jarosz. 2004. Can diversity in the undergraduate engineering population be enhanced through curricular change? Journal of Women in Science and Technology 10(3).