Impediments and Suggested Solutions
Approximately 460 engineering and engineering technology deans were invited to participate anonymously in an online survey about barriers and impediments that they either had encountered or anticipated would arise in efforts to implement real-world engineering programs in their institutions. They were also asked to suggest ways to overcome those barriers. Of the 157 deans who responded to the survey, 26 commented on one or more of the programs, yielding observations about 18 of the 29 selected programs. In addition, four deans attended an informal feedback session at the American Society of Engineering Education sponsored Engineering Deans Institute in April 2012.
Three types of impediments were mentioned most frequently and across the program categories mentioned above:
- lack of funding and financial support (12 programs),
- faculty workload concerns (9 programs), and
- challenges encountered with partnerships within and/or outside the institution (9 programs).
Respondents also cited barriers related to intellectual property rights and particular program categories.
Funding impediments involved materials and equipment, student stipends, or faculty support. Solutions included charging lab fees or requiring students and their project advisors to secure funding from industry or community partners (e.g., nonprofit agencies in service learning projects) to offset both material/equipment costs and student stipends in coop programs. Another suggestion was to start with small projects or partner with other institutions to lower initial costs. Most respondents simply suggested raising funds through traditional industry or foundation grants.
Faculty workload impediments concerned both teaching load and scalability. As faculty invest their time and energy in new projects, they may have less available for regularly offered classes. As one dean commented:
It is not clear how the level of faculty effort in supervising the program is sustainable unless the teaching load is reduced. If the teaching load is reduced, do foundational topics (e.g., engineering sciences) suffer neglect? That is, does the attention given to the [program] compete with the fundamentals needed for lifelong learning? Are graduates well-prepared for success in graduate school?
Two suggestions for mitigating increased faculty workload were team teaching of courses associated with the programs or providing salary support for industry professionals to either help teach those courses or supervise student projects. In addition, deans at larger institutions commented on the challenges involved in scaling some program activities to larger class sizes and suggested recruiting and training graduate students and/or highly qualified upper-class undergraduate students to lead small group activities. A related issue concerned the additional competition for lab space and other institutional resources that new RWEE programs would generate. One suggestion for reducing this competition was to have graduate students run space-intensive project activities in the summer.
“The basic idea is to create an engineer who has deep, strong, up-to-date technical education and the experiences that wrap around that to enable him or her to work in industry, to work across geographical boundaries, to work with people from totally different professional fields.”
Dr. Charles M. Vest
National Academy of Engineering
Partnership impediments involved problems with securing partners in industry, at other academic institutions, and within both the engineering school and the home institution more broadly.
Respondents who cited difficulty in engaging industry partners to participate in projects and/or help provide project or student assessments suggested that working closely with industrial advisory boards to engage partners and fostering partners’ program ownership by involving them in early planning conversations were good practices.
One dean commented on the difficulty of finding industry partners for academic institutions that are neither nationally known nor located in large cities where multiple industries are represented. This dean suggested allowing and facilitating student participation in projects within established programs at other institutions or encouraging faculty and administrators to partner with other institutions. Another noted that persistence is important, commenting that “[i]nitially we had trouble finding suitable projects but as we gained experience and the word spread we now find lots of good projects.”
Recruiting partners within the institution was also mentioned as a barrier to program implementation. As with industry partners, early conversations and program ownership may be helpful. One dean suggested beginning on a small scale with like-minded people, demonstrating some early success with quality products and outcomes, and promoting cross-campus program awareness as a way to recruit new intra-institutional partners.
For several of the industry partnership programs (e.g., co-op, capstone), intellectual property rights were mentioned as a barrier to implementation—specifically, whether the students, the institution, and/or the industry sponsor should retain the rights to any products that result from the partnership. Suggestions to address this challenge included both bringing business or law students to the project team to expand and protect student and institutional intellectual property rights and encouraging universities to recognize the need for companies to protect their products.
“We are encouraged by the breath of innovative approaches that are exposing engineering students to real world scenarios they will encounter after graduation. We must continue to share best practices, support institutions that are nurturing multidisciplinary education, and provide experiences and contexts that prepare our future engineers to lead and innovate.”
Corp. VP, Global Public Affairs
Respondents also described barriers related to specific program categories. For example, first-year engineering programs may lack dedicated faculty members or college wide agreement on program goals. Co-op programs may be hampered by the multi-semester commitment often required from students and companies; one suggestion was to develop projects that could be completed in one semester. Capstone courses would benefit from cooperation between chairs and faculty in the scheduling of senior design courses in all departments during the same class periods to enable students on project teams to meet. One dean noted the difficulty of both tracking students’ fulfillment of the requirements for the Grand Challenges Scholars Program (p. 15) and finding appropriate student projects related to the program, and suggested the development of a national database of potential Grand Challenges projects for university students.
List of Real World Engineering Education Selected Exemplars
The program descriptions are organized according to broad categories, including Capstone, Course/Curricular, Co-Op, Extracurricular, First Year, Global, and Service-Learning. Several programs include more than one category but are listed with their primary designation.