Preparing 21st Century Leaders in
the Context of New Modes of Learning
SUMMARY OF A FORUM
Prepared by Steve Olson
NATIONAL ACADEMY OF ENGINEERING
OF THE NATIONAL ACADEMIES
THE NATIONAL ACADEMIES PRESS
THE NATIONAL ACADEMIES PRESS 500 Fifth Street, NW Washington, DC 20001
NOTICE: The subject of this report is a forum titled Educating Engineers: Preparing 21st Century Leaders in the Context of New Modes of Learning held during the 2012 Annual Meeting of the National Academy of Engineering.
Opinions, finding, and conclusions expressed in this publication are those of the workshop participants and not necessarily the views of the National Academy of Engineering
International Standard Book Number 13: 978-0-309-26770-0
International Standard Book Number 10: 0-309-26770-6
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THE NATIONAL ACADEMIES
Advisers of the Nation on Science, Engineering, and Medicine
The National Academy of Sciences is a private, nonprofit, self-perpetuating society of distinguished scholars engaged in scientific and engineering research, dedicated to the furtherance of science and technology and to their use for the general welfare. Upon the authority of the charter granted to it by the Congress in 1863, the Academy has a mandate that requires it to advise the federal government on scientific and technical matters. Dr. Ralph J. Cicerone is president of the National Academy of Sciences.
The National Academy of Engineering was established in 1964, under the charter of the National Academy of Sciences, as a parallel organization of outstanding engineers. It is autonomous in its administration and in the selection of its members, sharing with the National Academy of Sciences the responsibility for advising the federal government. The National Academy of Engineering also sponsors engineering programs aimed at meeting national needs, encourages education and research, and recognizes the superior achievements of engineers. Dr. Charles M. Vest is president of the National Academy of Engineering.
The Institute of Medicine was established in 1970 by the National Academy of Sciences to secure the services of eminent members of appropriate professions in the examination of policy matters pertaining to the health of the public. The Institute acts under the responsibility given to the National Academy of Sciences by its congressional charter to be an adviser to the federal government and, upon its own initiative, to identify issues of medical care, research, and education. Dr. Harvey V. Fineberg is president of the Institute of Medicine.
The National Research Council was organized by the National Academy of Sciences in 1916 to associate the broad community of science and technology with the Academy’s purposes of furthering knowledge and advising the federal government. Functioning in accordance with general policies determined by the Academy, the Council has become the principal operating agency of both the National Academy of Sciences and the National Academy of Engineering in providing services to the government, the public, and the scientific and engineering communities. The Council is administered jointly by both Academies and the Institute of Medicine. Dr. Ralph J. Cicerone and Dr. Charles M. Vest are chair and vice chair, respectively, of the National Research Council.
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Every year the National Academy of Engineering holds a three-hour forum at its annual meeting on a subject of pressing importance, and in 2012 the forum was on educating engineers for the 21st century. I am deeply interested in education and have written and spoken often on the subject during my six years as NAE President, but my enthusiasm for the topic was not universally shared before the forum. “We have been talking about education for decades, but very little has changed,” was one comment made at the forum. “What more can we say about education than has already been said?”
By the end of the forum the tone had completely changed—I heard nothing but excitement. The vision laid out by the six speakers was breathtaking. They described a future that marks a profound break with the past. The ongoing revolution in computing and communications is part of the story, but the transformation is institutional and societal as well. New kinds of colleges and universities have been designed to take advantage of the unique opportunities created by the confluence of new technologies, modern markets, and social needs. Minorities now account for 40 percent of college-aged Americans, which means that the engineering community will soon be much more diverse than it has been in the past. A new generation of leaders in education and industry has emerged with the courage to do things differently, measure the results, and find out what works.
Certainly one reason for the success of the 2012 forum was the pre-eminence of the speakers. Tuula Teeri, founding president of Aalto University in Helsinki, and Rick Miller, founding president of Olin College outside Boston, described the tremendous advances that can be achieved through a reenvisioning of higher education. Salman Khan, founder of
the Khan Academy, and Anant Agarwal, who organized the first massive online open course at MIT, pointed to the revolution in learning being driven by interactive online learning. Rick Stephens, vice president of human relations at the Boeing Company, and Linda Katehi, chancellor of the University of California, Davis, detailed steps that need to be taken for America to remain at the forefront of technology and business. All six speakers were provocative, visionary, and inspiring.
The forum was moderated, as it has been for the previous three years, by Ali Velshi, chief business correspondent for CNN. During his introductory comments, Ali mentioned writing a magazine article entitled “If I Could Do It All Over Again, I’d Be an Engineer,” which is just one measure of how fortunate the NAE has been to have Ali as a partner and proponent. He has done a wonderful job of describing the challenge and excitement of engineering to his viewers, and we are grateful for his association with the NAE.
Since the NAE began holding these forums three years ago, I have noticed a new urgency surrounding the topics discussed. A change is coming to engineering that will be impossible to avoid. Engineering is becoming faster, more complex, and more global. Young engineers sense that they have an obligation to society to be entrepreneurial and to help develop the economies of regions, nations, and the world. Engineers are being drawn into new kinds of collaborations with designers, social scientists, business leaders, and educators to address difficult problems and exciting new opportunities.
No one knows exactly how engineering will change in the future, just as no one knows exactly how information technologies will change society or how engineers will be educated. But the 2012 forum provided one of the best glimpses we’re likely to get of where engineering is headed and how our educational institutions will need to change to get us there.
Charles M. Vest, President
National Academy of Engineering
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