However ambitious, exciting, and well funded a center’s research agenda may be, its success or failure ultimately depends on the quality of the people involved, the relationships among them, and the management methods they use. An engineering research center’s (ERC’s) human capital includes its leadership, research teams, students, and collaborators.
Leadership defines every organization. Team research leaders are often chosen based on their technical expertise, and this is helpful in establishing a vision for the research effort and roadmaps for achieving the goals.1 Leaders of convergent engineering research centers (CERCs) will face unique challenges in integrating the broad diversity of disciplines involved, vocabularies, perspectives on the problems, and working modes, as well as a research team that is geographically disperse. CERC leaders will have to exhibit an integrative style2 that
- Empowers all team members to contribute regardless of status and power differences,
- Establishes a culture of deep collaboration,
- Builds consensus around goals and problem definitions,
- Facilitates communication to ensure a common understanding, and
- Resolves conflicts and builds trust.
Given the committee’s assumption that CERCs will be based in university settings, the director and her or his senior staff should also have a demonstrated record of success in educating and training students in leading-edge research.
Center leadership will serve as mentors to junior researchers, guiding them as they gain the experience and skills needed to become center leaders of the future. Ideally, some members of center leadership will have experience in forming companies with venture financing, or in leading important public health, environmental protection,
2 M.R. Salazar, T.K. Lant, S.M. Fiore, and E. Salas, 2012, Facilitating innovation in diverse science teams through integrative capacity, Small Group Research 43(5).
or infrastructure functions. Leadership will have the expertise to guide the entire discovery-to-implementation pipeline. The center director will have significant and demonstrated capability and capacity to raise external funds from the private and public sectors. Leadership will be inspirational and collaborative and will drive teams to success by encouraging innovation, nurturing diversity, and creating a collegial environment.3
The skills needed for center leaders include intellectual vision and leadership, management of center activities, successful entrepreneurial experience, a track record of delivering results, and ability to communicate clearly and effectively with diverse audiences such as team members, sponsors, partners, host institutions, press and media, and the public. It is rare that a single individual will have all of these attributes; thus, a strong leader will need to assemble an executive team having expertise in these areas.
FINDING 3-1: Leaders of CERCs will face unique challenges due to the centers’ scale, the need to integrate knowledge from diverse disciplines and perspectives, as well as geographically dispersed institutions and research team.
RECOMMENDATION 3-1: In order to give the convergent engineering research centers (CERCs) the best opportunity to achieve their goal of deep research collaboration toward solving grand-challenge-like problems, the National Science Foundation should ensure that CERC leadership are accomplished and recognized leaders of large, complex programs and are skilled in the application of the team-research and value-creation best practices.
Team members should share the center’s vision, have complementary skills and roles, and recognize that the rewards of working together far outweigh the costs of collaboration. Team members should not only be extraordinary researchers, but should also fulfill a unique, strategic function in the center.
Some 50 years of research on successes and failures of research teams (mostly in fields other than engineering) is available to be applied to engineering research teams, but it has not been sufficiently exploited.4
It is apparent that many important engineering challenges (e.g., smart transportation systems in cities, medical data informatics) cannot be addressed effectively by purely technical means; these challenges have social, political, behavioral, and legal aspects that must be part of the research team’s expertise from the beginning. In one well known example, Doug Dietz, a magnetic resonance imaging designer for General Electric Healthcare, was disturbed by the anxiety he observed in young patients about to undergo a scan in his latest machine, and he decided that a new approach was needed. He found that by enlisting a cross-functional team that included experts in child psychology and by designing an “adventure series” MRI scanner environment at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center, the stress on children undergoing a scan could be greatly reduced, making the experience much more pleasant for both the children and their parents.5
FINDING 3-2: Formation of effective transdisciplinary research teams is essential for CERC success, and it requires significant effort, careful consideration, and time.
Goals of the development phase include defining the scientific or societal problem to be addressed, the relevant domains of the disciplines involved, and collaborative experts representing diverse backgrounds to delineate boundaries and identify specific challenges.6
4 NRC, 2015, Enhancing the Effectiveness of Team Science, The National Academies Press, Washington, D.C.
5 GE Healthcare, “From Terrifying to Terrific: The Creative Journey of the Adventure Series,” http://newsroom.gehealthcare.com/fromterrifying-to-terrific-creative-journey-of-the-adventure-series/, accessed August 3, 2016.
6 K.L. Hall, A.L Vogel, B.A Stipelman, D. Stokols, G. Morgan, and S. Gehlert, 2012, A four-phase model of transdisciplinary team-based research: Goals, team processes, and strategies, Translational Behavioral Medicine 2(4): 415-430.
RECOMMENDATION 3-2: The National Science Foundation should invest significant time and effort in a deliberate, early-stage process for development and formation of the best convergent engineering research centers research teams.
Application of team-research best practices, including use of research networking tools and team professional development training, have been mentioned in Chapter 2. More specific options are discussed in the Chapter 6, “Suggested Tactics.”
Because CERCs reside at universities, whose primary mission is to educate, they must embrace this mission. This makes it crucial for centers not only to generate innovative research but also to lead in producing young engineers from diverse backgrounds who are well trained, collaborative, capable of innovation, and equipped to take on leadership roles. Developing and nurturing talent and creating the future U.S. workforce will require continuous innovation in engineering education.
Engineering education is constantly evolving. The traditional model of an expert lecturing from a podium, while still prevalent, is increasingly being supplemented by more project-based, hands-on student design projects. Much research has been done, for example, on more collaborative, cooperative, and experiential approaches to engineering education in order to determine their value compared with lecture-based instruction.7,8,9 Across the United States, there is a growing movement to develop flipped, blended, and team-based approaches to significantly improve educational outcomes.10 More ambitiously, some engineering programs are instituting what might be called an innovation paradigm11 in which emphasis is placed on the creation of new products identified by the students. In this model, students generate and try out ideas for products or services that do not yet exist, using design thinking and value creation methodologies. Instructors encourage intrinsic student motivation and serve as mentors in the innovation process. Examples of this approach include Finland’s Aalto University and Denmark’s Aalborg University with comprehensive projects-based curricula; Worcester Polytechnic Institute’s Global Projects Program, where student teams go to locations around the world to create innovative solutions to local community needs; Purdue University’s EPICS service-learning design program; Stanford University’s d.school and Bio-X experiential programs; and Olin College, which has no discipline-specific departments and no tenured professors and has, instead, a projects-based curriculum with an entrepreneurial focus.
This national trend in engineering education toward experiential courses, maker facilities, design institutes, and entrepreneurship12 is occurring primarily at the undergraduate level. The committee believes that in the future most, if not all, engineering schools will have design institutes and entrepreneurship programs. The challenge for CERCs will not be to reinvent these innovations in engineering teaching and learning, but to build on the best of these methods and enable the affiliated students—including graduate students13—to exercise the skills they learn in these programs developed by the host institutions. CERCs are ideally positioned to expand the innovation
7 S. Freeman, S.L. Eddy, M. McDonough, M.K. Smith, N. Okoroafor, H. Jordt, and M.P. Wenderoth, 2014, Active learning increases student performance in science, engineering, and mathematics, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 111(23):8410-8415.
8 M. Prince, 2004, Does active learning work? A review of the research, Journal of Engineering Education 963(3):223-231.
9 M. Towhidnejad, T. Hilburn, and S. Salamah, 2015, “Transforming Engineering and Science Education Through Active Learning,” 2014 IEEE Frontiers in Education Conference (FIE) Proceedings, doi:10.1109/FIE.2014.7044127.
11 R. Miller, Olin College of Engineering, “The Future of Engineering Education,” presentation at the “Exploring a New Vision for Center-Based, Multidisciplinary Engineering Research” symposium, April 6, 2016, National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine, available at https://www.nae.edu/Projects/147474/147561/147730.aspx.
12 See, for example, T. Byers, T. Seelig, S. Sheppard, and P. Weilerstein, 2013, Entrepreneurship: Its role in engineering education, The Bridge 43(2):35-40; and S.K. Gilmartin, A. Shartrand, H.L. Chen, C. Estrada, and S. Sheppard, 2016, Investigating entrepreneurship program models in undergraduate engineering education, International Journal of Engineering Education 32(5A):2048-2065.
13 More than 50 percent of the graduate students in engineering have their bachelor’s degrees from outside the United States, so many of the graduate students in CERCs will not have had previous undergraduate design/maker/entrepreneurship experiences. So CERCs need to work to get graduate students experiential learning experiences.
paradigm for engineering education. In many ways, this approach to engineering education mirrors the committee’s vision for the centers themselves: addressing significant and complex problems of relevance to society, leveraging convergence and multidisciplinarity, promoting innovation and entrepreneurship (as well as preparing students to work in established companies), and engaging internationally. These attributes constitute the educational blueprint of the modern research university and provide crucial skills for engineering professionals in the global innovation economy. A notable example of this form of engineering education is the NAE Grand Challenges Scholars Program (GCSP; Box 3.1).14
Many factors, including the pedagogical skills of the faculty and institutional policies that support less-traditional approaches to educating students, will determine the nature and extent of these opportunities for students.
The value to students of exposure to industry culture and practices has been explored,15 as have the benefits to industry of engaging students who, through co-ops and internships, may become highly valued employees.16,17 The NAE has seen the creation of exemplary engineering education programs that engage students in real-world engineering design activities, and nearly all of them involve connections with industry.18 Research suggests that student opportunity to experience authentic projects is critical to developing engineering expertise.19
Ethics and Decision-Making
Students involved in engineering research centers of the future will need to be well grounded in the ethical and social dimensions of engineering work. Technology development can have unintended consequences that need to be considered from the beginning. An example from the past is the neurotoxicity of lead-containing additives that were intended to increase engine performance. Looking forward, the ethical considerations involved in technologies for genetic manipulation, such as clustered regularly interspaced short palindromic repeats (CRISPR), are complex, and the topic of decision-making in autonomous systems—and human-machine interaction more generally—will need to be considered.
It is not only the technological products of engineering that may pose important ethical issues for engineers, however. Broader ethical and values-related considerations may arise in efforts to prevent or mitigate disasters and hazards, address environmental justice and sustainability, protect human rights, and encourage public and community engagement in the work of engineers and scientists. As appropriate, social, political, and behavioral scientists, as well as policy experts, should collaborate with CERCs to help researchers address the nontechnical aspects of the work.
CERCs can address these issues by proactively including activities in education and outreach. The purpose is, first, to educate the students and other center participants and, second, to inform other constituencies about the societal, national, and global benefits of the research, as well as the importance of the ethical and human values in decision-making that underlie all technological applications.
CERCs will provide ample opportunities for students to exercise their ethical training and human values principles, but the primary responsibility for imparting this training should be with the host institution.
FINDING 3-3: Ongoing changes in engineering education include a greater emphasis on collaborative, team-based experiential learning and a focus on creativity and design activities and entrepreneurship, as well as ethical aspects, which better prepare students to succeed in center-like, multidisciplinary environments throughout their careers.
14 T. Katsouleas, R. Miller, and Y.C. Yortsos, 2013, The NAE Grand Challenges Scholars Program, The Bridge 43(2):53-57.
15 D.M. Gilbuena, B.U. Sherrett, E.S. Gummer, A.B. Champagne, and M.D. Koretsky, 2015, Feedback on professional skills as enculturation into communities of practice, Journal of Engineering Education 104(1):7-34.
16 M. Fifolt and L. Searby, 2010, Mentoring in cooperative education and internships: Preparing protégés for STEM professions, Journal of STEM Education 11(1):17-26.
17 K.A. Smith, 2011, “Cooperative Learning: Lessons and Insights from Thirty Years of Championing a Rresearch-based Innovative Practice,” 2011 Frontiers in Education Conference (FIE), pp. T3E-1-T3E-7, doi:10.1109/FIE.2011.6142840.
18 NAE, 2012, Infusing Real World Experiences into Engineering Education, The National Academies Press, Washington, D.C.
19 T.A. Litzinger, L.R. Lattuca, R. Hadgraft, and W. Newstetter, 2011, Engineering education and the development of expertise, Journal of Engineering Education 100(1):123-150.
Examples include the GCSP (Box 3.1), opportunities for student internships and co-ops in industry, and bringing in professors of practice and part-time faculty from industry to teach engineering courses.
RECOMMENDATION 3-3a: Centers should offer students opportunities to exercise design and entrepreneurship skills obtained through their departmental coursework by providing experiences such as internships and exposure to industrial and public sector expertise through collaborations, workshops, seminars, and personnel exchanges, and opportunities to discuss the ethical dimensions of their work.
Current ERC education programs have been most successful when they were tailored to both the institution strength and the local community needs. An aspect of the variety of experiences mentioned in Recommendation 3-3a is that CERC education programs should be comprised of elements that are flexible and reflect the unique aspects of the technical area the CERC is focused on, the educational resources of the local universities, and the needs of local students—both on campus and in the surrounding PreK-12 communities.
Many industry collaborators have developed educational materials to train their employees that can augment materials available at the participating universities. The centers should encourage and provide opportunities for industry to share these materials with students.
Although less than 1 percent of the nearly 120,000 engineering students who graduate with a B.S., M.S.E., or Ph.D. in the United States are currently engaged with NSF ERCs, future centers, as models for best practices, can have a broader impact on engineering education.
The CERC educational mission can be pursued in two ways: (1) by directly influencing students in the home institutions of the center and (2) by developing new educational modules, tools, and methods that can be scaled up and shared within the host university and with the broader engineering workforce across the nation (see the “Outcomes” section in Chapter 4). Such a multiplier effect will have lasting impacts beyond the life of the center itself or the life of the engineered solutions it creates.
By virtue of their typically longer-term funding cycles, centers are also ideally positioned for evaluation of innovative pedagogical models. They should include formal evaluation and dissemination of successful models as part of their core function.
RECOMMENDATION 3-3b: The National Science Foundation should facilitate the adoption and broad sharing of successful engineering education innovations developed in its centers and also encourage research to understand how these experiences work to provide effective learning.
A 2012 National Research Council (NRC) report20 pointed to the importance of conducting discipline-specific educational research. Following this model, the conduct of research specifically in engineering education is important to advance knowledge of “what works” in engineering teaching. Two recent NAE reports, The Engineer of 202021 and Educating the Engineer of 2020,22 point to the importance of supporting the growing field of engineering education research. Discipline-specific research on the learning that takes place in the innovative settings provided by CERCs could include investigating such issues as the following:
- How do CERCs function as sites of learning for students and faculty: who learns what when?
- How is learning in the CERC collaborative, interdisciplinary, cutting-edge environment different from the learning that takes place in a traditional engineering education environment? What aspects of the learning environment are transferable?
- What capacities for learning do students exhibit when they are engaged in center activities?
- What kinds of learning do students exhibit over time (taking advantage of the longer CERC funding to conduct longitudinal studies)?
The findings generated by this scholarship will be invaluable to colleges of engineering that did not participate in the CERC program but endeavor to improve both their undergraduate and graduate engineering teaching. These research results will also increase the utility and transferability of the educational modules mentioned in Recommendation 3-3b.
The field of engineering education research has grown significantly in recent years; the establishment of engineering education departments at Purdue University and Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University (Virginia Tech) in 2004 has been followed by departments at such institutions as Clemson University, Arizona State University, and Ohio State University as well as the growth of campus-based engineering education centers. NSF has funded two large-scale centers with scholarship on engineering learning at their core.23
While the committee believes strongly that this kind of engineering education research is valuable and should be a component of CERCs, it suggests that it should be carried out in collaboration with the expertise embedded in the host institution or other institutions such as those mentioned above.
Studies have shown that research teams with broader cultural knowledge and perspectives can produce more innovative and robust solutions to science and engineering problems.24 A more diverse engineering workforce is an imperative when addressing complex problems with worldwide societal impacts, and the diversity of the U.S. talent pool can become a competitive advantage.
For decades, the U.S. government has been promoting diversity of race, ethnicity, gender, and sexual orientation through training, education, and legislation. Recruiting and training of minorities, building a diverse workforce, and assuring a conducive and productive work environment have been the actions used for achieving diversity goals. While this decades-long effort has shown progress and success, there remains significant work to do in this area.
20 NRC, 2012, Discipline-Based Education Research: Understanding and Improving Learning in Undergraduate Science and Engineering, The National Academies Press, Washington, D.C.
21 NAE, 2004, The Engineer of 2020: Visions of Engineering in the New Century, The National Academies Press, Washington, D.C.
22 NAE, 2005, Educating the Engineer of 2020: Adapting Engineering Education to the New Century, The National Academies Press, Washington, D.C.
23 See the Center for the Advancement of Engineering Education (http://www.engr.washington.edu/caee/), led by the University of Washington, and Epicenter (http://epicenter.stanford.edu/) led by Stanford University.
ERCs have a responsibility to attract and educate a diverse engineering workforce. “People with different backgrounds bring new information. Simply interacting with individuals who are different forces group members to prepare better, to anticipate alternative viewpoints and to expect that reaching consensus will take effort.”25 Diversity often promotes innovative thinking. Besides enhancing creativity, diversity and inclusiveness are the law-of-the-land to be observed and practiced in the workplace.
In 2014, foreign students were awarded 56 percent of doctorates in engineering at U.S. universities.26 The United States faces a critical workforce imperative: either increase the number of U.S. students in the engineering pipeline, including more American women and minorities, or increase dependency on foreign scientists and engineers. Clearly, the former is the better solution. This need has been documented in many reports, including the 2011 NRC report Expanding Underrepresented Minority Participation: America’s Science and Technology Talent at the Crossroads,27 which builds on the 2007 report Rising above the Gathering Storm: Energizing and Employing America for a Brighter Economic Future.28 The goal of increasing ethnic and gender diversity remains essential to priming the engineering workforce pipeline of the future. The key to success is to have teammates with the unique perspectives required to explore the opportunity being addressed.
Addressing diversity requires more than setting diversity goals. In order to effectively address this aspect, experts in promoting diversity should guide CERCs in crafting a plan that supports the specific research initiatives and that builds a diverse, supportive, and inclusive team from the beginning. These experts would continue to engage with the leadership team throughout the lifetime of the CERC, providing guidance and sharing best practices. Host institutions that currently have in place best practices for achieving diversity and inclusion are much more likely to be successful in guiding the research team on how to implement these objectives.
While diversity on research teams has been shown to enhance creativity, innovation, and scientific outcomes, it also introduces challenges and faultlines.29 Team processes and strategies are needed to ensure that the diversity yields its potential benefits. These processes assure that each member has a meaningful role to play in the initiative and that team goals and strategies are aligned. NSF has supported a training intervention designed to facilitate cross-disciplinary communication in science teams and groups.30
FINDING 3-4: The goal of expanding diversity in science and engineering is not only good for the creativity and productivity of research teams, it is good for expanding the capacity of the United States to innovate and compete.
The diversity requirements that NSF puts on ERCs, including the requirement that the lead university partner with a minority-serving university, have enabled ERCs to outperform other engineering programs in terms of the percentages of women, Hispanics, and underrepresented minorities participating in the centers.31
RECOMMENDATION 3-4: The National Science Foundation should insist that the convergent engineering research centers continue to build upon the success of the engineering research centers in expanding diversity of the engineering workforce.
CERCs should have an advantage in this regard due to their focus on grand-challenge-like problems with great societal impact. Research has shown that if programs emphasize engineering as a source of societal benefit
25 K.W. Phillip, 2014, How diversity makes us smarter, Scientific American, October 1.
26 Department of Education, 2016, IPEDS Completion Survey, National Center for Education Statistics, Data extracted from WebCASPAR, https://ncsesdata.nsf.gov/webcaspar/index.jsp?subHeader=WebCASPARHome, accessed November 4, 2016.
27 National Academy of Sciences, National Academy of Engineering, and Institute of Medicine (NAS-NAE-IOM), 2011, Expanding Underrepresented Minority Participation: America’s Science and Technology Talent at the Crossroads, The National Academies Press, Washington, D.C.
28 NAS-NAE-IOM, 2007, Rising Above the Gathering Storm: Energizing and Employing America for a Brighter Economic Future, The National Academies Press, Washington, D.C.
29 A.L. Vogel, B.A. Stipelman, K.L. Hall, L. Nebeling, D. Stokols, and D. Spruijt-Metz, 2014, Pioneering the transdisciplinary team science approach: Lessons learned from National Cancer Institute grantees, Journal of Translational Medicine and Epidemiology 2(2):1027.
31 NSF, 2015, “ERC Solicitation 15-589 Webinar: Guidance for Preliminary Proposal Development,” August 31, https://www.nsf.gov/attachments/135960/public/NSF15-589_ERCwebinar.pdf.
rather than focus more narrowly on technology per se, they have more appeal to women and underrepresented minority students,32,33,34,35 and this is borne out in the enrollment statistics of the NAE’s Grand Challenges Scholars Program (Box 3.1) and Purdue University’s Engineering Progress in Community Service (EPICS) service learning program, in which more than 50 percent of the students enrolled are women.36 Grand-challenge-like problems are also international in scope and should attract international students and faculty to the CERCs.
Most major universities have well-established offices whose aim is to promote diversity, staffed by experienced professionals, and there is a body of scholarly literature on the subject. CERCs should take advantage of these resources and expertise to help design their diversity programs.
32 I.J. Busch-Vishniac and J.P. Jarosz, 2004, Can diversity in the undergraduate engineering population be enhanced through curricular change?, Journal of Women and Minorities in Science and Engineering 10:255-281.
33 W.A. Wulf and G.M.C. Fisher, 2002, A makeover for engineering education, Issues in Science and Technology On-Line, Spring.
34 R. Williams, 2003, Education for the profession formerly known as engineering, Chronicle of Higher Education, January 24.
35 D. Wormley, 2003, “Engineering Education and the Science and Engineering Workforce,” pp. 40-46 in Institute of Medicine, National Academy of Sciences, and National Academy of Engineering, Pan-Organizational Summit on the U.S. Science and Engineering Workforce: Meeting Summary, The National Academies Press, Washington, D.C.
36 W. Oakes, M.-C. Hsu, and C. Zoltowski, 2015, “Insights from a First-Year Learning Community to Achieve Gender Balance,” 2015 IEEE Frontiers in Education Conference (FIE), doi:10.1109/FIE.2015.7344114.