Engineering professional societies in the United States are engaged in a wide range of activities involving undergraduate education. However, these activities generally are not coordinated and have not been assessed in such a way that information about their procedures and outcomes can be shared. Nor have they been assessed to determine whether they are optimally configured to mesh with corresponding initiatives undertaken by industry and academia. Engineering societies work largely independently on undergraduate education, leaving open the question of how much more effective their efforts could be if they worked more collaboratively—with each other as well as with academia and industry.
The National Science Foundation (NSF) has long been interested in the role of professional societies in all levels of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) education. To explore the potential for enhancing societies’ role at the undergraduate level, it asked the National Academy of Engineering (NAE) to hold a workshop on the engagement of engineering societies in undergraduate engineering education. The workshop was held January 26–27, 2017, in Washington, DC. (The workshop agenda is in appendix A.)
In her introduction at the workshop, Leah Jamieson, chair of the workshop steering committee and the John A. Edwardson Dean of Engineering and Ransburg Distinguished Professor of Electrical and Computer Engi-
neering at Purdue University, noted that the goal was to increase “mutual understanding of what engineering societies are doing and can do.”
Societies are involved in education in many ways, Jamieson said. A longtime active member of the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers, she has worked throughout her career on involving professional societies more effectively in undergraduate engineering education. She noted that one obvious point of connection between professional societies and engineering education is through accreditation, including the criteria established by the Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology (ABET). She added, “ABET is a well-known mechanism of engagement, but our goal is to look beyond ABET.”
Jamieson identified three questions to be addressed by workshop participants:
- How to promote more effective roles for societies in the education of undergraduates.
- How to increase mutual understanding between societies and academic institutions.
- How to foster collaboration.
Creating change requires thinking creatively about what engineering societies can do separately and together, what they can learn from each other, how they can serve both their own objectives and those of students, and how much more they can do collaboratively than on their own, Jamieson said. Larger and more extensive partnerships can tackle bigger problems, she pointed out, including systemic challenges.
Proctor Reid, director of the NAE Program Office, observed that the NAE is especially well placed to convene a broad range of organizations and individuals with a stake in undergraduate engineering education. The members of the Academy are leaders in industry (40–50 percent have significant industry experience), academia, government, nonprofit organizations, and other sectors. NAE committees and other activities involve both members and other volunteers with wide-ranging backgrounds and viewpoints. In this way, he said, the Academy seeks “to marshal the expertise of the nation’s eminent engineers to provide independent advice on matters that involve engineering and technology.”
To establish a foundation for the workshop discussions, a survey, interviews, website review, and literature review were conducted beforehand and summarized in the opening session.
Survey Results and Interviews
A survey of 121 engineering-related societies resulted in 58 responses, after which 30 interviews were conducted with representatives of the responding societies.1 The results reveal that the respondents are engaged in a range of education activities that target a variety of audiences (see appendix B). Goals of these activities include leadership development, diversity enhancement, and student retention. “Somebody is working toward almost any goal you could imagine,” reported Jamieson. Activities include student chapters, faculty development, continuing education, certification, and member communication.
Undergraduate education is not the top priority of most of the societies surveyed but ranks highly across many: 50 percent of the small and medium-sized societies rank undergraduate students as a high-priority audience for their education efforts, as do 65 percent of the large societies and 83 percent of the extra-large societies.2 Most of the societies focus on creating greater awareness of the importance of engineering in general or of a particular engineering discipline.
Asked about barriers to change, survey respondents identified communications, resistance to change, and limited time, funding, and other resources. A subanalysis revealed that affinity societies are more likely to report barriers than are disciplinary societies.3
1 The 121 societies represented an attempt to reach out to all engineering-related societies in the United States (some responded that engineering was not their only priority). Representatives of the societies included executive directors, presidents, chief executive officers, chairs of boards of directors, staff officers, and directors of education or university programs.
2 Small societies are those with a membership of under 1,000; medium with a membership of 1,000 to 9,999; large 10,000 to 49,999; and extra-large with over 50,000 members.
3 Disciplinary societies are those organized around a specific professional discipline, such as the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) and Society of Manufacturing Engineers (SME). Affinity societies are those organized around a specific demographic group or nondisciplinary interests, such as the Society of Women Engineers (SWE), National Society of Black Engineers (NSBE), and Engineers Without Borders (EWB).
The responding societies do not devote many resources to evaluation and assessment of their educational activities, beyond simply counting the number of participants in an activity. But they expressed interest in evaluating the impact of their programs in more coherent, rigorous, and longitudinal ways.
A majority of societies (85 percent) consider themselves leaders in the educational field. Yet half rate themselves as having low or “some” capacity to plan and implement education work; 38 percent report that their capacity is high, and 12 percent that it is very high.
Societies’ efforts to disseminate their practices are largely limited to their own memberships (via conferences, newsletters, meetings, and other means), but respondents indicated that they are interested in sharing practices beyond their membership.
Finally, societies report a number of gaps in engineering education that educators and engineering organizations could address, including precollege education, faculty preparation for teaching, design education, and two-year preparation programs.
Jenifer Helms of Inverness Research Associates, which conducted the survey, pointed out that close to 90 percent of respondents said that they are partnering or collaborating with other societies in some way, and more than three quarters partner with other organizations. “There’s certainly a lot of capacity and desire to engage in partnerships and opportunities to learn how these partnerships and collaborations are established and sustained,” she said.
Literature and Website Review
The literature review revealed that formal documentation of the influence of engineering societies on undergraduate engineering education is limited. The American Society of Civil Engineers’ (ASCE) Body of Knowledge project4 is one outstanding exception, noted Jamieson, as is the work of ABET. The literature also provides some information on student chapters, the roles of societies in promoting diversity, and informal education activities such as community service projects.
A review of 122 websites associated with engineering societies revealed that almost all have some form of direct engagement with students—if not necessarily with engineering education—mainly through student mem-
berships and student chapters.5 In addition, about one quarter offer some form of financial assistance such as travel grants to meetings or scholarship support. More than three quarters have some form of indirect engagement through technical publications, standard setting, and educational research articles and briefs. However, the websites of societies contain little or no evidence of how these activities relate to the effectiveness of the societies’ engagement with students, such as student retention or preparedness to enter the workforce.
The material presented at the workshop is organized into six chapters. After this introductory chapter, chapter 2 describes the “ecosystem” for engineering education presented by Elliot Douglas, program director in the NSF Division of Engineering Education and Centers. His talk established a context for the workshop discussions.
Chapter 3 summarizes the keynote address on the state of engineering education by Darryll Pines, dean and Nariman Farvardin Professor of Aerospace Engineering at the University of Maryland’s Clark School of Engineering.
Chapter 4 provides an account of the presentation by Barbara Bogue and Betty Shanahan, principal investigator and co–principal investigator of the Society of Women Engineers’ (SWE) Assessing Women and Men in Engineering project, about the importance of effective assessment.
Chapter 5 presents brief summaries of educational activities being conducted by engineering societies. These “lightning” presentations are divided in two categories: examples of what societies are doing and of how they are doing what they do (i.e., overcoming concerns, problems, and barriers).
Finally, chapter 6, “From Analysis to Action,” compiles the suggestions of subgroups that met during the two days of the workshop to discuss specific issues and propose ways to enhance the engagement of engineering societies in undergraduate engineering education.
5 The website review covered the 121 societies identified for the survey plus ABET.