Every organization and every country on the planet is hungry for talent, said NAE president C. D. Mote, Jr., in introducing keynote speaker Darryll Pines, dean and Nariman Farvardin Professor of Aerospace Engineering at the University of Maryland’s Clark School of Engineering. At the same time, engineers and other workers are changing jobs more often as the pace of change in society accelerates. Both trends cast a spotlight on engineering education and on the ways professional societies are involved with this education.
Engineering is one of today’s hottest professions, Pines began. Since the year 2000, US enrollment in engineering has gone from less than 400,000 to more than 700,000. This surge in enrollment has transformed undergraduate engineering programs. “It’s an exciting time to be an engineer,” Pines said.
The increase in enrollment has encompassed both men and women and all ethnic groups, although women and many ethnic groups remain under-
represented in engineering compared with their representation in the general population. For example, about 23 percent of US engineering undergraduates (not including foreign students) are currently women, an increase from historical levels of below 20 percent. “We are becoming more balanced,” said Pines. “We are still not there by any stretch of the imagination, but the demographics are slowly moving.”
The number of engineering bachelor’s degrees awarded increased from fewer than 80,000 in 2005 to more than 115,000 in 2015. This has put a greater burden on faculty members, Pines pointed out: The average number of engineering students per tenure track faculty member rose from about 17 to about 25.
Notwithstanding the increase in degree production, engineers are still getting good-paying jobs, Pines observed. Of the top 15 majors by salary, according to the website www.payscale.com, 11 are in engineering fields (the other four are in actuarial science, computer science and mathematics, physics and mathematics, and applied mathematics). Early career pay for these engineering fields ranges from $63,000 to almost $100,000, and midcareer pay is between $108,000 and $172,000.
What Is Engineering?
Despite success in the field, engineers traditionally have had a hard time defining what they do, Pines pointed out. The Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology (ABET) defines engineering as “the profession in which a knowledge of the mathematical and natural sciences gained by study, experience, and practice is applied with judgment to develop ways to utilize, economically, the materials and forces of nature for the benefit of mankind.” Pines said that he prefers the more succinct definition offered by NAE president Dan Mote: “Engineers create solutions serving the welfare of humanity and the needs of society.” The four words creation, solutions, humanity, and society together create a value proposition for engineering, Pines said, and offer a way to communicate what engineering is to the public and to students.
Engineering and engineering education have changed radically through history and are continuing to change today, Pines reported. The first three schools in the United States to offer engineering education were the US Military Academy, which modeled its engineering curriculum after the École Polytechnique in France; an institution now known as Norwich University in Vermont, which began with instruction in civil engineering; and Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in New York. Engineering education greatly expanded as part of the Morrill Acts of 1862 and 1890, which created the land-grant colleges and universities and the historically black colleges and universities.
Throughout the 19th century, engineering education was largely focused on practice, including shop and foundry skills, technical training, and manufacturing. This is the period that saw the creation of some of the first professional societies—the American Society of Civil Engineers (1852), American Society of Mechanical Engineers (1880), and American Society for Engineering Education (1893).
In the first half of the 20th century, the emphasis shifted from practice to theory and science, driven in part by World Wars I and II. ABET was established in 1932 to help set standards for the engineering curriculum, along with such societies as the American Institute of Chemical Engineers (1908) and the precursors to the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers and the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics.
In the second half of the 20th century, an emphasis on engineering design swung the pendulum back from theory toward practice and hands-on engagement, said Pines, with a focus on project-based learning, hands-on and applied work, ethical reasoning, professional development, and industry collaboration.
Modern Engineering Education
Most recently, engineering education has emphasized research, complex systems, pedagogy, active learning, service learning, teamwork, online education, virtual laboratories, communication, creativity, leadership, global contextual analysis, innovation, and entrepreneurship. Furthermore, new departments of engineering education mark “a paradigm change,” noted Pines, where research on learning is being used to improve engineering edu-
cation, and faculty are being rewarded not only for their technical research but for their contributions to teaching and learning.
Many forces have been driving change in engineering education, said Pines, including engineering college and departmental or program advisory boards, professional societies, the National Academy of Engineering, the National Science Foundation, industry and private foundations, ABET, and advances in research, facilities, and technology. For example, the NAE reports The Engineer of 20201 and Educating the Engineer of 20202 are among a series of reports demanding change in engineering to serve the welfare of humanity and society.
Modern engineering is increasingly complex, Pines pointed out, and increasingly tied to US economic competitiveness and issues of great societal importance. Data science and analytics are accelerating research and steering it in new directions. The development of engineering systems typically reflects and draws on the convergence of the natural sciences, the social sciences, medicine, management, the humanities, and other fields. Engineers need to be “more systems oriented,” said Pines, “to develop large systems and have people be able to model them.”
Curricula in engineering education have evolved to reflect these changes, said Pines. The overall goal has been to create a multiyear, vertically integrated, hands-on, active learning experience.
The first-year experience may involve design, team building, novel classroom environments (such as maker spaces or flipped classrooms), and work involving innovation and entrepreneurship. Second- and third-year engineering courses (which is when community college transfer students enter) may involve leadership and business management, international experiences, and internships. Senior capstone experiences can include mentoring younger students, making links to industry and graduate education, and becoming involved with professional societies.
The engineering school at the University of Maryland, for example, with seven four-year and two-year collaborators, has created the Keystone
1 NAE [National Academy of Engineering]. 2004. The Engineer of 2020: Visions of Engineering in the New Century. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press.
2 NAE. 2005. Educating the Engineer of 2020: Adapting Engineering Education to the New Century. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press.
program to respond to calls for active hands-on learning. It is designed to transform the first- and second-year experience by providing incentives to instructional faculty, improving facilities, organizing team competitions, encouraging the use of undergraduate teaching fellows, offering peer mentoring, and enhancing the involvement of professional engineers as mentors, advisors, and reviewers. This program has helped boost the six-year completion rate at the school to 75 percent, compared with a national average of 59 percent.
Throughout their undergraduate years, students at Maryland have opportunities for individual learning experiences such as “hackathons,” student competitions or challenge prizes, service learning, and community engagement.
- A University of Maryland group was one of the teams selected to participate in a hyperloop design competition organized by Tesla founder Elon Musk.
- A program called StartupShell has resulted in startup companies that are selling consumer 3D printers and recovering leftover food from university dining halls to feed the hungry.
- A solar decathlon brought together people from business, science, public policy, architecture, and other fields to design an energy-efficient house that was sold to a leading energy firm to use as a model for new technology.
- A course on engineering for social change, in which students work with a local community to design an innovative solution to a problem and pitch their ideas for foundation funding, resulted in an educational program that integrates gardening, cooking, and nutrition in the curriculum of local schools.
Innovations in engineering education can encompass the K–12 level as well. A University of Maryland hackathon for middle and high school girls was designed to get more girls interested in computer science and engineering.
Another approach to engineering education that reflects the needs of the 21st century is based on the 14 Grand Challenges for Engineering (www.engineeringchallenges.org) identified by an NAE committee in 2008. The Grand Challenges Scholars Program (www.grandchallengescholars.org) guides students, through curricular and extracurricular activities, to gain skills in five required areas: research related to a Grand Challenge, a
multidisciplinary experience, exposure to the global dimension of a Grand Challenge, entrepreneurship, and service learning. More than 40 universities in the United States and abroad have adopted the program, and another 80 have committed to participating.
These disparate approaches embody common desires for engineering education and engineering students, said Pines:
- the inculcation of engineers as problem definers as well as problem solvers
- the development of engineers who are better able to straddle uncertainty, risk, disciplines, cultures, ethics, and evolving technologies
- engineers who are prepared for creativity, innovation, business management, entrepreneurship, and public policy leadership
- engineers who have stronger application skills without losing theoretical strength.
The millennial and Gen Z students in college today are different from past generations of students, Pines said. They have different work ethics, career expectations, management styles, and knowledge of technology. “They want to see significant change in their lives, and they want it quickly,” he said. “They want to work on projects that inspire and have social impact.” They are already making a difference in the workforce, and that influence will grow.
One important aspect of young workers is that they are digital natives. They are always online, socially conscious, and socially connected. They understand blogs, social networks, mobile devices, and online tools. “They are confident, they are connected, and they are open to change,” said Pines. “They want to make a difference with their knowledge and with the skills they get from our schools.”
This comfort with technology is helping to drive a new approach to education, one that includes blended learning with online lectures, automated assessments of student performance, flipped classrooms with peer-to-peer and instructional coaches, and massive online open courses (MOOCs) to enhance learning outcomes.
“Learning is in a transition,” said Pines. It is increasingly self-paced, self-serviced, virtual, and on demand. Technologies such as content capture, online laboratories, learner profiles, and e-portfolios are the future
of instruction and learning. Virtual laboratories make it possible to have students go to an online location, run an experiment, get the data back, and report on those data even if they were not physically present in a lab.
Higher education got an early taste of radical changes in the ecology and economics of education with the advent of MOOCs in the late 1990s and early 2000s. Today, a new generation of online courses, such as those made available through Udacity, Coursera, edX, and the Khan Academy, are providing new capabilities in an era of economic pressures and a social readiness to embrace distributed relationships between students and instructors. For example, Arizona State University and the State University of New York (SUNY)–Oswego are offering the first two ABET-accredited online undergraduate engineering programs in electrical and computer engineering.
But residential universities, especially in STEM fields, are not going away, Pines continued. Although many engineering courses could be taught online, design is a creative activity that probably needs to be taught in an integrated environment. Hands-on laboratory experiences remain crucial, even if some laboratory experiences can occur online. An optimal education still requires interactions between students and teachers, and no professor can do that for thousands of students in an online course.
Pines also pointed out, in response to a question, that much more is needed to increase the representation of women in engineering. Engineering for social change—for example, through the Engineers Without Borders program—is particularly engaging to women.
Engineering programs also need to work with K–12 engineering education so that fewer girls lose interest in STEM subjects in high school, middle school, and even elementary school. “Engineering has to become part of the core education for K through 12, not a fringe topic,” Pines said. For example, the Engineering Is Elementary program developed by the Museum of Science in Boston focuses on teaching engineering habits of mind to elementary students, getting them thinking about design and connecting them to creativity.
Professional societies have critical roles to play as this new engineering education paradigm emerges, said Pines.
- By fostering industry-university collaborations, they can help define real-world challenges that require innovative contributions from universities.
- They can help organize student-directed, hands-on learning such as annual competitions, and they can provide advice, guidance, and critical review for capstone educational experiences.
- They can further competency-based education, with companies helping to define particular competencies for students to acquire in university courses. One possibility, for example, would be a course series designed by professional societies to teach skills and content that students need, such as standards or ethics.
A new normal is evolving in engineering education, Pines said in summary. The value proposition that centers on creation, solutions, humanity, and society is creating a greater emphasis on hands-on and experiential learning opportunities in the context of current and future societal challenges. Professional societies can play a critical role in this new paradigm by:
- connecting engineering education to real-world practice and solutions
- serving as design team reviewers, mentors, advisors, and educators
- creating challenge projects to advance technology and skills
- providing opportunities for international and service learning
- serving as ambassadors to the profession through outreach to K–12 education.