Throughout the workshop subgroups of participants met in breakout sessions to discuss specific issues associated with the role of professional societies in US engineering education. In the first two rounds of breakout sessions, participants examined eight topics tied to issues raised in the lightning rounds.
First set of breakout sessions:
- developing partnerships for innovation in education
- promoting diversity
- fostering interdisciplinary engineering education
- raising awareness of engineering disciplines.
Second set of breakout sessions:
- fostering alignment among societies
- fostering societies’ alignment with academia
- fostering alignment between academia and industry
- fostering societies’ alignment with informal learning.
At the end of the workshop’s first day, participants identified a long list of issues raised during the presentations and discussions and then voted on
those they wanted to examine in breakout sessions on the second day. The following six sets of questions resulted from this process:
- How can engineering societies share effective practices from the 50K Coalition initiative? How can more societies get involved in the initiative? How can the 50K initiative provide a framework for setting targets for the number of female and underrepresented minority faculty?
- How can engineering societies improve the public perception of engineering via marketing (à la NCAA)?
- What role can engineering societies play in helping engineering education align with the pace of change in the field?
- What role can engineering societies play in influencing the criteria for faculty success, including promotion, tenure, and recognition?
- How can engineering societies undertake joint projects and design competitions using the Grand Challenges framework?
- What is the role of engineering societies in providing training as part of engineering education?
This chapter summarizes the plenary session reports of the breakout group representatives, along with the concluding remarks of the chair of the workshop planning committee and plans for follow-up meetings to build on the progress made at the workshop.
Two significant themes emerged in the subgroup discussion of collaborations among societies on innovations in engineering education, said Kristine Ward, who reported to the plenary session for this subgroup. The first is that effective collaborations are project based. “Going in with some vague ideas or some themes that you may want to work around usually doesn’t get to an effective outcome,” she said. “Project-based [initiatives] with a tangible result are usually the best ways to collaborate as societies.”
The second theme was the need to rally around larger initiatives in engineering education to effect change. For example, the creation of the $15 million movie “Dream Big,” which was spearheaded by the American Society of
Civil Engineers, was designed to inspire young people to dream about what they could accomplish as engineers. Similarly, student competitions are a way to both inspire students and enable societies and academic institutions to collaborate more effectively.
Resources pose both opportunities and constraints, Ward observed. Among resources that offer opportunities, she cited the Frameworks Institute (frameworksinstitute.org), which provides tools for communication, research, and other activities to help convey the value of an education in STEM subjects. For example, talking to K–12 students is very different from talking to college students, which in turn is very different from talking to millennials in the workforce, and advisors can help differentiate among these audiences. Another online resource is the Portal to the Public (https://popnet.pacificsciencecenter.org), run by a collaboration of institutions dedicated to sharing ideas and strategies for scientist-public engagement.
A specific proposal would be to establish an ASEE task force to develop ideas about undergraduate engineering education that could be picked up by disciplinary societies.
The siloing of fields in engineering contributes to the challenge of increasing diversity, reported Albert Manero from this subgroup. Funding differences, the balance of risks and rewards, and communication are also barriers to greater diversity to be addressed.
Successful strategies and success stories can affect not only underrepresented groups. An impact on a small group can in turn have an impact on an entire industry, Manero said, especially if that impact is well publicized and communicated.
Partnerships among sectors can help address diversity issues. For example, collaborating horizontally across academia and industry can improve the odds of success for diversity initiatives. Grant agencies can further this process by requiring representation and inclusion, broadening the criteria by which proposals are judged.
People need to participate, contribute, and succeed to feel that they are more than just a representative of a group, Manero pointed out. Having social impact and creating social change are metrics by which members of a team judge themselves and their work. Full integration into a group, rather
than being on the fringes, can create greater collective impact and benefit all members of the group.
The subgroup on fostering interdisciplinary engineering education noted that interdisciplinarity does not mean being an expert in every area, said Burton Dicht. Rather, it means being able to interface and work as an effective team member with people who have different disciplinary backgrounds, even outside of engineering. Some university programs have students working outside their discipline (such as finance majors doing engineering design, or engineering students doing logistics). Many programs fuse different disciplines (bioengineering is a good example), and capstone projects are good tools to drive interdisciplinary work, Dicht observed.
Other types of programs and actions could enhance interdisciplinary engineering education, Dicht continued, by, for example, linking technical professional societies to the engineering curriculum, giving students credit for work they do with professional societies, and defining learning objectives and assessments that incorporate interdisciplinary objectives. These activities could be linked with ABET criteria and include incentives for faculty (such as teaching credits) to drive the activities.
Starting these activities with freshmen would introduce them early on to interdisciplinary education. In addition, such an approach could attract students from other disciplines like mathematics or the sciences.
However, efforts to increase interdisciplinary engineering education also face a number of obstacles, Dicht noted, such as cultural issues within departments, lack of credit for faculty in pursuing such objectives, already high teaching loads, and silos between disciplines.
One innovative approach discussed by the subgroup would be to create a multidisciplinary challenge among engineering societies. For example, societies could collaborate to create a competition or challenge that would go to all students and require multidisciplinary teams as a condition of entry.
Engineers do not do a good job of marketing their profession, said Charles Reinholtz, who reported from the subgroup that discussed raising awareness of engineering disciplines. From high school students to the general
public, people are not much aware of what engineers do and why it is exciting. In contrast, he said, look at the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) and college athletics. National signing day is a well-covered event that generates interest and excitement among large segments of the population.
Why can’t the same thing be done for engineering, Reinholtz asked? Generating excitement about high school and college-level engineering could raise media and public awareness of the profession. Competitions, the Grand Challenges for Engineering, scholarships, goal-oriented teams, and a supportive culture could all get students and others excited about engineering.
Furthermore, Reinholtz pointed out, engineering has something that the NCAA does not: jobs after graduation. Just a tiny fraction of student athletes go on to become professional athletes, whereas engineers have tremendous job prospects after graduation. This career potential could drive a much greater effort at the high school and college level to promote engineering.
The group also discussed the gap that often emerges between students’ membership in professional societies and their involvement in those societies as professionals. In the first several years after college, beginning professionals tend to lose interest in societies and rejoin only later. Reduced or free membership for engineers for the first year or few years after they graduate could close this gap, Reinholtz suggested.
Engineering and the products of engineering also could be humanized to a greater extent. A focus on individuals, groups, and cooperation can form the basis of success stories that could interest students and others in engineering. For example, stories of engineers from disadvantaged circumstances who succeed can inspire young people to enter the profession.
Finally, it is important to get media and marketing people involved in communicating about engineering, Reinholtz said. Competitions, success stories, and societal impact can all get the media interested. He suggested emulating NASCAR, which continually tweaks the rules of auto racing to make its events more exciting. Competitions that are too long or poorly formatted are less likely to excite students and the public, even though engineering has unique stories to tell.
Fostering Alignment among Societies
The subgroup on establishing effective intersociety collaborations identified several roadblocks to such collaboration, Burton Dicht reported, including a constantly changing roster of volunteers, uneven distribution of workload, difficulty finding the right contacts at other societies, challenges identifying subject matter experts to address key issues, intellectual property held by societies, and competition for the same audiences and funding. The sustainability of collaborations is also an issue, since societies sometimes lose interest in a topic.
The subgroup discussed several ideas intended to overcome the roadblocks. One is to have more workshops that bring societies together to discuss topics of common interest. For example, ABET brings together societies to address issues, and they are not always specifically associated with accreditation. Societies also have to be willing to explore topics beyond their own fields of interest, Dicht remarked, including broader issues such as the Grand Challenges. Areas such as curriculum development could provide a further basis for collaborations.
Societies have areas of strength and weakness, but they can all focus on broad objectives. And new social media tools can connect people, whether specifically with a society or more broadly.
Reciprocal memberships in societies bring together the staffs of those societies to learn about how other organizations operate. Transparency and trust among societies foster the sharing of both good and bad practices. Research on success stories and dissemination of those stories and lessons learned can encourage other societies to try something new. Societies need to play the long game, said Dicht, and not try to do too much. Trying things on a small scale with specific endpoints can lead to bigger efforts and help build relationships.
The conversation started at the workshop needs to continue, Dicht said, whether face to face or virtually. A central clearinghouse supported by a robust infrastructure could store, connect, and disseminate ideas so that information is easier to access than it is today.
Fostering Alignment with Academia
Engineering societies incorporate both academic and industrial members and cultures. As such, they are particularly well positioned to help univer-
sities prepare students as professionals, said Phillip Westmoreland, who reported for the subgroup on interactions between societies and academia. Professional societies shape expectations about professional behaviors in both technical and nontechnical areas, and they can analyze and shape curricula, thereby helping determine the future of professions.
Some of the influence of societies is exerted through student memberships and student chapters, which are excellent opportunities for building leadership and other skills, said Westmoreland. Chapter advisors can serve as direct connections to societies and also provide continuity as students cycle through their educational years. Affinity and disciplinary societies can support each other’s efforts both with students and in academia through work on both technical topics and pedagogical approaches.
Societies also have a subtler role to play in presenting the results of academic research to the public. Many people have faith in the role of engineers as honest brokers, Westmoreland observed, even if they do not necessarily trust the companies with which engineers are associated. Societies can advance understanding of uncertainties, interpretation of research results, and applications of those results. They can inform the public, help regulators make better decisions, and encourage other valuable uses of new knowledge. An example, said Westmoreland, is helping the public understand the balance between cyberpower and cyberthreats. In these ways, societies can enable action despite uncertainty.
Fostering Alignment between Academia and Industry
Societies can enhance alignment between academia and industry, reported Harriet Nembhard, through, for example, competitions that result in commercial products, cooperative agreements, and internships. Industry speakers and professors associated with industry can work with students and faculty members to disseminate the perspectives of industry.
Faculty members can engage with industry through advisory boards, and societies can facilitate these links. Other ways to connect faculty with industry are through partial industrial funding of faculty startup packages or through summer internships or immersion experiences in industry. NSF-sponsored Industry-University Cooperative Research Centers already have the charge of increasing the alignment between faculty members and industry, and their missions could be broadened to other kinds of collaborative activities.
The academic culture is not always supportive of links with industry, Nembhard observed. Changes in how promotion and tenure are assessed could make faculty members more open to working with industry and contribute to broader changes in the academic culture.
Fostering Alignment with Informal Learning
Informal learning outside of a structured classroom is often a major part of the college experience. In fact, research suggests that much of the learning retained from college comes from informal activities, reported Albert Manero.
Informal learning can be particularly useful in attracting and retaining groups that are underrepresented in STEM subjects, such as underrepresented minorities and women. Societies can help attract the members of these groups in several ways. They can help with transportation, families, time demands, and other needed forms of support. They can offer in-person or virtual mentoring that helps engage students and provides them with a sense of identity and belonging. They can help students overcome bias that discourages their participation in such programs.
Efforts to increase diversity and inclusivity can create a feedback loop that accelerates the process of broadening participation, Manero observed, to ensure that future cohorts of students, faculty members, and mentors are more effective and deeply engaged.
The 50K Coalition
The 50K Coalition, although still relatively new, is doing a good job of sharing effective practices, reported Leah Jamieson on behalf of this breakout group. It is holding bimonthly webinars, having meetings to share best practices around six common themes, and developing online dashboards. At the time of the workshop, the coalition had 11 university members and was working on scaling up. Jamieson pointed out that increases in size may give rise to issues of resources and data reconciliation that have to be resolved.
One promising approach is the development of models for “mutually collective impact” that rely on common goals, including a framework for
contributing to these goals outside a membership model. Getting the word out about the coalition is also important, so that other colleges and universities and engineering societies become interested in contributing to its efforts. Distribution of a white paper about the coalition to societies could foster internal discussions about participating so that societies understand how the goals of the coalition mesh with their goals.
The breakout group discussed the possibility of setting targets for the numbers of female and underrepresented minority faculty members, heads of departments, and deans. (Although not an integral part of the coalition’s efforts, it could be a parallel effort.) The relevant organizations could connect with each other to lay out a process for setting bold and realistic targets, including ownership of the targets and the tracking of progress. The presence of more female and underrepresented minorities could drive efforts to diversify the faculty and vice versa, Jamieson pointed out.
Improving the Public Perception of Engineering
Engineering departments at colleges and universities and engineering societies do not do a good job of publicizing the things they do, said Gregory Washington, reporting for the subgroup that discussed improving the public perception of engineering. One way to improve public perceptions of engineering would be to create a depository for information that highlights what is being done by these entities, both at individual institutions and across institutions.
The development of a set of “big ideas” that teams of engineers could work on also could promote the field. As examples Washington mentioned the development of autonomous or driverless vehicles, space launches, and robots that incorporate artificial intelligence. If engineering societies oversaw these projects, they could hold conferences on the topics and promote them both regionally and nationally.
The subgroup proposed partnerships with experts in marketing. Many engineering departments and societies are engaged in interesting projects; marketing assistance could help these projects gain broader visibility, which could promote the discipline as a whole.
Finally, the group called attention to the need to develop a coherent and broadly applicable definition of engineering. “It’s hard to define what it is we do because we give [people] so many different definitions,” Washington said. A single definition that extends across disciplines—such as Dan Mote’s defi-
nition of engineering as “creating solutions serving the welfare of humanity and the needs of society”—would establish a baseline from which individual organizations can develop more specific definitions of what they do.
Aligning Engineering Education with the Pace of Change in the Field
Engineering societies could be much more directly involved with translating information from industry into the curriculum, reported Kodi Verhalen. One way would be through a virtual society fair modeled on the virtual career fairs that companies have begun to hold for engineering students. In a virtual fair, individuals can participate wherever they are rather than coming to a central location to meet with representatives of organizations. Through virtual society fairs, faculty members and students could learn what societies are doing and what educational resources are available. In addition, students could learn what societies exist in their fields and how those societies can help them as they graduate and move into professions.
Engineering educators also have a responsibility to inform their students about the opportunities societies provide. Many students learn about technical societies but do not necessarily learn about the professional societies that can help them develop their practice, continue learning, and prepare for changes in their profession.
A central clearinghouse could help bridge the gap between changes in industry and changes in engineering education. For example, a web-based system targeted to faculty and students could provide information on design competitions, scholarships, prizes, openings to serve as mentors for K–12 students, and other opportunities. A clearinghouse could convey educational materials from technical and professional societies to faculty and students, such as webinars on what an organization does, educational modules on specific topic areas, or material on the pace of change in a technology. It also could inform faculty members and students about conferences, including those specifically targeted at students.
Finally, Verhalen pointed out that although some defined engineering bodies of knowledge exist, they are updated infrequently, which means that they cannot necessarily keep pace with changes in engineering and industry.
Influencing the Criteria for Faculty Success
One important step that could influence the criteria for faculty success is gathering more information about nontenured faculty, said subgroup reporter Anastasios Lyrintzis. The task would not be difficult and could provide useful information, especially about women and underrepresented minorities in this group.
The subgroup also discussed the possibilities for societies to determine the impact of publications, which are critical to promotion and tenure. Societies could provide guidance on how best to use them for this purpose.
Workshops for department chairs and deans also could generate awareness of how best to help assistant and associate professors, such as through mentoring. The efforts of the American Society of Mechanical Engineers could serve as a model in this regard, Lyrintzis suggested.
Promotion and tenure could be discussed at the annual American Society for Engineering Education meeting of deans. This or other meetings also could be broadened to include other people involved in these matters.
A particular issue that needs to be explored is the role of nontenure-track faculty, who are sometimes treated as second-class citizens. For example, could titles be changed so that people are recognized by their area of expertise, such as teaching or practice, rather than their position in an organizational hierarchy? Could metrics be developed to measure the impact of different kinds of activities? Getting full professors to adopt such measures could be difficult, Lyrintzis acknowledged, but good arguments can change minds.
Design Competitions Using the Grand Challenges Framework
The Grand Challenges for Engineering offer tremendous opportunities to engage students at all levels in engineering problems of major importance to society. Drawbacks to this approach include the bandwidth of society staff and volunteers, engaging industry in the effort, and the proper role of societies, said Burton Dicht in his summary of the subgroup discussion. Societies need to be enlisted at the top level, with the involvement of staff, volunteers, and other stakeholders, including faculty members and students.
One question is whether existing competitions can be used as models for such an effort, repackaged to incorporate the Grand Challenges. What about involving other disciplinary associations such as those in law, business,
or medicine, since these professionals also would be involved in solving the Grand Challenges? Finally, could such a competition be aligned with student capstone projects?
The American Association of Engineering Societies has agreed to serve as a facilitator to bring societies together, to curate existing society competitions, and to create a database that could foster buy-in and planning, and many other societies have expressed initial interest in this approach, Dicht reported. These societies could create an outline for a joint competition proposal describing how it would work, the competencies required to move forward, and a communication plan to involve other societies. An industry outreach plan could involve businesses.
Important goals are to finalize agreement on which societies will take part, define the competition framework, define society roles and responsibilities, develop a competition timeline with target dates, and develop a marketing and communications plan. Dicht cited the July 2017 Grand Challenges Summit, to be held in Washington, DC, as an opportunity to further the plan.
The Role of Societies in Providing Training
One way for societies to become more involved in providing training to faculty members and other educators would be for ABET to convene societies to develop workshops for faculty members on teaching engineering, reported Anne Spence. Such workshops could convey information both from the societies to educators (for example, about the skills and content knowledge that graduates lack) and in the opposite direction, so that societies learn more about what educators need.
Engineering instruction in colleges and universities is also related to the preparation of K–12 teachers of engineering. Faculty members and departments could be identified to serve as advocates for teacher preparation and to forge strong connections with societies. Together, these individuals and societies could work to develop and disseminate webinars, podcasts, and other tools that move K–12 engineering education forward.
The workshop marked the beginning of a process, not its culmination, said Leah Jamieson, noting that the project will continue with follow-up meetings. She encouraged the participants to “Keep talking, because what got
accomplished here and the things that we’re all hoping will come out of it are happening because people are connecting and talking to each other, and that’s at the heart of getting started. It doesn’t say where we’re going to end up, but it certainly is essential to getting started.”
After the workshop the steering committee and sponsor decided to focus five follow-up meetings on the topics identified by participants for discussion on the workshop’s second day. Each meeting will cover one of the topics.1 These meetings will allow for examination of the issues identified at the workshop in greater detail, with proceedings published separately.
1 The topics of “Aligning Engineering Education with the Pace of Change in the Field” and “The Role of Societies in Providing Training” will be merged.