The workshop opened with an overview of the evolution of engineering education and faculty roles. The two speakers considered corresponding changes in the evaluation criteria for faculty, including measures of their impact. The session ended with a discussion among participants of two questions about their own experiences and observations about these changes.
Before 1950 the practice of engineering was the main driver in engineering education, observed Don Giddens, dean emeritus of the College of Engineering at Georgia Tech. Graduates were trained for industry, with an emphasis on design. As the major disciplines—civil, mechanical, and electrical engineering—evolved, professional societies formed and contributed to the development of codes and standards, built professional communities, and shaped engineering education.
Around the middle of the 20th century, engineering education incorporated a strong foundation in the natural sciences, especially physics, chemistry, and mathematics. To its traditional emphasis on design it added analysis and the theoretical underpinnings of practical applications.
After 1990 an increasing number of interdisciplinary programs took shape. New fields that crossed traditional engineering disciplines, such as bioengineering, drew lessons from earlier interdisciplinary programs, such as
aerospace engineering, chemical engineering, and industrial engineering, while creating their own identities, curricula, and criteria for engineering education.
Engineering education was another area of scholarship and professional endeavor that arose and began to evolve. Engineering educators and researchers studied how people learn to determine the most effective forms of teaching and ways to engage students in learning. Problem-based learning, student-centered learning, and creativity as part of design became more prominent in engineering curricula.
In the 21st century, several landmark reports articulated new directions for engineering education. These included the reports of the National Academy of Engineering on The Engineer of 2020: Visions of Engineering in the New Century (2004) and Grand Challenges for Engineering (2008), the Vision 2030 project of the American Society of Mechanical Engineers, and the American Institute of Chemical Engineers’ 2015 report on Chemical Engineering Academia–Industry Alignment: Expectations about New Graduates.1 For example, The Engineer of 2020 stressed the concept of T-shaped engineering education, which combines the rigor of a single discipline with the breadth to apply that knowledge in a broad and complex array of contexts.
These changes in engineering education have had a major effect on faculty roles, said Giddens. Early on, the major requirement for teaching was practical experience, not a PhD. The modernization of curricula brought a new emphasis on faculty who were active in research. More time was spent with graduate students, with a focus on advancing a discipline. The growth in sponsored research and external funding led to a requirement for a PhD and, increasingly, postdoctoral experience. Subgroups of faculties began to appear, including professors of the practice, design professors, non-tenure-track teaching faculty, and entrepreneurs in residence. Graduate programs grew dramatically, further changing engineering education paradigms.
All of these trends have had an impact on how faculty are evaluated. Traditionally, evaluations rested on three pillars: teaching, research, and service. Variations in weighting these three measures depended on factors such as the nature of the institution, the institution’s mission, and faculty ranking systems. Based on his earlier experience at Johns Hopkins University, Giddens noted that the promotion and tenure process hinged on an ad hoc committee that evaluated a candidate and submitted a report to the academic council for a vote. The process at Georgia Tech is much more involved, he said, as candidates go through multiple levels of evaluation and voting.
In either case, assessing the impact of a faculty member’s work is the major consideration, said Giddens. Input is relatively easy to measure, such as the number of courses taught or the amount of sponsored research dollars generated. Outputs can include the number of students who graduate, student employment, teaching evaluations, publications, and citations. Other outputs can be more difficult to measure, such as contributions to education (for example, books, new courses, or advances in pedagogy), contributions to the profession (for example, committee membership, society leadership, or work on issues related to ethics), and contributions to society (for example, interactions with industry, startup formation, patents, or other effects on the economy). Student mentoring, especially at the undergraduate level, is important to consider, as is the overall impact of the RPT process on diversity.
Giddens concluded that the criteria for reappointment, promotion, and tenure drive faculty behavior. Some faculty members are “triple threats” who excel in research, teaching, and service. Others are selectively excellent, such as in their contributions to engineering education. Additional considerations are what is best for the institution, for the profession, for the public, and for students.
Professional societies have always played a role in activities that influence faculty assessments, such as providing mechanisms for reporting on scholarship through publications and conferences and providing service opportunities through faculty interactions with student chapters and competitions. Societies also play a key role through the ABET (formerly known as the Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology) accreditation processes. The question to be addressed during the workshop was how these and other activities can play better play a role in the faculty assessment process.
1 NAE. 2004. The Engineer of 2020: Visions of Engineering in the New Century. Washington: National Academies Press; NAE. 2008. Grand Challenges for Engineering. Washington: National Academies Press; ASME Board on Education. 2011. Vision 2030: Creating the Future of Mechanical Engineering Education. New York; AIChE. 2015. Chemical Engineering Academia–Industry Alignment: Expectations about New Graduates. New York.
Monica Cox, professor and chair in the Department of Engineering Education at the Ohio State University, explored measures of impact that go beyond the conventional metrics of publication, conference attendance and presentations, committee work, and teaching. As an example of unusual impacts, she cited the MacGyver television show, which depicts the resourceful ingenuity of engineering; GoldieBlox, a children’s toy developed by an engineer who wanted children to become enthusiastic about engineering early in life; and the work of Roxanne Gay, who earned a PhD in rhetoric and technical communication and went on to write a novel, a best-selling collection of essays, and other books. Engineering is also a critical contributor to public policies, she said, because of the complexity of society and the impact of engineering on society.
Given the many ways engineering affects society, “my big question for all of you is: Is this impact? Would you support someone’s promotion, reappointment, or advancement if they communicated their engineering or their technology in any of these ways?” In some cases, the answer may be yes, but more often, she said, the answer is probably no.
Scholarship is more than discovery, she explained. It can include integration, or looking across disciplines to connect knowledge from one field with that of another. It can include the application of knowledge in industry or other contexts. It can include teaching and learning, whether with students or the broader public. “Is that something we expect, or is that something people will be discouraged from doing because it takes too much time and is out of the scope of what we anticipate?”
A related question is how to acknowledge faculty members who expand traditional boundaries or transcend disciplinary perspectives. PhD training is designed to produce experts in particular areas. But PhD recipients are also expected to exhibit breadth by being leaders, engaging in research groups, and communicating with people, none of which faculty are formally taught to do in their PhD training. How can faculty be rewarded for developing these skills?
High impact can have different definitions from institution to institution and between tenure-track and non-tenure-track faculty. And impact can extend beyond institutions to society at large. “How do we transform engineering so that engineers are at the forefront of politics, entertainment, athletics, business, and any area that impacts life as we know it?” asked Cox.
The business world can provide lessons for engineering, she continued. Failing fast, thinking outside the box, encouraging and rewarding innovation, and promoting teamwork can all help bring about the needed transformation of the field.
Another key is recognizing the personalization of the faculty experience. “What does it look like if someone has a particular background, comes from a rural area and focuses on that type of work, or is interested in engineering impact in a very different way? Can we somehow personalize that experience so that that person is rewarded in the same way as someone who is following a blueprint that has been created for them over time?”
Cox has done work on the concept of stewardship in engineering education. Using a framework developed by Golde and Walker,2 she has examined ways to generate knowledge in a field, conserve that knowledge, and use it to transform the field. Through interviews with 40 engineering PhD holders in academia and industry, Cox identified characteristics that transcend the workplace, including curiosity, adaptability, and ethical awareness.3 Expectations in the workplace now include leadership skills, understanding of technical work, the ability to synthesize information across fields, communication of information to students and the public, and mentoring. These and other attributes can all be translated into evaluation criteria, she pointed out.
This work could be a springboard for how people think about evaluating faculty in engineering, she said. It could lead to new measures of impact that can be adapted and promoted for individual campuses. It could even
2 Golde CM, Walker GE, eds. 2006. Envisioning the Future of Doctoral Education: Preparing Stewards of the Discipline. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.
3 Berdanier CGP, Tally A, Branch SE, Ahn B, Cox MF. 2016. A strategic blueprint for the alignment of doctoral competencies with disciplinary expectations. International Journal of Engineering Education 32(4):1759–1773.
lead to entirely new ideas of the kind generated by companies like Google and organizations like the Kern Entrepreneurial Engineering Network (KEEN).4
But she reminded listeners that basic questions asked by faculty members still have to be answered: Will I be evaluated fairly? Do I belong? If I take a risk, will I lose my job? Can I be my true self? How do I connect to communities that matter? Answering these questions fully and honestly will be essential to attract young people to engineering departments and retain them, Cox concluded. “We need to push ourselves to ask the questions and critically reflect on how we’re going to meet the needs that are out there.”
After these presentations, participants considered two questions posed by the workshop organizers:
1. Given how engineering education has changed, how are the roles of faculty and the RPT process evolving?
Among the answers provided were the following:
Changes in industry and academia have been driving change in the undergraduate curriculum. For example, teamwork and projects are now emphasized in almost all of Iowa State’s undergraduate courses. And because of changes in federal research support, a biochemistry course is now required of undergraduates.—James Hill (Iowa State University and AIChE)
Much innovation today occurs at the edges of disciplines, so students need to have both breadth and width of knowledge to work comfortably in these areas.—Margaret Pinnell (University of Dayton)
The pace of technological change requires that students be adaptable and able to work in teams of not only engineers but people from other disciplines.—Ajit Yoganathan (Georgia Tech)
The focus has been shifting from classroom teaching to learning that takes place outside the classroom, including undergraduate research, team competitions, vertically integrated projects, and online learning. The result has been a rich assortment of blended learning opportunities that benefit students and further the integration of research, education, impact, and outreach.—Unidentified speaker
In an effort to find T-shaped engineers, industry has begun looking at the electives undergraduate engineering majors take to provide insight into their long-term perspectives.—Paul Stevenson (McCormick Stevenson Corporation)
Engineering education has become a valid and useful discipline, in and of itself, that contributes to all the other disciplines of engineering.—Bevlee Watford (Virginia Tech and ASEE)
Despite a reduction in credit hours, students have benefited from the revival of manufacturing in the United States, from hands-on experiences such as maker spaces, and from “supercurricular experiences” such as large-scale engineering competitions and other multidisciplinary team-based experiences. Industries are so interested in students with the resulting skills that some no longer recruit on campus but go directly to the competition teams.—Kenneth Cunefare (Georgia Tech)
Online learning has made it possible for a faculty member to influence not just 50 or 100 students at a time but thousands or tens of thousands.—Doug Blough (Georgia Tech)
2. Given the changes in engineering education, what connections are important between industry, faculty, and engineering societies?
Among the responses were the following:
Industry has been working more closely with academia to tailor courses to its needs, which has reduced the role of engineering societies. Getting societies involved earlier in the process could strengthen the interactions among engineers in different sectors.—Dianne Chong (Boeing, retired, and SME)
The pace of technological change is so fast that no one sector can keep up on its own, requiring enhanced interaction among industry, academia, and engineering societies.—Bernard Kippelen (Georgia Tech)
Articulating the value of engineering education and developing strong student professional chapters can help students develop in different domains, including leadership and project management.—Darryl Dickerson (Purdue University and NAMEPA)
Enhanced interactions among industry, academia, engineering societies, and government can promote inclusion and better technologies for people with disabilities.—Maureen Linden (Georgia Tech)