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Understanding the Educational and Career Pathways of Engineers (2018)

Chapter: 2 Challenges for Engineering Education

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Suggested Citation:"2 Challenges for Engineering Education." National Academy of Engineering. 2018. Understanding the Educational and Career Pathways of Engineers. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/25284.
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2

Challenges for Engineering Education

For much of the history of the profession, the evolution of engineering education has mirrored changes in technology and society. Disciplines have been added and curricula modified to yield a workforce capable of meeting the needs of society. As NAE president C. D. Mote, Jr. put it, “Every engineering field was essentially formed to get the knowledge and know-how to execute tasks that were necessary for the community to make progress.”1 Considering the wide range of occupations and work activities that currently engage the nation’s engineering workforce, the occupational flexibility of degreed engineers, the demographics of the workforce, the pace of technological change, and powerful trends in the global distribution and organization of engineering work, how well is the US engineering education enterprise adapting to meet current and future demands for engineering skills and knowledge throughout the nation’s economy and society?

This chapter explores the implications for engineering educators of advances in particular fields of science and technology, and the growing demand for engineering graduates with a mix of strong technical and professional skills. It then reviews several promising developments in engineering education that address evolving workplace demands on engineering graduates by drawing on a growing knowledge of how people are attracted to, learn, and teach the discipline. It also examines the challenges associated with the assessment and diffusion of innovations in engineering education, engineering faculty development, and lifelong learning for engineering graduates and practitioners.

NEW SKILLS AND KNOWLEDGE FOR ENGINEERS

In keeping with rapid advances in many fields of science and technology, the field of engineering has evolved in recent decades to incorporate computing and, to a lesser extent, the life,2 social, and behavioral sciences as well as

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1 Remarks at the NAE Workshop on Pathways for Engineering Talent, November 19, 2014; available at https://www.nae.edu/Projects/Continuum/nov19webcast/123918.aspx. Dr. Mote reviewed the history of engineering, explaining how different fields arose based on societal needs and technology at the time (e.g., mechanical engineering began with the Industrial Revolution and the need to engineer steam engines). However, he went on to say that many world problems that require engineering solutions do not fit neatly into traditional disciplines, and much engineering work is performed by individuals without engineering degrees. This situation creates challenges for engineering education and its traditional curricula.

2 From 2003 to 2017, there was more than a fourfold increase in the number of accredited BS bioengineering and biomedical engineering programs in the United States, from 24 to 107 (ABET 2017); and the number of biomedical engineering jobs is projected to grow 23 percent between 2014 and 2024 (US Department of Labor 2017). MIT made the study of biology a General Institute Requirement (i.e., a core curriculum requirement) of students in the 1990s (MIT website, http://catalog.mit.edu/mit/undergraduate-education/general-institute-requirements/).

Suggested Citation:"2 Challenges for Engineering Education." National Academy of Engineering. 2018. Understanding the Educational and Career Pathways of Engineers. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/25284.
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the humanities into its core curriculum, augmenting the well-established foundations of math, physics, and chemistry. The committee focused on computing because the use of skills and knowledge in this area has become increasingly fundamental for a number of engineering fields and applications beyond electrical and computer engineering.

At the same time, there is growing demand from industry for engineering graduates to be equipped with nontechnical or professional attributes and abilities in addition to their technical aptitude (Brunhaver et al. 2017; Sheppard et al. 2009; Shuman et al. 2005). Moreover, engineers have recently begun to incorporate considerations such as sustainability, societal impact, and public policy in their work, and they need stronger communication skills to seek and incorporate the input of diverse stakeholders (NSPE 2013).

Computing and Engineering

The educational and career pathways of computer scientists and engineers are increasingly intersecting, as is seen in the overlap in occupations, skills, and degrees of the two fields. The abilities and knowledge involved in computing—including programming, computing architecture and organization, data mining, software design, and the relatively new field of data science—should be included in the list of attributes for future engineers. Computers and software are ubiquitous tools in design, simulation, testing, and manufacturing, and computing (NASEM 2018a) and data science (NASEM 2018b) skills are desired in almost all occupations. Therefore, just as fundamental mathematics and science knowledge have historically been basic requirements for an engineering degree, computing aptitude is now essential to an engineer’s toolbox. College students seem to be aware of this, as enrollment by noncomputing majors in computer science (CS) classes, at both introductory and higher levels, is increasing dramatically (CRA 2017; Lazowska et al. 2014; NASEM 2018a) and many institutions report an increase in CS minors, although the data do not specify the majors of those students (CRA 2017). Computing can be taught in CS courses or included as part of discipline-specific courses; given the rapid increase in CS enrollments all institutions will need to design solutions to teaching computing to engineers (and other students) based on their own context, size, and number of faculty (NASEM 2018a).

At the university level there are five core computing disciplines, as defined by the Association for Computing Machinery, Association for Information Systems, and IEEE Computer Society (Joint Task Force for Computing Curricula 2006, pp. 13–15):

  • Computer engineering: design and construction of computers and computer-based systems
  • Computer science3: design and implementation of software, new computer uses, and effective solutions to computing problems
  • Information systems: integration of information technology solutions and business processes to meet the information needs of organizations
  • Information technology: repair, maintenance, and replacement of computer technology and systems to support the needs of companies and organizations
  • Software engineering: development and maintenance of software systems that are reliable and efficient.

Of the five computing disciplines, computer engineering and software engineering are taught in departments by those names (or variations thereof) in a majority of US schools of engineering and are recognized as engineering disciplines by ABET (formerly known as the Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology),4 although they

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3 Although engineering and computing are closely related, the discipline of computer science and computing occupations are defined as distinct from engineering by the statistical agencies that track graduation rates and employment (e.g., degrees in computer engineering – hardware are categorized by NSF as engineering, whereas degrees in computer engineering – software are categorized as computing) and the report follows this categorization in the analyses. Although the committee examined some aspects of career flexibility and pathways for those with computer science degrees and found pathways similar to those for engineering degrees, a full review of the pathway to a computing degree and then on into the workforce is beyond the scope of the project. Chapter 1 explains how these data are collected.

4 ABET has accreditation standards for engineering programs that include “electrical,” “electronic(s),” “computer,” “communication(s),” “telecommunication(s),” or similar modifiers in their title. However, accreditation of software education programs is not uniformly conducted across engineering departments (there are 27 accredited software engineering programs).

Suggested Citation:"2 Challenges for Engineering Education." National Academy of Engineering. 2018. Understanding the Educational and Career Pathways of Engineers. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/25284.
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are taught in engineering schools at some universities and in the computer science department of schools of arts and sciences at others.5 Information technology degrees are newer and are taught at two- and four-year technical schools, online, and in university computer science departments. The field of information systems has the least connection to engineering, as evidenced by the fact that most of its degrees are awarded by business schools (Joint Task Force for Computing Curricula 2006). In short, the current academic home of most computing disciplines is more a function of the historical development of specific institutions of higher education than any deeper insights into the relationship between computing and engineering.

Approximately 16 percent of BS engineers work in computer-related occupations, but many more use computing skills in their occupations. Many of the skills and concepts associated with the computing disciplines of computer science, information technology, and software engineering are closely related to those of engineering disciplines. The design component in both programming and engineering relates to the problem-solving nature of both disciplines, and computer programming is an important task for those in engineering occupations—33 percent of engineering bachelor’s degree holders report spending at least 10 percent of their time on this task in their jobs (NSCG 20136).

Finding: The disciplinary foundations of engineering are expanding with the growing influence and incorporation of computing, the life sciences, the social and behavioral sciences, business management concepts and skills, and entrepreneurship. In particular, computing and data science knowledge and skills are increasingly fundamental to a range of engineering applications, computer occupations employ over 15 percent of all engineering graduates and are projected to grow rapidly over the coming decade, and engineering schools need to recognize and support the interaction between engineering and computer science in all disciplines, whether with more required courses for all majors or instruction in computing skills as part of discipline-specific courses.

Growing Demand for Professional Skills

Changing business imperatives and associated growth in the occupational responsibilities and tasks of today’s engineers have raised the demand for engineering graduates with strong professional and technical skills (Brunhaver et al. 2017; Lynn and Salzman 2010). More than a quarter of a century ago, technology-intensive industries began calling for well-rounded or “T-shaped” workers, that is, those who combine deep knowledge and skills in a particular subject with broad, interdisciplinary, collaborative skills (Miller 2015).

In the mid-1990s ABET responded to growing employer dissatisfaction with the “professional” preparedness of degreed engineers with Engineering Criteria 2000 (EC2000), a major overhaul of engineering education requirements (Lattuca et al. 2006). EC2000 underscored the importance of professional skills as a necessary complement to technical skills by requiring that engineering graduates be equipped to function on multidisciplinary teams, communicate effectively, engage in lifelong learning, and possess a knowledge of contemporary issues, understanding of their professional and ethical responsibility, and understanding of “the impact of engineering solutions in a global, economic, environmental, and societal context” (see table 2-1).

In 2004 the NAE built on the EC2000 characteristics to indicate aspirational goals with its report The Engineer of 2020: Visions of Engineering in the New Century (NAE 2004), identifying nine required attributes of future engineering graduates (table 2-1). Underscoring once again the importance of combining strong technical and professional skills, the Engineer of 2020 attributes reinforced the 11 EC2000 criteria (a–k) while enlarging the scope of required professional skills to include creativity and innovation, business acumen, high ethical standards, and adaptive leadership.7

Since publication of The Engineer of 2020 many different stakeholders have repeated and refined the calls for engineers to have a combination of strong technical and professional skills (ASCE 2008; ASME 2011; NAE 2005; NSPE 2013; Shuman et al. 2005), including creativity (Cropley 2015), adaptive leadership (Knight and

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5 Of the 227 US institutions that offer PhD programs in computer science, 97 of the programs are housed in engineering colleges.

6 National Survey of College Graduates, https://nsf.gov/statistics/srvygrads.

7 At the time this report was written, ABET was in the process of revising these criteria; this report does not address the proposed revised criteria.

Suggested Citation:"2 Challenges for Engineering Education." National Academy of Engineering. 2018. Understanding the Educational and Career Pathways of Engineers. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/25284.
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TABLE 2-1 Attributes of engineers set forth by the NAE Engineer of 2020 Committee mapped to ABET EC2000 criteria.

Engineer of 2020 attributes ABET criteria mapped to NAE “2020” attributes ABET EC2000 criteria
Strong analytical skills a, b, k
  1. An ability to apply knowledge of mathematics, science, and engineering
  2. An ability to design and conduct experiments, as well as to analyze and interpret data
  3. An ability to design a system, component, or process to meet desired needs within realistic constraints such as economic, environmental, social, political, ethical, health and safety, manufacturability, and sustainability
  4. An ability to function on multidisciplinary teams
  5. An ability to identify, formulate, and solve engineering problems
  6. An understanding of professional and ethical responsibility
  7. An ability to communicate effectively
  8. The broad education necessary to understand the impact of engineering solutions in a global, economic, environmental, and societal context
  9. A recognition of the need for, and an ability to engage in, lifelong learning
  10. Knowledge of contemporary issues
  11. An ability to use the techniques, skills, and modern engineering tools necessary for engineering practice.
Practical ingenuity, creativity, and innovation c, e, k
Good communication skills g
Business acumen and management skills d
High ethical standards and professionalism f
Agility, resiliency, and flexibility d, i, b
An appreciation for lifelong learning i
Ability to put problems in their sociotechnical and operational context h, j, c
Adaptive leadership d

Sources: The Engineer of 2020 attributes are set forth in NAE (2004), chapter 4. The ABET criteria are described in chapter 1 and available online at www.abet.org/accreditation/accreditation-criteria.

Novoselich 2017), entrepreneurship (Taks et al. 2014), interdisciplinary learning (ASEE 2009; Lattuca et al. 2017; NAE 2005), and lifelong learning (Dutta et al. 2012; NSPE 2013; STEMconnector 2014). For the perspective of one major employer of engineering and computer science graduates, Google, on “core skills” sought in new hires, see box 2-1.

Suggested Citation:"2 Challenges for Engineering Education." National Academy of Engineering. 2018. Understanding the Educational and Career Pathways of Engineers. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/25284.
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Progress in Professional Skill Development

Many US schools of engineering have responded creatively to EC2000, The Engineer of 2020, and related calls for strengthening the combined technical and professional skills of engineering graduates. Corresponding changes to engineering curricula, pedagogy, and faculty preparation have yielded modest but measurable progress in student outcomes at many institutions. In particular, ethics education can promote engineering students’ expectation that they will experience ethical dilemmas in their professional work and their belief in the importance of acting ethically (Clancy et al. 2017) and helps graduate students become more aware of ethical and social responsibility issues related to their professional roles in society (Canary et al. 2014).

A 2006 study to measure the evolution of engineering graduates’ skills after implementation of the ABET 2000 criteria surveyed almost 10,000 students, 1,200 faculty, and 1,600 employers, comparing graduates of the classes of 1994 and 2004 (Lattuca et al. 2006). Based on changes made in response to the ABET EC2000 criteria, more than half of the faculty reported greater curricular emphasis on oral and written communication and teamwork skills and an increase in active learning approaches in the classroom, such as group work and design projects. Additionally, more than two thirds of the faculty were involved in teaching or professional development activities, although many faculty cited a lack of incentives to implement more diverse coursework that focused on professional skills.

Some improvements were apparent in the student outcomes: “The 2004 graduates reported more active engagement in their learning, more interaction with instructors, more faculty feedback on their work,…more involvement in engineering design competitions, and more openness in their programs to new ideas and people” (Lattuca et al. 2006, p. 9). And employers reported improvements in teamwork, oral and written communication skills, and adaptability to changing technologies in the engineering graduates after implementation of the modified and more diverse engineering curricular focus.

Nevertheless, given industry needs for communication, the ability to work in a multidisciplinary team, and an understanding of the different cultures in which engineers work, among other competencies, employer concerns about the adequacy of engineering students’ nontechnical, professional skills persist (ASEE 2009; Brunhaver et al. 2017; Jaschik 2015). At the November 2015 workshop organized by the study committee, senior executives

Suggested Citation:"2 Challenges for Engineering Education." National Academy of Engineering. 2018. Understanding the Educational and Career Pathways of Engineers. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/25284.
×

from NASA, Boeing, and BP all expressed concerns about the preparation of degreed engineers in terms of these professional skills.8

Part of this lack of progress may relate to evolving employer expectations of the “delivery mechanism” for employee skill development and training. Employers have long been the primary source of occupational/professional skill training in the United States. In 2014 Vice President Joe Biden reported that more than 25 percent of all employees receive some type of formal training from their employers. Roughly 70 percent of companies offer some form of training to their workers, with the vast majority of workforce development dollars dedicated to the professional development and training of more highly skilled employees (Biden 2014).

A 2004 survey of how recent MIT engineering graduates used their technical and nontechnical skills and knowledge in the workplace and where they acquired these skills reveals an interesting division of labor. The survey looked at technical knowledge and reasoning, personal and professional skills and attributes, interpersonal skills (teamwork and communication), and engineering skills, and ranked them in terms of expected proficiency, frequency of use, and source of knowledge (Wolfe 2004). Respondents indicated that they were expected to have more proficiency in their professional and interpersonal skills than in their technical skills and that they used the professional skills more frequently in their jobs. They also reported on-the-job training as the primary source for developing (1) personal skills and attributes, (2) professional skills and attributes, and (3) interpersonal skills such as communication and teamwork; they attributed their specific technical knowledge to their academic studies (Wolfe 2004).

There is some concern, however, that traditional employer human resource practices are changing, with a growing share of employers convinced that primary responsibility for producing workers with needed skills (technical or professional) should rest with the formal education sector (in particular, the not-for-profit education sector) and with job seekers themselves (Cappelli 2014). Indeed, the demand from employers for engineering educators to develop and help ensure the currency of the professional as well as technical skills of engineering students and graduates, while longstanding, appears to be intensifying. One new model of addressing the acquisition of a skilled workforce is to treat the process as a supply chain management issue, with employers building new collaborations with what are called “workforce providers” (Sheets and Tyszko 2015; USCCF 2014).

Finding: Beyond strong technical skills, more and more employers expect engineering graduates to have experience and competence in professional areas such as creativity and design, oral and written communication, teamwork and leadership, interdisciplinary thinking, business management and entrepreneurship, and multicultural understanding.

APPROACHES TO DEVELOP NEW SKILLS FOR ENGINEERS

Combined with evolving core technical skill requirements, the need to provide graduates with enhanced professional skills may appear to some a daunting proposition for engineering educators. The engineering curriculum is already tightly defined by required courses, and faculty, in general, have few resources and little time for learning and incorporating new material. In addition, as noted in chapter 1 (figure 1-B1), engineering enrollments are increasing, putting more demands on faculty and institutional resources.

Yet engineering classrooms are ideal laboratories for developing new approaches to learning. For example, in one approach, the Conceive-Design-Implement-Operate (CDIO) Initiative, collaborators across several institutions have developed and shared resources that prompt change in engineering education. Specifically, educators stress both fundamental engineering science concepts and personal/interpersonal skills, focus on retaining students, engage with industry, collaborate, and use evidence-based teaching practices. CDIO aims to “educate students who are able to: 1. Master a deeper working knowledge of technical fundamentals, 2. Lead in the creation and operation of new products, processes, and systems, and 3. Understand the importance and strategic impact of research and technological development on society” (Crawley et al. 2007, p. 20).

The expanding foundations of theoretical knowledge are as essential as ever, but technological and pedagogical breakthroughs are introducing new tools (e.g., dynamic simulations) and mechanisms (e.g., student-centered

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8 The workshop presentations and discussions can be viewed online at www.nae.edu/Projects/Continuum/nov19webcast.aspx.

Suggested Citation:"2 Challenges for Engineering Education." National Academy of Engineering. 2018. Understanding the Educational and Career Pathways of Engineers. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/25284.
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teaching techniques) for the delivery of academic content, and incoming generations of students are “digital natives.” Faculty can take advantage of their students’ technological capability while embracing student-centered approaches designed to impart the skills and attributes needed in the workplaces of today and tomorrow (NAE 2005; NSPE 2013; Sheppard et al. 2009). With this convergence of trends, now is the time for teaching to change.

The following section addresses several promising directions in engineering education at the postsecondary level that are responsive to the demand for graduates with both technical and professional skills such as creativity, leadership, entrepreneurship, and the ability to work in an interdisciplinary environment. The interventions build on a growing knowledge of how people learn and teach engineering. Engineering education research on topics such as student learning, engagement, and motivation has informed both classroom and extracurricular interventions (NRC 2012). In addition, research in educational, learning, and social and behavioral sciences has helped engineering faculty develop and use more engaging activities, implement inquiry activities that combine instruction and assessment, and include student learning outcomes and educational objectives in curricula (Froyd et al. 2012). Participation in engaging and challenging activities supports all students as they determine the implications of course material (Atman et al. 2010). In addition, the educational approaches described below have been shown to improve diversity by better engaging women, underrepresented minority, and other marginalized students. Chapter 3 examines these and other interventions at the precollege, postsecondary, and workplace levels in the context of strengthening the engineering workforce by increasing the participation of diverse individuals.

Finding: Advances in understanding of how people learn engineering, corresponding evidence-based innovations in pedagogy and technological tools for the education of engineers, and the digital fluency of incoming generations of students are all creating new needs and opportunities for engineering education to adapt. These curricular changes both improve graduates’ professional and lifelong learning skills and attract more women and underrepresented minorities to the field.

Active Learning

Active learning encompasses any teaching strategy that both involves students in classroom activities and encourages reflection about those tasks, as opposed to merely listening to and writing down information presented via lecture. Active learning includes techniques such as collaboration (students interacting to achieve a goal), cooperation (collaborative learning with students receiving their own grades rather than a group grade), and problem-based learning (learning information in the context of finding solutions to a problem) (Prince 2004). Other active techniques include service learning, which connects in-class education and academic objectives with projects that benefit the community (Swan et al. 2014), and real-world or experiential education, which presents students with ill-defined problems that include competing constraints and requires them to solve the problems as best they can. Maker spaces, which include equipment for rapid prototyping and support hands-on design experiences for students, promote the development of technical and professional skills (Barrett et al. 2015).

Active learning experiences more closely approximate engineering work in industry than traditional textbook-based problem sets. With these approaches the professor is more “mentor” than “master.” Strategies such as case-based lessons, think-aloud paired problem solving, just-in-time teaching, think-pair-share, inquiry activities, concept inventories, and peer instruction have been shown to improve student learning and engagement (Borrego et al. 2013). On the other hand, while creativity can be acquired in an active learning environment, research suggests that it is best learned when it is explicitly taught and assessed as part of the curriculum (Daly et al. 2014).

The concept of active learning is not new. Its core concept is simple: there is greater value in learning by doing. It is not enough for students to merely know the “how” (i.e., how to solve a partial differential equation); the “why” is more important—why is this equation needed, and when is it applicable? This is where techniques such as problem-driven learning come into play.

Solutions to the problems engineers face—and those not yet imagined—require critical thinking, and the adoption of active learning approaches that support the development of such thinking is accelerating among institutions that focus on STEM education. Research demonstrates the effectiveness of active learning techniques for student engagement and comprehension (Prince 2004), particularly for the current generation of college students

Suggested Citation:"2 Challenges for Engineering Education." National Academy of Engineering. 2018. Understanding the Educational and Career Pathways of Engineers. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/25284.
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who desire societal relevance and interaction in their classroom experiences (Chubin et al. 2008). A meta-analysis of 225 studies examining student outcomes for traditional lectures compared with active learning courses in STEM reported better student performance and less likelihood of failing for students in the active learning classes (Freeman et al. 2014). Other research has found that use of such techniques diminishes both the gender gap in physics (Lorenzo et al. 2006) and the gap between socioeconomically advantaged and disadvantaged students in biology (Haak et al. 2011).

Active learning is associated with improvements in student retention, learning outcomes, and satisfaction among both students and teachers (Strobel and van Barneveld 2009), and with higher retention and graduation rates among engineering students in particular (Felder et al. 1998). It reduces achievement and retention gaps between underrepresented and majority groups, and one particular type of active learning, service learning, has been shown to attract and retain females and underrepresented minorities at higher rates than the typical engineering setting (Litchfield and Javernick-Will 2015; Swan et al. 2014). (The experiences of women and underrepresented minorities in engineering education and the workplace are discussed in greater depth in chapter 3.)

Following is a small sample of the many institutions that incorporate active learning and real-world experiences in their curricula:

  • The University of California, Berkeley offers immersion in experiential design at its new Jacobs Institute for Design Innovation (http://jacobsinstitute.berkeley.edu), where students pick up tools and techniques to design and make working models in an integrative experience.
  • Harvey Mudd College’s Engineering Clinic (https://www.hmc.edu/clinic/) provides a capstone design experience modeled on how medical students learn clinical skills: Students work in interdisciplinary teams on real projects sponsored by a company; the sponsors and faculty members provide some supervision but the students are fully accountable for all aspects of the project and thus gain skills critical to their transition to the engineering workforce.
  • Michigan Technological University runs the Enterprise Program (www.mtu.edu/enterprise/), which increases the time spent in a typical capstone design program from 1 to 2 or even 3 years as students work on large teams that operate as engineering companies; they experience all aspects of engineering and management work, taking on increasing responsibility throughout the project.
  • Georgia Tech has developed a Vertically Integrated Projects (VIP) program (www.vip.gatech.edu/vip-vertically-integrated-projects-program) in which multidisciplinary teams of students—from sophomores to PhD students—function like design teams in industry and work on projects that can last several years. These teams include faculty research projects that benefit both the students—who gain research skills and leadership experience and also learn from both mentoring others and having their own mentors—and the research programs, which have increased the teams’ design and discovery.

Such innovative approaches can be difficult to implement in a traditional classroom. To address this challenge, Georgia Tech’s Invention Studio (http://inventionstudio.gatech.edu/), an on-campus “skunk works,” is run by students and replicates the maker movement. Similarly, Purdue’s i2i Learning Laboratory (https://engineering.purdue.edu/ENE/Academics/i2ilab) is an experiential, collaborative, reconfigurable learning environment for first-year engineers that takes them through each stage of the design cycle. The physical space includes floor-to-ceiling “wall talkers,” essentially whiteboard wallpaper on three walls, allowing students easy proximity and ample room for writing and sketching as they create solutions to problems. Such hands-on learning approaches encourage students to think outside the proverbial box (Prince and Felder 2007).

Another experiential learning program that has been shown to improve student retention in engineering is cooperative education (co-op) (Raelin et al. 2014). Students in co-op programs rotate between full-time work in engineering and full-time student academic work. As an example, Northeastern University (www.northeastern.edu/coop/) requires all engineering students to complete at least one co-op experience, and they can choose to complete up to three in a 5-year program. In addition to academic courses, the program includes a preparatory course in work skills such as resume writing and professional etiquette (Raelin et al. 2014).

Suggested Citation:"2 Challenges for Engineering Education." National Academy of Engineering. 2018. Understanding the Educational and Career Pathways of Engineers. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/25284.
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Entrepreneurial Experience

Entrepreneurial experience in undergraduate education helps students develop a range of business and other professional skills in addition to their engineering competencies. Graduates of entrepreneurship programs report developing oral and written communication skills and the ability to think broadly about engineering systems and to work in teams with individuals from many disciplines (Duval-Couetil and Wheadon 2013).

Several well-organized independent initiatives are available to meet the growing demand for teaching entrepreneurship in engineering:

  • The Kern Entrepreneurial Engineering Network (KEEN; http://engineeringunleashed.com/keen/) involves engineering faculty at 40 US institutions who collaborate and share resources to promote curiosity, connections, and the creation of value, all of which KEEN defines as an entrepreneurial mindset.
  • The Engineering Pathways to Innovation Center (Epicenter; http://epicenter.stanford.edu/) at Stanford University launched entrepreneurship and innovation programs such as the Epicenter University Innovation Fellows program and the Pathways to Innovation Program (https://venturewell.org/pathways-in-innovation/, now run by VentureWell). The center partners with leaders in academia and government to build a national entrepreneurship agenda in engineering, conducts research on higher education models, hosts online classes and resources, and forms communities around entrepreneurship in engineering education.
  • Although not engineering-specific, several programs offered by the Kauffman Foundation (www.kauffman.org/what-we-do/entrepreneurship) are designed to help individuals develop entrepreneurial skills; the programs include online learning, in-person short courses, and opportunities to present ideas to mentors and entrepreneurs for feedback.

Research interviews with engineering graduates suggest that they place high value on their entrepreneurship education and recognize its benefits to their careers (Duval-Couetil and Wheadon 2013; Taks et al. 2014), helping them develop the abilities to communicate, see the big picture, work with people from other disciplines, find employment, and have an entrepreneurial mindset. Graduates of these programs develop leadership and responsibility (Taks et al. 2014) and are motivated to start their own companies (Duval-Couetil and Wheadon 2013). Even if they do not start their own companies, their entrepreneurial skills and knowledge are valuable to the companies where they work (Duval-Couetil and Wheadon 2013).

Service Learning and Other Ways to Develop Professional Skills

A study of engineering education by the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching calls for greater emphasis on professional and nontechnical skills and abilities in engineering undergraduate education (Sheppard et al. 2009). And in fact many US engineering programs are working to provide undergraduate students with opportunities to gain international experience, language proficiency, and intercultural aptitude as part of their degree requirements, making them better candidates for competitive positions in today’s global economy (Alves 2015; Besterfield-Sacre et al. 2015; Eljamal et al. 2015; Jesiek et al. 2012; Mariasingam et al. 2008). For example, nearly half of the engineering students at Georgia Tech now graduate with some type of international experience, acquired through study, work, research, or service abroad.

Participation in a service learning program such as Engineers Without Borders (EWB; www.ewb-usa.org/) has been shown to boost students’ confidence in their professional skills, compared to students who did not participate in such a program (Litchfield et al. 2016). And engineering service, which combines learning engineering topics with the opportunity to apply engineering skills to community challenges, promotes both the ability to take a multidisciplinary systems approach and an understanding of the broader context and impact of engineering (Litchfield et al. 2016).

In Purdue University’s Engineering Projects in Community Service (EPICS; https://engineering.purdue.edu/ EPICS), students earn course credits by participating in long-term, multidisciplinary teams that design solutions for nonprofit organizations in the same community as the education institution (Coyle et al. 2005). One survey of

Suggested Citation:"2 Challenges for Engineering Education." National Academy of Engineering. 2018. Understanding the Educational and Career Pathways of Engineers. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/25284.
×

Purdue program alumni working in industry found that their EPICS participation prepared them for professional engineering work by improving their teamwork skills, leadership, oral and written communication, and interdisciplinary thinking (Huff et al. 2016).

Experiential, or hands-on, learning can develop skills such as oral and written communication, collaboration, leadership, advocacy, and perseverance, empowering students and giving them a sense of purpose (Gallup 2014). National programs that offer such experience for K–12 students are the FIRST Robotics Competition and code.org, among others (Miller 2015). At the college level, opportunities for this type of learning are available in internships, competitions, and co-op experiences, which also give students a feel for industry needs and processes.

One initiative that seeks to integrate several innovative directions in engineering education is the National Academy of Engineering Grand Challenges Scholars Program (GCSP).9 Inspired by the 2008 NAE Grand Challenges for Engineering report, which identified 14 significant areas for engineering contributions in the 21st century, the GCSP is essentially a “certificate program” combining interdisciplinary curricular and extracurricular components that prepare students to contribute to solutions to some of the biggest issues of the time, engaging the very essence of engineering—creating solutions to problems of people and society.

Started in 2009 by academic leaders from the University of Southern California, Duke University, and Olin College of Engineering, the NAE GCSP recognizes and rewards engineering students who graduate with preparation in five competencies: (1) talent: mentored research/creative experience on a Grand Challenge-like topic; (2) multidisciplinarity: understanding of the multidisciplinarity of engineering system solutions developed through personal engagement; (3) viable business/entrepreneurship: understanding, preferably developed though experience, of the necessity of a viable business model for solution implementation; (4) multicultural awareness: understanding of different cultures, preferably through multicultural experiences, to ensure cultural acceptance of proposed engineering solutions; and (5) social consciousness: understanding that engineering solutions should primarily serve people and society. There are active GCSPs at more than 60 US schools of engineering, with an additional 100 schools of engineering in the United States and overseas committed to establishing GCSPs in the next few years.

Some institutions have implemented “learning communities” that promote collaborative learning experiences among students (Tinto 2003) and increase the sense of community among student and faculty participants through integrated course modules, pedagogical practices that promote active and cooperative learning, and peer groups. A community program at the Colorado School of Mines found that participating students (as compared with peers who did not participate in the program) became actively involved in learning both in and out of class and, most noteworthy, persisted and graduated at rates that were approximately 25 percent higher than their peers (Olds and Miller 2004).

Living-learning (L/L) programs are a type of learning community in which undergraduate students live together in a residence hall and participate in academic and/or extra- or cocurricular programming specifically designed for their group (Inkelas et al. 2007). One study reported significant benefits for L/L participants compared to other students, in areas such as positive interactions with peers and faculty, an easy academic and social transition to college, and higher scores for critical thinking, ability to apply knowledge, and confidence of success in their math, English, and writing courses as well as test-taking skills (NSLLP 2007). Other research on different types of programs has similarly found that L/L communities enhance students’ connections and interactions with other students, develop motivation, and improve educational outcomes such as oral and written communication or analytical skills (Beachboard et al. 2011).

Faculty Preparation

Although engineering faculty rate student preparation for postcollege employment, preparation for graduate study, mastery of knowledge in a particular discipline, and development of creative capacities as important or essential student outcome goals for their undergraduate courses, they are not necessarily prepared to realize their commitment to these outcomes in the classroom. Specifically, analysis of survey responses (see appendix C) from engineering,

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9 Information about the GCSP is available at www.engineeringchallenges.org/GrandChallengeScholarsProgram.aspx.

Suggested Citation:"2 Challenges for Engineering Education." National Academy of Engineering. 2018. Understanding the Educational and Career Pathways of Engineers. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/25284.
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other STEM, and non-STEM faculty shows that engineering and other STEM faculty are significantly less likely than non-STEM faculty to report using student-centered teaching strategies and that engineering faculty are the least likely of the three groups to participate in workshops or other organized activities to enhance teaching. One reason engineering faculty participate at such low levels may be that those who implement innovative classroom practices may not be rewarded by institutional promotion and tenure practices (ASEE 2012) or experience the benefits of that change, unlike their students, who gain better skills, and employers, who have access to better-qualified graduates (McKenna et al. 2011). Faculty must be motivated to implement change and may need support in order to overcome barriers and change their teaching (Matusovich et al. 2014).

Pedagogical knowledge and inclusive teaching techniques can be learned both in graduate education (ASEE 2012; Linse et al. 2004) and in teaching workshops for current faculty, which have been shown to increase faculty use of active learning and other research-based techniques. Workshops conducted by engineering faculty may promote more uptake than those without engineering-specific examples (Brawner et al. 2002). In addition to campus-based workshops, several national initiatives offer professional development activities for engineering faculty members; for example:

  • Frontiers of Engineering Education (FOEE; https://www.naefoee.org/), a program of the National Academy of Engineering, brings together engineering faculty who are implementing innovative teaching techniques in their classroom to share their ideas and learn new approaches for teaching or assessing student outcomes from peers and experts.
  • The National Effective Teaching Institute (NETI; https://www.asee.org/conferences-and-events/conferences/neti), a program of the American Society for Engineering Education (ASEE), hosts workshops that provide new faculty members with practical tools for effective teaching and experienced faculty with information they can use to develop their own campus-based development and mentoring programs.
  • Workshops at the annual ASEE conferences (https://www.asee.org/) and Frontiers in Education (http://fie2017.org/) also support the teaching activities of engineering faculty and doctoral students.

Changes in undergraduate and graduate engineering education require institutions to support faculty members as they learn about both instructional behaviors and current industry practices, applications, and problems. One method of learning new engineering information is through university-industry collaborations, which afford faculty members valuable experience working in industry while on a sabbatical. In addition to benefits for the industry (e.g., access to basic or applied research results, which could improve their product or processes) and the local economy (e.g., increased hiring at the company as its bottom line improves), participating faculty can use the experience to develop class projects, case studies, course content, or innovative programs that present students with experiential learning that improves the skills desired by industry (McKinnis et al. 2001). Industry partnerships can also offer faculty some experience with mentoring and leading undergraduate design projects involving corporate sponsors.

Although engineering professors can learn about cutting-edge industry techniques from seminars or other interactions with industry workers, spending a longer amount of time during a sabbatical or summer internship allows deeper knowledge gain about how engineers in industry approach their work, and this knowledge can be translated to the classroom (Gorman et al. 2001). Many institutions also hire adjunct faculty who continue to work in industry and thus can incorporate current and relevant problems for students to solve (Gosink and Streveler 2000), and research suggests that faculty with industry experience are more committed to their teaching and spend more time in teaching-related activities (as opposed to research) than those without such experience (Fairweather and Paulson 1996).

Lifelong Learning

Given the rapid pace of scientific and technological advances, the diminishing shelf life of technical information, the evolution of professional skills, and the occupational mobility of engineering graduates during their careers, learning for engineers can no longer be easily divided into a place and time to acquire knowledge (university) and a place and time to apply it (the workplace). Learning is now a lifelong proposition. Indeed, former NAE president

Suggested Citation:"2 Challenges for Engineering Education." National Academy of Engineering. 2018. Understanding the Educational and Career Pathways of Engineers. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/25284.
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Charles Vest called for “a corporate and national strategy…to ramp up the quality and opportunity for lifelong learning for our engineering workforce” (Dutta et al. 2012, p. ix).

Lifelong learning is not simply a matter of credentials and certifications. It is a matter of how engineers approach the acquisition of knowledge. Today’s economy is in transition, and this new environment requires an adaptive mindset (NAE 2015). To foster adaptability, individuals, companies, and educational institutions must embrace the ongoing process of continuing education and lifelong learning, not treat it as an occasional activity.

Licensed professional engineers, particularly those in the field of civil engineering, have long engaged in activities to improve their technical and professional knowledge. But the need for lifelong learning for all engineers is increasing, for a number of reasons. As both technical knowledge and technology continually evolve, so do the depth of knowledge and breadth of capabilities needed to practice effectively in any subdiscipline of engineering. Engineers must now incorporate considerations such as sustainability, societal impact, and public policy more than in the past, and they need stronger oral and written communication skills to seek and incorporate the input of more, and more diverse, stakeholders (NSPE 2013).

Engineers can upgrade their skills and technical knowledge through both formal and informal mechanisms and in online or in-person environments. A common formal method is through alternative credentials such as professional certifications, licenses, and educational certificates. The US Census Bureau showed that, in 2012, 71 percent of those working in technical occupations held such credentials, including 33 percent of bachelor’s degree holders and 47.5 percent of master’s degree holders working in technical fields, demonstrating that these credentials are not just for those without a college degree (Ewert and Kominski 2014).

Licenses are generally obtained through regulatory bodies. The National Society of Professional Engineers (NSPE) maintains a list of state regulatory agencies that issue Professional Engineer (PE) licenses (NSPE 2017). Certifications can come from a number of sources, such as professional societies, companies, certification organizations, and universities and community colleges (Mooney 2015).

Professional societies have long offered professional development for their members. These programs, spanning a variety of topics from technical subjects to management training, may lead to certification, although many do not result in a formal credential. An example of a formal certification program is the Society of Manufacturing Engineers (SME) Certified Manufacturing Engineer (CMfgE) Certification (www.sme.org/cmfge), granted to whose who successfully pass a four-hour 180 multiple-choice-question exam; review classes are offered by SME to help applicants prepare for the exam (classroom participation is not mandatory). SME’s “Tooling U” (www.toolingu.com) is another example of training activities that can lead to certification or on-the-job training.

Engineers also continue their lifelong learning through employer programs. For example, the GE Edison Engineering Development Program (EEDP) is designed to advance technical problem-solving skills and professional leadership and communication skills through a 2- to 3-year program of three or more rotational assignments. Other companies partner with local community colleges and with certification-offering institutions to design specific courses (Mangan 2013). The Manufacturing Institute (2015) offers a toolkit to companies seeking to implement a workforce certification program.

It is unclear how many of these programs are geared toward degreed engineers rather than others in the skilled

Suggested Citation:"2 Challenges for Engineering Education." National Academy of Engineering. 2018. Understanding the Educational and Career Pathways of Engineers. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/25284.
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technical workforce. There is no comprehensive database of continuing education programs for engineers nor are there data on the number of engineers engaged in these programs.

Universities and colleges offer their own professional development courses leading to certifications for engineers. Certificate programs are almost ubiquitous at engineering colleges. The rise of massive open online courses (MOOCs) and other online courses that can lead to certifications has led universities to offer “microdegrees” (Young 2015). Faculty at universities and colleges contribute to lifelong learning by providing experiences for undergraduate and graduate students that impart skills needed to remain curious, motivated, and responsible for continuing to learn after graduation. Students gain such skills by engaging in active learning such as project-based international educational experiences (Jiusto and DiBiasio 2006) and problem-based or cooperative learning (Felder and Brent 2003).

Faculty can promote lifelong learning skills in undergraduate students by presenting strategies for study and learning (Felder and Brent 2003) and, more importantly, providing multiple occasions to practice those skills in a context that closely approximates real engineering work (Litzinger and Marra 2000). It is helpful for faculty to support these abilities by encouraging reflection (Shuman et al. 2005)—having students think specifically about what they learned in a class, how it relates to information previously learned, ethical and societal implications of the new knowledge, and what other information would be needed to solve particular problems. Requiring thorough literature searches and reference citations also promotes lifelong learning (Felder and Brent 2003). As students achieve proficiency in the other ABET professional skills–related learning outcomes, they will also develop skills for lifelong learning (Shuman et al. 2005).

Finding: Given trends in global markets for engineering talent and the pace of change in technology, business practices, and other areas, engineers must be prepared to pursue lifelong learning activities, including online programs, to keep current their technical and professional skills and knowledge.

Suggested Citation:"2 Challenges for Engineering Education." National Academy of Engineering. 2018. Understanding the Educational and Career Pathways of Engineers. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/25284.
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Outcomes: The Challenge of Assessment

There are numerous challenges to the ability to effectively assess the medium- and long-term impacts of changes in engineering education on the educational and career outcomes of students. For example, efforts to implement change tend to focus on individual faculty members, small groups (e.g., one department), or one institution. There is uncertainty in the research literature about the definition and outcome measurements of various educational innovations (Prince 2004). Assessment tools can be resource intensive to develop and validate. Surveys are frequently unable to compare outcomes for individuals from underrepresented groups because there are not enough data points to conduct statistical analyses (most federal datasets do not release information that could identify individuals, making it impossible to examine differences for women and underrepresented minorities in some engineering disciplines). And it is difficult to connect specific innovations to student outcomes over long periods of time, both because support for long-term studies is lacking and because rarely is a single intervention pursued at one time.

Finding: National survey-based datasets provide only limited insight into the dynamics of the market for engineering skills and knowledge, its connections to the educational enterprise, and broader implications.

As noted in chapter 1, there is, however, an emerging opportunity to harness and integrate “administrative data,” collected by academic institutions, government agencies, and other organizations for administrative recordkeeping, transactions, registration, and reporting. Combined with survey data, such information can yield a deeper, more fine-grained understanding of the relationship between interventions in engineering education and training and student and graduate/workforce outcomes. For example, student records of grades, courses taken, and extracurricular activities could be linked to college administrative, Census, or employment records. This information provides a map of choices, impediments, incentives, and overall migration in education and employment.

As described in box 1-4 and appendix E, preliminary efforts successfully connected data from two institutional sources, student transcripts and grant money expenditures, to determine whether paid undergraduate research employment affects academic performance or graduation rates. This type of analysis demonstrates the possibility of examining the impact of classroom or extracurricular activities or educational innovations on student outcomes. In addition, because administrative data track individuals within a very large sample, even traditionally underrepresented groups have enough data points to allow analysis.

UNDERSTANDING THE IMPLICATIONS OF GROWING ENROLLMENT OF FOREIGN-BORN STUDENTS ON TEMPORARY VISAS

Consistent with the data reported in chapter 1, the annual survey conducted by the American Society for Engineering Education (ASEE)10 shows growth in the number of foreign-born students on temporary visas11 earning engineering degrees, and it provides additional information about the enrollment of this population in US engineering programs. The data show a large increase (183 percent from 2005 to 2014) in temporary residents enrolling in US engineering bachelor’s degree programs—in 2014 they accounted for 9 percent of engineering students enrolled at the bachelor’s level, up from 5 percent in 2005. This proportion is higher than the overall temporary resident enrollment at the undergraduate level, which was 3.2 percent in 2014 according to IPEDS data. While the share of engineering master’s and PhD degrees earned by foreign-born students on temporary visas has been significant for a long time, the increase at the bachelor’s level is a recent change.

Traditionally, major public universities have regulated the number of foreign (and out-of-state) students to ensure access for in-state students, but financial pressures are making foreign-born students on temporary visas more appealing because their tuition is higher than that of state residents and they often pay full tuition (Caldwell 2012; Choudaha 2011; Drash 2015; Fischer 2011; Lewin 2012; McKenna 2015). Recent research using student

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10 Some survey results are published in Engineering by the Numbers, available at https://www.asee.org/papers-and-publications/publications/college-profiles.

11 Both NSF and IPEDS datasets group naturalized citizens and permanent residents with US-born workers, while those on temporary visas are defined as foreign-born.

Suggested Citation:"2 Challenges for Engineering Education." National Academy of Engineering. 2018. Understanding the Educational and Career Pathways of Engineers. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/25284.
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visa data for both undergraduate and graduate students shows that, while large US cities have the greatest number of incoming foreign students, the smaller US metro areas have the highest share of foreign students and thus are likely to see the most significant impacts from the increase in foreign student enrollment (Ruiz 2013). Many of the institutions in smaller metro areas are state universities (Drash 2015). Unfortunately, there is little research on how this is affecting engineering education at the undergraduate level (the impacts of foreign-born graduate students on temporary visas have been better studied).

The impacts of foreign temporary resident enrollment on the enrollment and education quality and experiences of domestic students and on university finances—the mechanism likely to link the two types of enrollments—are of particular interest. Foreign students pay the higher out-of-state tuition, which partially subsidizes domestic students and can thus increase domestic enrollment and education quality. However, the marginal cost of an additional foreign student is likely to be higher than for a domestic student; nonnative English speakers in particular require significant attention and resources to enable them to succeed in their new environment. These resources include academic support, guidance in their student living experience, postgraduate planning, and in some cases financial support, housing, and personal or psychological counseling. If the tuition paid by foreign students is set too low, the resources required to support them may divert scarce academic support, counseling, and other resources away from US-born students on some campuses. On the other hand, domestic students may benefit from their interactions with foreign classmates, and foreign students and postdoctoral fellows may collaborate with professors to increase innovation and hence US economic growth.

Evidence on the effect of foreign students on tuition revenue for public higher education institutions is mixed: one study finds that only the larger research and doctoral universities have realized net gains in tuition revenue from the enrollment of new international students (Cantwell 2015), another finds net tuition gains across a broad spectrum of public universities generated by both undergraduate and graduate foreign students (Bound et al. 2016).

A recent direct examination of the effect of foreign graduate enrollment on domestic graduate enrollment across all fields finds that the effect is positive, driven by the high tuition paid by foreign master’s students (Shih 2017; see also Borjas 2004), while the effect on undergraduate enrollment is less certain, though possibly negative (Bound et al. 2016). Foreign undergraduate students raise the average standardized mathematics scores of incoming first-year students but lower the English scores (Bound et al. 2016). Foreign graduate students perform better than the average domestic student in terms of scientific output and are more likely to patent than natives if they stay in the United States, but while in graduate school they contribute less to the patenting output of their professors than do domestic graduate students (although foreign postdoctoral students contribute the most) (Chellaraj et al. 2008; Gaule and Piacentini 2013; Gurmu et al. 2010; Stephan 2010; Stuen et al. 2012).

Research further indicates that US students benefit in a number of ways from interactions with foreign students during their education. These benefits include the acquisition of new cultural perspectives, increased empathy, enhanced awareness of language usage, improved critical thinking, and greater self-confidence, leadership, and quantitative skills (Luo and Jamieson-Drake 2013). There is evidence, however, that at least some public universities are struggling to provide the additional services that foreign students require (Drash 2015; Fischer 2011). For instance, language and cultural barriers between foreign students and their US-born classmates at both the undergraduate and graduate level appear to be growing at some institutions, with foreign students experiencing increased isolation.

Other aspects of the foreign student dimension of skilled immigration and its impact on US engineering education have been studied but were not addressed by the committee and are not included in this discussion. These encompass topics such as how the presence of foreign students influences domestic students’ choice of field of study; how foreign students who enter the US STEM labor market after graduation impact the educational and career choices of US natives as well as their eventual employment and earnings; and how nonstudent skilled immigration affects the US STEM labor market and hence the educational and career choices of native students and workers. These and other elements of student and nonstudent skilled immigration and their impacts on US engineering education, engineering labor markets, and the educational and career pathways of US natives in engineering are important, expansive, and complex topics, many of which have been the subject of considerable research and are collectively worthy of a separate study.

Suggested Citation:"2 Challenges for Engineering Education." National Academy of Engineering. 2018. Understanding the Educational and Career Pathways of Engineers. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/25284.
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The recent growth of foreign undergraduate enrollment in US engineering schools is a less-studied piece of the skilled immigration puzzle that warrants particular attention. Foreign students have constituted a large share of US engineering school enrollments at the master’s and PhD levels for decades, and the impacts of foreign graduate students have been the focus of much study. Only recently has the foreign student share of US undergraduate engineering enrollments been increasing, concurrent with rapid growth in total undergraduate enrollments in engineering. Accordingly, less research has been conducted at the undergraduate level than at the graduate level on the drivers and composition of rising foreign student enrollment in engineering and its impacts on both host institutions and the educational and career choices as well as engineering education experiences of domestic and foreign students.

Finding: Foreign-born students on temporary visas have long constituted a large share of US engineering school enrollments at the graduate level whereas the rapid growth of foreign-born temporary resident student enrollments in undergraduate engineering programs is a more recent development. Accordingly, the impacts of foreign student enrollments have been studied more extensively at the graduate level than at the undergraduate level. Additional data gathering and research are needed on the nature and impact of foreign-born temporary resident student enrollments in US engineering programs, especially at the undergraduate level.

SUMMARY OBSERVATIONS

  • US engineering education is evolving in response to rapid technological change, increasing globalization, more diverse student populations, research on teaching and learning engineering, and the need to incorporate new skills and knowledge from computing, the life sciences, the social and behavioral sciences, and other fields.

Computing and Engineering

  • The disciplines of engineering and computing increasingly intersect in both the educational and career pathways of engineers.
  • The use of computing skills is increasingly fundamental to a range of engineering fields and applications; 33 percent of degreed engineers report spending at least 10 percent of their time on computing and related tasks.
  • Computing literacy and the ability to use computing tools for design and engineering work have become a necessity for degreed engineers and those in engineering occupations.

Calls for Professional/Nontechnical Skills

  • The demand from employers for engineering graduates with strong professional skills as a necessary complement to strong technical skills appears to be intensifying, along with the expectation that engineering educators will play a central role in the development and continuous updating of these skills. In addition to more traditional professional skills like oral and written communication and teamwork, employers are looking for engineers with creativity, leadership, entrepreneurial skills, lifelong learning skills, and the ability to work in interdisciplinary teams and to incorporate interdisciplinary knowledge in their work.
  • ABET, schools of engineering, engineering societies, and educators are responding to these workplace demands and some progress has been made. But concerns persist, in part because the processes for developing the professional skills of the US engineering labor force remain largely ad hoc.

Approaches to Developing New Skills

  • The adoption of active learning (learning by doing) approaches is accelerating, and many institutions that focus on STEM education are moving in this direction; research demonstrates the effectiveness of such techniques for improving student engagement and learning as well as decreasing achievement gaps for students
Suggested Citation:"2 Challenges for Engineering Education." National Academy of Engineering. 2018. Understanding the Educational and Career Pathways of Engineers. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/25284.
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  • from diverse backgrounds. In addition, experiential learning both in and out of the classroom (e.g., through internships, co-ops, service learning, or study abroad) can help students develop nontechnical professional skills. However, some critical engineering skills, such as creativity, are best gained when they are explicitly taught in the classroom rather than implicitly taught through such experiences.
  • Students greatly value entrepreneurship programs for the resulting knowledge and skills, which translate well into a variety of careers.
  • Although the foundations of theoretical knowledge are as essential as ever, millennial students, who are “digital natives,” hunger for relevance and interaction. Engineering pedagogy is increasingly embracing student-centered approaches designed to impart the skills and attributes called for by the NAE Engineer of 2020 report.
  • Some institutions are implementing active and real-world experiences in their engineering curricula, providing international experiences that enhance language proficiency and intercultural aptitude, or encouraging learning communities among engineering students. These curricular changes both improve graduates’ professional and lifelong learning skills and attract more women and underrepresented minorities to the field.
  • Scientific and technological advances and the growing breadth of technical and professional capabilities required of engineers necessitate continuous learning throughout an engineer’s career. Engineering education must therefore cultivate skills related to lifelong learning.
  • As engineering education evolves to meet changes in technology, markets, and societal needs, engineering faculty must be trained on new teaching and learning techniques as well as new technology and essential professional skills that their students will encounter in the workplace. Providing faculty with experience as working engineers will help them teach their students these skills.

Strengthening Assessment

  • Efforts to implement and assess educational change can be strengthened with better tools, including both traditional surveys and administrative data that can more accurately examine long-term effects on individuals, outcomes for individuals from underrepresented groups, and effects and outcomes for individual and collective faculty, departments, colleges, and institutions.

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Engineering skills and knowledge are foundational to technological innovation and development that drive long-term economic growth and help solve societal challenges. Therefore, to ensure national competitiveness and quality of life it is important to understand and to continuously adapt and improve the educational and career pathways of engineers in the United States. To gather this understanding it is necessary to study the people with the engineering skills and knowledge as well as the evolving system of institutions, policies, markets, people, and other resources that together prepare, deploy, and replenish the nation’s engineering workforce.

This report explores the characteristics and career choices of engineering graduates, particularly those with a BS or MS degree, who constitute the vast majority of degreed engineers, as well as the characteristics of those with non-engineering degrees who are employed as engineers in the United States. It provides insight into their educational and career pathways and related decision making, the forces that influence their decisions, and the implications for major elements of engineering education-to-workforce pathways.

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