Reengineering the Academic Engineering Enterprise
This is a time of unprecedented change as powerful forces are reshaping the world around us. In this era of change, the new challenges and opportunities for engineering are breathtaking. Four major forces are transforming our society, and they are posing major challenges for our engineering research. The first is the political force of democracy and international peace—a powerful force, indeed. For nearly a half century, concern over national and international security dominated the federal drive to build the academic research enterprise. Then, almost overnight, the Cold War has become a chapter in history books.
Now that national defense and space are no longer the foremost priorities, the national research agenda is a matter of debate. This debate is intensified by the call for greater accountability in research and the funding tug-of-war between "big" science and "small" science.
The second force is internationalization of the world community. In the global village, national borders are fading quickly. The intense competition in the global marketplace is hitting American businesses hard. As Japan and other nations have imposed numerous obstacles to U.S. entry into their domestic markets, there are legitimate concerns that the playing field is not level. Nonetheless, in response to international competition, many major U.S. corporations have made a short-term correction that holds serious implications for the future. These corporations are scaling down their great industrial research laboratories or phasing them out altogether.
The force of internationalization affects us in other ways as well. As citizens of the global village, we are bound together by our common interest
in protecting the environment. No single nation can solve problems that are global in scope, and no single nation can escape them. If we are going to survive, we must work together to save the air we breathe, the water we drink, and the food we eat.
The third force sweeping the world is the massive movement of people. There are 18 million refugees in the global village today. Another 24 million people are displaced inside their own countries. This means a total of 42 million people have been forced from their homes because of hunger, natural disaster, war, and persecution.
Today there are very few nations that do not send or receive international migrants. Massive migrations have long-lasting effects on nations and their economies, social institutions, health, environment, and relations with other nations.
I am part of this international movement. My family fled China when the Communists took over. First, we settled in Taiwan. Then we were fortunate to make our home in the United States.
Part of America's demographic transformation is a by-product of international migration—a transformation that deeply affects the academic engineering enterprise. A new wave of students will flood American colleges by the middle of this decade. In contrast to the young people who poured into our institutions two decades ago, these students will be a highly diverse group—diverse in culture, race, religion, income, and language.
The information revolution is the fourth force reshaping our world. Advances in communication technologies are changing the way we do business and even the way we conduct our daily lives. The couch potatoes of tomorrow will he "television users," not "viewers." We will transact purchases through our teleports. We will hold ''video" meetings with friends and colleagues around the world. And, when we want to relax, we will match our wits in video games against opponents down the block or across the continent.
As these forces transform our society and our world, the academic engineering enterprise has not moved with the speed necessary to respond. As a result, the public has started to question the value of engineering technology. In the first part of this century, advances in engineering technology were regarded as essential to the prosperity and progress of our nation. Today, all too often people view engineering as part of the problem, not the solution.
Spectacular disasters have reinforced this view. People are not likely to forget "Three Mile Island" or "Challenger" or "Hubble" in the near future.
This era of change poses major challenges for the American academic engineering enterprise. This is not the time to cling to the status quo. Great demands require bold action.
We must reengineer the academic engineering research enterprise. We must direct our resources to meet new challenges. We must find ways to take advantage of the rapid transformation in the world around us.
In the last century, this nation has forged the most productive academic research enterprise in history. It is clear the challenges ahead will test this marvelous enterprise. But I am confident we will meet the challenges, and we will enter the twenty-first century as a world leader.
I want to propose some ideas on how we can reengineer the academic engineering enterprise. First, I would like to discuss how we can maintain and improve the pipeline of engineers. Second, I would like to suggest some ways to stimulate the basic and applied research that is so vital to the future of our nation.
Let me elaborate. First, we must prepare for the new wave of students that will be entering colleges and universities in the mid-1990s. We must act quickly to strengthen the pipeline of engineers.
Some may question how a discussion about the pipeline relates to academic engineering research. Yet I believe this issue is central. Unless we build the pipeline of engineering talent, we will not have first-rate engineers to lead a world-class research enterprise in the new century.
The leaks in the educational pipeline are well documented—not just for women and minorities, but for all students. Perhaps the most revealing study of all found that the longer American students are in school, the less they like science and math. Clearly, we are not doing enough. It is time for us to try courageous measures that will reach students starting in elementary school and continuing through the postdoctoral level.
Let me suggest why our attempts to solve the pipeline problem have fallen short. Instead of shoring up the pipeline, we continue to block it at several key points.
What do I mean? Our profession has a very rigid notion about how you become an engineer. We put lots of obstacles in the path of potential candidates. We don't pay enough attention to offering the kind of teaching and curriculum that excites and involves students. Too often we require competition for the sake of competition.
Only those who are both dedicated and adept at clearing these obstacles will succeed. Yet what about those who fall by the wayside? Are they any less talented than those who make it to the end of the line? All too often the answer is no. We lose exceptional students who find other fields of study to be more fulfilling.
It is not enough for us to agree that we have leaks in the pipeline. We must be brave enough to discard outdated notions about what makes an engineer. We must try to recruit and retain all kinds of people to our field—whether they are women or men . . . whether the color of their skin is brown, black, yellow, or white . . . whether they thrive on competition or not. We must remove the obstacles in the pipeline, not add to them.
Let me make it clear that I believe we must continue to set very high standards in engineering. That should not change. But in addition, we must
help people to make their way through the pipeline, not get in their way. As we help them, we can make sure they meet rigorous standards.
There are four critical points in the pipeline where we are losing students. Students start to lose interest in science and math fields in secondary schools. If students fail to fulfill math and science prerequisites at the secondary level, they find it extremely difficult to catch up. Few are likely to enroll in college engineering programs, and fewer still are likely to succeed. There are some successful programs in elementary and secondary schools aimed at improving math and science learning. These programs need more resources to do a better job of reaching more youngsters.
Engineering education at the undergraduate level demands our special attention as well. We lose many of our brightest undergraduates to the social sciences, humanities, and other professional schools. Studies show that as many as 60 percent of undergraduates in engineering, science, and math switch to other fields.
This is especially a problem for women and minority students. Women receive about 15 percent of the engineering degrees in American universities. Although this marks an improvement, it is still a relatively low representation, considering that women earn more than half of all bachelor's degrees. The representation of African Americans and Hispanics is lower still. Altogether they represent less than 10 percent of all engineering graduates.
The next leak occurs at the graduate level. A growing number of engineering degree-holders are going into business, law, medicine, and other fields. Graduate engineering programs rely more and more on international students. Although international students increase the pool of talent and help fulfill the people-power needs of our nation, the vast influx has serious implications for our engineering practices and culture. We must study this trend more carefully to better assess the effects on our engineering enterprise.
The leaks in the engineering pipeline continue all the way to the faculty level. Nowadays some of the most promising young engineers are choosing industry and business over academia.
Let us discuss how we can stop the leaks in undergraduate programs and at the faculty level. These are major concerns that must be addressed by the academic engineering enterprise.
What can we do to attract and retain the most talented students in academic engineering programs? First, schools of engineering must listen to our students and design the programs that meet their interests. Not surprisingly, student interests reflect the changes in our world. Students today are less interested in defense-related fields, while more are entering fields associated with the information revolution, environment, and biotechnology.
The trend in student applications for freshman admissions at the University of California, Berkeley, is a case in point. Electrical Engineering and Computer Sciences continues to be the most popular department in
engineering. Can you guess which field ranked second in popularity? Not civil engineering. Not mechanical engineering. Even though these are top-ranking departments at Berkeley, the number of applications to bioengineering surpassed them. Environmental engineering and general engineering science were popular as well.
Engineering faculty and curricula must be flexible so we can offer the kind of undergraduate majors that reflect both the interests of students and the changing forces in the outside world. The first step is to offer the kind of programs that reflect both student interest and real-world demands. Yet this is not enough. The second step is to provide the kind of instruction and support that will maintain the interest of students and pave the way to academic success.
Let me cite a couple of examples from Berkeley. It is a common complaint about engineering programs that in the first two years of college, most students do not have time for courses that give them a taste of engineering. Instead, they are struggling to get through all the prerequisites. It is no surprise that many lose interest before they enroll in their first engineering class.
We must give students a taste of engineering right from the start. Indeed, for a few years. I volunteered to teach an introductory course on engineering at Berkeley High School.
Berkeley's College of Engineering is taking this approach. An exciting new seminar introduces freshmen to the field of engineering. Professors who are authorities in different fields lecture to the class. For instance, Professor Abolhassan Astaneh, who is working with the State Department of Transportation to seismically retrofit bridges throughout California, took students by boat to the Bay Bridge. He pointed out the damage from the Loma Prieta earthquake in 1989 and the retrofitting measures that he designed. Later, students used computers to design a bridge and estimate its cost. Classes like this generate considerable excitement in the field and keep undergraduates in the pipeline.
Another effective way to build the pipeline is to foster teamwork. It is part of our tradition in engineering to take pride in encouraging the kind of competition that separates the wheat from the chaff. But if we look a little closer, we will find that we are losing bushel loads of wheat as well.
Some engineering professors assign students to work in teams and guide them as they learn to collaborate on projects. After years of competing for grades, most students are accustomed to working on their own. They must learn how to work together effectively. Not only are team projects a good way to learn, they also are sound preparation for most careers in engineering.
Yes, it is essential that the academic engineering enterprise focus on the undergraduate educational experience. It is just as important for us to stop the leaks at the faculty level.
First-rate academic engineering programs depend on recruiting and retaining the most promising degree-holders. One problem is the disparity of salaries between the business world and academia. For instance, it is not unusual for recipients of engineering doctorates to look forward to earning as much as $100,000 a year at investment houses.
There are other reasons as well for the growing number of defections at the faculty level. Often the frustrations associated with starting up a lab and maneuvering a complex tenure system are deterrents to young engineers. Winning grant support is extremely difficult. Today the competition is so intense that major federal sources fund only 25 to 30 percent of all grant proposals. For starting junior professors, the success rate may be significantly lower.
Without grant support, the new professor cannot maintain an active lab. Without an active lab, the new professor cannot conduct the kind of research that will lead to tenure. So, instead of climbing the academic ladder, many talented new professors find themselves trapped in a vicious cycle. It is hardly surprising that too many top young engineers are turning to industry and the business world.
There are no easy answers for reversing this trend, but let us consider the following proposals. First, we must urge the National Science Foundation, National Institutes of Health, Department of Defense, and other major funding sources to build grant and fellowship programs that are aimed specifically at researchers who are in the early phase of their careers.
Second, all of us must do more to help—not hinder—young professors in their climb up the tenure ladder. Again, just as in the case with undergraduates, competition for the sake of competition does not necessarily make sense.
Senior faculty need to mentor younger faculty. We should advise them on possible avenues of research. We should help them secure grant support. We should encourage them to publish. We should help them to balance demands in teaching and research.
We should consider team research efforts as well. Interdisciplinary projects that involve both senior and junior faculty offer many advantages. However, in team projects, we must make sure that junior faculty develop on their own.
Clearly, our mission in building the engineering pipeline is demanding. Now let me turn to our mission in research.
I believe we need to do a better job of channeling the forces that are changing our world in order to fulfill our mission in research. I want to discuss some ideas for succeeding in the global arena and taking advantage of new communication technologies. Then I would like to turn to some proposals for the national agenda in basic and applied research.
First, our engineering enterprise must do more to promote interaction in the global community. Proficiency in the English language and familiarity with the American culture are no longer enough for success in the interna-
tional arena. Advanced studies and overseas appointments are one of the finest ways to gain insights about other cultures as well as learn about advances in the field. Yet many young engineers are reluctant to pursue overseas opportunities.
There is a serious concern that international businesses take advantage of American academic resources. Yet we should be just as concerned that we are failing to take advantage of resources offered by other nations.
Consider the example of Japan. Despite the availability of grants and appointments—enough in Japan alone to fill two National Science Foundation directories—many young American engineers are discouraged by differences in language and culture. Moreover, many regard these opportunities as interruptions in their careers, a view that all too often is reinforced by their institutions.
This reluctance to study and work in Japanese institutions means the U.S. engineering community is losing valuable insights into fields where Japan is gaining dominance. Although Japanese engineers who come to the United States face language and cultural barriers, they are highly motivated. There is an unwritten rule in major Japanese universities that engineers and scientists cannot advance to full-professor status unless they have conducted research or postdoctoral work in the United States or Europe.
American institutions should offer incentives to our young engineers as well. We should encourage them to take advantage of overseas opportunities so that all of us can benefit from the new knowledge developed by other nations. We should reward our young engineers for pursuing opportunities in Asia and Europe that will help them develop lifelong professional contacts. It is not by chance that all of my recent Ph.D. students do research or postdoctoral work in Japan and Germany. They know I will give them top recommendations when they take advantage of research fellowships and visiting faculty positions in these countries.
As a matter of fact, one of my Ph.D. students who has just earned his doctorate is appointed to be an assistant professor at Tokyo University. Although it is still unusual for an American Ph.D. to receive a faculty post in a Japanese university, this appointment shows the growing internationalization in academic engineering programs.
Earlier I mentioned how the information revolution will affect our personal lives. I believe we must take full advantage of interactive TV and other new communication technologies in our research as well. We must become aggressive commuters on the information superhighway.
The potential is fantastic. Interactive television opens opportunities for new modes of collaboration in research across the country and around the world. For instance, we could hold regular video conferences with colleagues instead of having to travel around the country and world every time we need to collaborate.
Already telephone companies and major corporations are investing hundreds of millions of dollars in market tests of interactive television services. The academic engineering research enterprise must stay in the loop. We must conduct in-depth discussions with corporations about our instructional needs and explore together the potential uses of interactive services in our laboratories and classrooms.
Telecommunications advances also pave the way for more rapid and effective dissemination of information. The academic engineering research community already relies on electronic library indexes and electronic billboards. Now the most established journals are investigating how to get on line.
It is critical for us to make full use of electronic journals and information databases that can be readily accessed by users worldwide. ''Publish or perish" has been the credo of academic researchers. By the new century, perhaps we should say instead, "Get on-line or face decline."
Taking advantage of the information revolution and becoming successful players in the global village will help us in our research. Now let me turn to research itself.
How can we stimulate highly creative basic and applied research? First, we must do a better job of encouraging high-risk research by individual professors. Although our peer review system has been highly successful in the last 30 to 40 years, we are starting to see a disturbing trend. A growing number of engineers and scientists are sticking to safe research that leads to incremental advances. This is not by chance. Research projects based on conventional thinking are far more likely to win the support of reviewers than high-risk research proposals.
To address this problem, I propose that federal funding agencies consider a pilot program. This pilot would provide 1 percent of the agency's funding total in the previous year to create a pool for creative, high-risk projects. Each university that receives funds from this pool would he required to respond with one-to-one matching funds. Both universities and funding agencies would monitor and evaluate these efforts closely.
We must encourage applied research as well. In the 1950s and 1960s, engineering science enjoyed a tidal wave of popularity. Many American engineers and scholars started to concentrate their research on physical phenomena and mechanisms. New and improved devices, designs, and manufacturing processes have received far less attention. This failure to apply valuable knowledge poses a serious problem for our nation.
I believe the academic engineering enterprise and industry must forge stronger partnerships. The working links start with the individual professor. As engineers, we need to go into the real world and solve real problems.
I want to draw from an observation of Professor David Patterson, who heads Berkeley's Computer Science Division. In a recent industry publication, Professor Patterson said he carefully selects a problem to research. Then he
collaborates with industry while doing his research. His last step is, and I quote, "doing the missionary work to convince people to use the ideas."
This is a method that works. Professor Patterson collaborated with Stanford University and Silicon Valley researchers to develop and demonstrate the RISC technology. Today this computer chip design is widely used in the computer workstation industry because it has increased performance and lowered costs.
Yes, it is important for individual professors to have working ties with industry. Engineering schools need to develop strong links with business and industry as well. The traditional approach is the industrial liaison program, which has been successful on campuses across the country. We need to build on this effort, trying more innovative approaches to forging links with business and industry.
As some U.S. businesses and industries scale down their research operations, it is also important for us to explore partnerships that go beyond the confines of industrial liaison programs. The chief executive officers of industry, the presidents of American universities, and the directors of federal laboratories must meet together not once, not twice, but as part of regular roundtable discussions.
The success of basic and applied research in the United States is unduplicated anywhere in the world. But our nation falls down when it comes to putting this knowledge to work.
We need regular exchange if universities are going to pursue avenues of research that can be applied. We also need open interaction if industry is going to take advantage of the new knowledge generated in university and federal laboratories.
Industry and academia can benefit if the private sector plays a larger role in supporting and participating in academic research. It is ironic that many leading U.S. academic research laboratories have received more offers of funding support and visiting scholars from Japan and Europe than from American industries. It would benefit all of us if U.S. industries moved ahead of our international competitors and interacted more with academia.
This means we must develop clear guidelines to avoid conflicts of interest, threats to academic freedom, and undesirable forms of foreign participation in our research enterprise. Only if the leaders of business, industry, and academia take part in roundtables can we develop the kind of exchange that will lead to more productive collaboration in the future.
The federal government should play a stronger role in promoting applied research as well. With the decline in private-sector research, the federal government should consider taxes and other incentives aimed at encouraging new forms of engineering research collaboration among universities, corporations, and national laboratories.
University researchers should become better missionaries—a notion I am borrowing from Professor Patterson. We must be persistent and forceful in persuading our peers in academia and industry about the potential economic and social value of new knowledge.
Meanwhile, industry must be willing to make the investment of time and resources. New technologies cannot be brought to market overnight or even in a year. Industry must be willing to make the commitment of a decade or more. Corporate goals and resources may need to be redirected as well. This was the case for GE—a world leader in medical imaging systems. This was the case for Motorola—a leader in pagers and cellular telephones. And, this was the case for Corning, a leader in fiber optics.
Both industry and academia have our work cut out for us. Only if both sectors fulfill our responsibilities will the United States gain a larger share in the international market and continue to be an international leader in the twenty-first century.
These are challenging times for all of us. Yet these challenges open up many opportunities. So let us take heart and mine the many wonderful opportunities in our world today.