National Academy of Engineering
Education in the 21st Century"
was the first computer science graduate from the University of
Virginia. I got my Ph.D. here in 1968 and so I came back to the
University in 1988, twenty years later after having just run
about a hundred person, one hundred twenty person software company
for almost a decade. And I had what some friends of mine describe
as an intraocular event. It’s a 2x4 between the eyes. I really
realized that engineering education didn’t have much to do
with what I had experienced running a technology based company.
And moreover, it was pretty much the same education I had twenty
years before that. So I devoted with a number of my colleagues
in CS about three years to revising the computer science curriculum,
but frankly I didn’t do much with respect to the broader
engineering curriculum here at Virginia.
I went to the National Academy however, I decided that I had
a bigger bully pole and that I really ought to take advantage
of that to have a positive impact. The fact that the number of
Engineering graduates has peaked in the mid-eighties and has
been on a down slope since worries me. It worries me that we
are as dependent on foreign-nationals as we are. As wonderful
as they are. My father was an immigrant from Germany in the 1920s
so I feel very strongly about the contributions that immigrants
make. Nonetheless, the fact that we are not able to attract U.S.
students to enter science is something that we need to be very
concerned about. We are not going to be able to compete with
developing countries like China and India on the basis of cost.
We better do it on the basis of quality and that’s
where engineering education comes in.
are going to be four parts to this talk. The first one has to
do with the fact that I feel a great sense of urgency about getting
on with this reform. Changing universities is not an easy thing
to do, but if we don’t
start now, it just ‘aint gonna happen. The practice of engineering
has changed enormously from what it was forty years ago and engineering
education hasn’t changed very much at all. I am hard pressed
to point at half a dozen things that are different today than when
I started almost fifty years ago. Forty-nine years ago. Moreover,
the things that are changing abut the practice of engineering,
I liken to a mosaic. There are lots of little pieces changing.
There is a pattern to that mosaic, but it’s hard to see from
up close. You really have to be able to stand back a long way.
I really am concerned that unless we start making some important
changes, we’ll soon be educating engineers for the occupation
that my father had as opposed to the ones that my children and
grandchildren will have.
what needs to change? Well a lot. The first thing that comes
to mind always are curriculum and pedagogy. I am going to come
back and talk about curriculum later. It is the thing we get
hung on a lot and so I don’t want to waste a lot of time
upfront. Pedagogy. An enormous amount has been learned by the
cognitive scientists about both the physiological and aspects
of learning. The last fifteen years engineering education has
incorporated almost none of that. We could be doing faster more
efficiently and with better learning outcomes. We need to do
else needs to change? Diversity. I believe down to my toes that
a diverse engineering team will build a better quality product.
So in addition to the usual arguments for diversity having to
do with equity, we Americans are pretty sensitive to arguments
about fairness and equity. In addition to that and the arguments
about the need for…about the fact that White males are becoming
a minority, if we don’t involve women and underrepresented
minorities, we simply are not going to have enough numbers of engineers.
In addition to those two arguments, I believe there is a very important
argument for engineering in particular that we will engineer better
with a more diverse workforce.
rate. It’s a disgrace. Not all schools are the
same, but across the United States, about half of the students
who enter with Engineering do not finish with Engineering. The
ones who leave are not poor students. Very scholarly work has been
done that shows that the students are indistinguishable from those
who stay. They have the same grade point average. They have the
same grades in math and science. They have the same SAT scores.
They have the same rank in high school. They are not poor students.
We are not weeding out the poor students. We are turning off half
of our students with the way that we teach. I am concerned about
both the quantity and the quality of our current engineering graduates,
but the quickest way to fix the quantity problem is not to attract
more people into the pipeline. Not to worry about kids deciding
in middle school that they don’t like math. Those are problems,
but add fifty percent to the retention rate and the problem is
fixed. And we have that under our control. We can fix that.
is the first professional degree. Most professions –business,
law, medicine – assume that the first professional degree
is a Master’s. in fact, in case you don’t know it,
according to the United States government, engineering is not a
profession. The definition of profession by the Department of Commerce
requires two years beyond the Bachelor’s. Okay? So engineering
is not a profession. The fact that we treat the Bachelor’s
as a first professional degree causes all sorts of mischief. It’s
a misrepresentation to both students and employers. It has caused
the program to bloat to a size well beyond that of our liberal
arts friends. Companies suspect that they are going to have to
spend one to two years providing additional training. Liberal education
in the humanities is squeezed out as are social and management
sciences that are needed by modern engineers. The problem is exacerbated
by a number of states, including Virginia I believe, that have
considered mandating that the Engineering degree has to be done
in a hundred and twenty hours.
these problems segway me into the curriculum issues. Almost every
time we talk about curriculum, people talk about what we need
to add. Folks we can’t add anything. We have to talk
about what we are going to either get rid of or what we are going
to be able to do in two semesters instead of four. My favorite
thing to kick is that we still teach four semesters of continuous
mathematics. I met with a bunch of students this morning and asked
how many of them had Calculus in high school. All of them, but
one raised their hand. When I was going through engineering school,
nobody had Calculus in high school, yet we still have four semesters
of continuous mathematics. Irrespective to the fact that these
students will probably never integrate anything ever again.
pressure on adding more things to the curriculum always provokes
somebody to add to the mantra, the undergraduate curriculum should
teach only the fundamentals. The problem always is deciding what
the fundamentals are. The last major curriculum change in Engineering
is what is referred to as the Engineering Science Approach following
World War II and since then the fundamentals have pretty much been
Physics and continuous mathematics. But as I said earlier, engineering
is changing. Very few people will produce a product in the future
that doesn’t have imbedded IT, information technology. And
yet, it’s discrete mathematics not continuous mathematics
that is the basis for IT. It is as fundamental as continuous mathematics.
Biological processes, materials I think are a little bit behind
IT in terms of their impact on general engineering, but I feel
like they are closing fast. So the biological sciences and chemistry
are also new fundamentals. Boy am I ever sensitive to the fact
that engineering is now conducted in a global context. Both the
act of engineering and the customer, the product that we develop
are global. A contemporary engineer needs to design under constraints
of global cultural issues. Global business context and so really
must understand them at a fairly deep level. It really is as fundamental
as thermal dynamics. You can’t just add these new fundamentals.
Our curriculum is already too full. Especially if we claim that
the Bachelor’s is a professional degree. I think we have
to look every carefully at the current cherished fundamentals and
ask are they or is there a way to teach them in half the time o
a third of the time.
me talk about faculty rewards. My fast definition of what engineers
do is design under constraint. We design solutions to human problems,
but not any old solution will do. There are a whole bunch constraints – everything from size, weigh, power consumption,
heat dissipation, to safety, reliability, manufacturability, aerodynamics,
environmental impacts - the list of constraints is very long. Doing
that kind of design is a highly creative activity. I don’t
know why, but frequently when people talk about engineering, they
immediately jump to the math and science component. My experience – the
essential characteristic of a good engineer, a great engineer,
is creativity. With that said, can you think of any other discipline
on campus which is a creative field which doesn’t require
it’s faculty to perform. Artists must paint. They get tenure
based on their paintings, not their writings. Sculptures. Musicians.
Even if you are not willing to buy that engineering is the same
kind of creativity as that of artists, just think about the performance
oriented professions. Law, for example. Medicine, for example.
Think of any creative activity which doesn’t require one
to perform that activity. I can’t except for engineering
of course. Very few faculty have ever done any engineering. We
do research, but producing a product, I can assure you is a very
different thing than doing research. Instead, we have faculty promotion
tenure criteria, which are the same as those in sciences – research,
teaching, services. Somewhere in there we’re missing creating
a product, actually doing innovation, creating a piece of lasting
infrastructure for the country. We don’t require it. What
I am criticizing is a system in engineering schools which doesn’t
allow for the richness of experience that comes with the actual
practice of engineering. It would be very valuable for students.
literacy. We all love the fact that the University of Virginia
was founded by Thomas Jefferson. Jefferson was very clear about
why he was proud of founding the University. He said you could
not have a democracy without an educated citizenry. I think he
would be concerned today. I have spent the last eleven years
sitting at the nexus of engineering and public policy and almost
everyday I have my nosed rubbed to the fact that the people to
whom I am trying to communicate are technologically illiterate.
They are not dumb. They just do not understand how technology is
created or how it works and yet it is one of the strongest forces
shaping our democracy period. What bothers me is not only that
our elected representatives, our appointed representatives are
illiterate, but also the people that elect them. The vast majority
of the American public cannot participate in an intellectual discourse
on a whole variety of really important public policy issues – climate
change, energy policy – and the list just goes on and on.
And these are just fundamental and they get the wool pulled over
their eyes all the time. Not from people intentionally trying to
misrepresent things, but because the Speaker doesn’t understand
years ago in the State of the Union address, and I am not just
picking on Bush here because I could do this with Democrats.
In the State of the Union address, Bush talked about hydrogen
and talked about you just combine hydrogen and oxygen and you
get energy and water and there is no pollution. Well stop. I
honestly believe that he did not know that you have to manufacture
hydrogen. Okay? We did a report on the hydrogen economy at the
academies two years ago and this isn’t the way report writers would have said
it, but basically the report says it will take about six miracles
in order to convert to a hydrogen community. I mean there are just
some difficult and deep problems that need to be solved in order
to make that work. So it’s personal belief that in a modern
democracy, everybody with a liberal education needs to be technologically
literate. Now engineering schools have not traditionally provided
courses for the liberal arts majors, but in my humble opinion,
they must. Not should. Must. They are not the kind of courses we
are accustomed to teaching. Since they are going to relate technology
to larger social issues.
Just as an aside. The year that I went to academy, it was 1996
and just before that, the academy puts out a quarterly magazine
called The Bridge and just before I got there, an issue
of The Bridge came out in which there was a description
of a little exercise, a man who was Provost at the time at Columbia
had done scanning all of the most popular American history texts,
both high school and college text. I am not going to remember the
numbers. I am making up numbers, but something like fifteen thousand
pages or twenty thousand pages he scanned, he found like fifteen
or twenty that talked about technology and yet technology has had
such a profound influence on our society. Some of you will know
this, but the academy in running up to the year 2000, did a little
exercise in which we assembled a list in which we said were the
greatest engineering achievements in the twentieth century. Where
greatest was determined by impact on society not technological
genius and you read that list and you cant help but be struck by
how radically different our lives are from someone living in 1900.
by the way, my Grandfather was a teenager in 1900 so I feel like
two generations, I am an old guy, but two generations away. Things
like the average life expectancy in 1900 was forty-six. It’s
not north of seventy-six, so it has increased by at least thirty
years and it’s estimated that twenty of those thirty years
is simply due to clean water. Just about as prosaic engineering
as you can imagine and yet in 1900, waterborne diseases were the
third leading cause of disease in the United States. You can imagine
the list. Electricity or electrification. Automobiles. First airplane
was not flown in 1900. One of my favorites on the list is agricultural
mechanization. In 1900, fifty percent of Americans lived on farms
including my grandfather. And it took that many to feed the other
fifty percent. Now because of agricultural mechanization, it’s
two percent live on farms and we not only feed the rest of the
United States, but a good chunk of the rest of the world as well.
haven’t things changed faster? I don’t know, but
I have a hypothesis. The hypothesis is simply that most faculty
don’t believe the change is necessary. They are following
the old wise adage ‘if it aint broke, don’t fix it’.
If you haven’t had recent experience in industry, which I
don’t think most faculty have and if change is a mosaic a
multiple dimension, patterns are hard to discern, than the fact
that it is broke might not be obvious. It’s my belief that
if the NAE consistently asserts that it believes the change is
necessary and exhibits the fact that it values people who cause
that change then over time faculty attitudes will change.
what we have is what has been called Bills’ four-legged
stool. Leg number one of the stool is we did what we always do.
We created a committee. It’s called Engineering Education.
Like all the other committees we have, they produce reports and
many of you I am sure have seen The Engineer of 2020 and
Educating the Engineer of 2020. Second, we said if we are
going to assert that engineering education is important, we better
not say, oh but it’s not important enough to let you get
elected to the academy. So we’ve changed the rules, you can
now be elected to the academy for contributions to engineering
education and people have been. That’s not just being a good
teacher. It’s really having a national impact on engineering
enterprise. Third leg of stool – we have created a five hundred
thousand dollar prize that is given annually for contributions
to engineering education. I believe we have given the fourth or
fifth of those just last Tuesday. It’s called the Gordon
Prize. And finally, we reversed our field. I said at the beginning,
we don’t do anything. We just advise other people to do something.
Well we have created something called the Center for the Advancement
of Scholarship on Engineering Education at the academy, which is
an active entity. It’s got a budget of about four million
dollars this year and it is trying to promote increased quality
of the scholarship on engineering education and broader dissemination
of the results that we found.
let me conclude. Our society in my view is not only dependent
upon technology, it’s become addicted to technological change.
If you ask most people about the important events of the twentieth
century, they will talk about World War II, the Great Depression,
things like that. Maybe the Cold War. I think those things pale
in comparison to what engineering has contributed, but engineering
is changing. It’s not the same discipline that it was fifty
years ago. And engineering has to change, engineering education
has to change not just to keep up with that, but actually to lead
it. The global competitive landscape is changing at the same time.
And if you don’t buy the argument about my simple assertion
that engineering is changing, therefore engineering education is
changing, pay close attention to the fact that we are going to
be in competition with very good engineers from places like India
and China. They got big populations. Taking the top people. They
are very smart. There universities are…it’s scary.
You go to places in Beijing and everything is new. There isn’t
an old piece of equipment anywhere in the place. I got to MIT and
I look at the same laboratories and I see a lot of twenty and thirty
year old equipment. Moreover, their work ethic is unbelievable
and so we have better change. Okay. That’s it!