Opinion                          Feature

re-Engineering Engineering
Education for the challenges
of the 21st century
with	 significant	 resources.	 In	 many	
aspects	 of	 digital	 medi...
among	 leaders	 of	 the	 profession	 and	        achieving	some	of	these	goals—or	that	
is	needed	to	address	the	needs	of	...
tried	to	be	general,	but	we	believe	that	the	
                                                extracurricular	 activity,	 ...
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Trygg Apelian06


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This paper has received some attention and we have, for example, been asked for permission to allow it to be translated into Chinese and to be reprinted in an IEEE publication.

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Trygg Apelian06

  1. 1. Opinion Feature re-Engineering Engineering Education for the challenges of the 21st century Gretar Tryggvason and Diran Apelian of educating engineers, including the ness of the country and therefore the IntrOductIOn structure of the curriculum, was already general standard of living hinges on the established by the early 20th century, ability to educate a large number of suf- Engineering education and the pro- but the course content has, of course, ficiently innovative engineers [See, for fession are confronting a challenging changed significantly since then. The example References 4–8]. Figure 1 crossroad. Some of us see it as a crisis, last major shift in engineering educa- clearly shows the concern with respect others, as an opportunity for position- tion in the United States goes back over to manufacturing production, especially ing our community and our society for half a century when the role of science when one compares the production in the 21st century. It would be fair to say, in the educational program increased the United States to Japan and China.9 however, that none of us are very satisfied significantly.3 Although some evolution This is even more concerning when one with the status quo and what seems to be considers that creation of wealth is facing us in the near term. As Charles related to a nation’s ability to make Dickens cited in the opening of A Tale Countless committees, products that other nations want to pur- of Two Cities, “It was the best of times, task forces, panels, chase. it was the worst of times”. That the world has changed in funda- Author and journalist Thomas Fried- and commissions have mental ways during the last decade or man has declared that the world is now two is self-evident. Computers have flat.1 Globalization of the economy has already addressed the completely altered the way we live and amplified the impact of technology on need and eloquently work. They have, in particular, trans- modern societies in ways that could not formed our ability to deal with informa- have been predicted. The connectivity emphasized that the tion and data. We are now moving rapidly provided by the Internet has generated toward a world where, for all practical new markets for products and services, competitiveness of the purposes, we can process information but has also made available labor that country and therefore infinitely fast, store infinite amount of is often both educated and cheap. This data, and transmit data instantaneously, is likely to have a profound impact on the general standard to paraphrase a statement made by Henry the distribution of wealth in both the of living hinges on B. Schacht, the first chairman and chief developed and the developing parts of executive officer of Lucent Technologies the world and may, in particular, alter the ability to educate Inc. in his commencement speech at the socio-economic structure of countries Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI) where the general wellbeing of the popu- a large number of in 2001. lation has been taken for granted. That sufficiently innovative As a result of the emergence of the education plays a role in the prosperity of Internet, knowledge has been “commu- nations is not debated, but many authors, engineers. nalized.” Everybody has access to infor- like Landes2 for example, argue that it is mation about anything and, perhaps specifically the presence of both knowl- certainly has taken place, those changes equally importantly, knowledge is no edge and know-how that determines how are relatively modest and the basic longer “owned” by the experts. High well off societies are. The education of structure and course content of a modern school students can, and do, write articles engineers is therefore critical to every engineering program is very familiar to on Wikipedia, just like the professors. nation to ensure the prosperity of their someone educated in the sixties. This change has already transformed citizens. The time for another major re-exam- industries and raised fundamental ques- The modern professional identity ination of engineering education is tions about authorship and ownership of of engineers emerged in the early 18th overdue. Countless committees, task information and scholarly works. Com- century with the establishment of the forces, panels, and commissions have puters have also empowered the average Ecole Polytechnique in France and the already addressed the need and elo- man and woman to create products that foundation of professional engineering quently emphasized that the competitive- previously required large corporations societies in England. The current way JOM • October 2006 14
  2. 2. with significant resources. In many 150 aspects of digital media we have now Asia, Excluding Japan reached the point that if we can imagine 140 Central Europe & Balkans it, we can create it. As computer speed Western Europe and software advances, this trend will Latin America 130 continue and in 20 years or so it is very United States likely—almost certain, actually—that a Japan high-school student with a laptop, and 120 a little bit of time, will have the capabil- ity to create a full-length animated movie 110 with virtual actors of the quality currently only produced by major moviemakers. 100 The same transformation is likely to happen to the creation of engineered 90 artifacts, although the time frame may 2000 2001 2002 2003 2004 be somewhat longer. Ordering compo- nents through the web and receiving Figure 1. Manufacturing production by region of the world.9 them in the mail is now part of everyday life and e-manufacturing—where the customer sends an electronic description we will see a very different path. The HIstOrIcal cOntExt of a part to a manufacturer, who makes English upper class believed in a much it and mails it back—is emerging. more classical education wherein the History shows that we in the United The globalization of the world econ- bright young males sought careers in States took our roots and our values omy affects everyone. The movement of the church or in the army. There was from many different lands, and, in labor-intensive but low-skill industries no meaningful governmental funding particular, we became the heirs to both to countries with low labor costs is, of of higher technical education during the French and British cultures. course, not new. Such transfer has been the industrial revolution and it was not Louis XV established a civilian largely responsible for the low cost and till the early 1900s that Cambridge and engineering corps to oversee the design abundance of most manufactured goods Oxford universities established chairs in and construction of bridges and roads and the rising importance of service over engineering science. Much of the indus- in France. In 1716 he established an “stuff.” Today, however, the rise in edu- trial revolution was driven by individual organization called the Corps des Ponts cation in nations where salaries are low ingenuity and entrepreneurial initiative. et Chaussées, which subsequently estab- and the connectivity that makes this Knowledge was gained pragmatically in lished a school to train its members. In cheap and educated talent available workshops and on constructions sites. 1747 Ecole des Ponts et Chaussées was worldwide are gradually changing the Apprenticeships became the way young founded in Paris—the first engineering nature of jobs that move oversees. Skill men went into engineering. As Samuel school ever. This led to the founding of is rapidly becoming a commodity that Florman has characterized it, “In France other technical schools in France known can be bought from low-cost providers engineering became associated with pro- as the Grandes Ecoles. The famous Ecole anywhere. It does not matter what you fessional pride and public esteem, with Polytechnique of Paris was founded in know how to do; someone else knows it leadership at the highest level. Whereas, 1794 by Napoleon. The French recog- too and is willing to do it for less. in Britain, engineering was considered nized engineering as a noble profession The mechanization of labor and a navy occupation—the original navies that prepared the future statesmen and advances in transportation taking place being the laborers on canal construc- leaders of their society. In fact, the word during the last century, coupled with the tion jobs.”12,13 Both of these cultures, ingenieur stems from the word genie more recent information revolution and the theoretical foundation emphasized meaning genius, which is quite differ- globalization of the economy, have by the French Ecoles and the practical ent from some of the connotations with brought unprecedented opportunities and hands-on attitude of the British, perme- respect to engineering and engines. The challenges. On the positive side is that ated across the Atlantic and impacted the famous mathematician Laplace wrote the increase in our material wealth makes development of engineering education that the Ecole Polytechnique’s goal is it realistic, for the first time in history, in the United States. Although it is pos- to produce young people “Destined to to talk about eliminating extreme pov- sible to argue that the marriage of theory form the elite of the nation and to occupy erty.10 On the negative side is the pos- and practice played no small part in the high posts in the State.” The graduates of sibility, for the first time in history, that phenomenal successes of U.S. engineer- these Grandes Ecoles have over the years human consumption of materials and ing in the 20th century, finding the right proven their “power” by occupying posts energy may irreversibly damage the mix occupied engineering educators in the highest economic strata of French entire global environment (Reference throughout the century. society.12 To say the least, in France the 11, for example). Engineering in the new As engineering education has changed “polytechnicien” reigns supreme. world is therefore both a daunting and in the past to adjust to the needs of society, On the other hand, as one reviews an exciting undertaking! the evolution must continue and change the evolution of engineering in Britain, 15 2006 October • JOM
  3. 3. among leaders of the profession and achieving some of these goals—or that is needed to address the needs of the 21st educators suggest that innovation will we at least see how to proceed. century. With many approximations and be a central theme. The premise is that The first goal—knowing anything—is generous error bars, we can summarize skill is a commodity and that routine relatively easy. We can now “Google” major trends in engineering education by engineering services will be available any concept and the probability is that we the following classification (for a more from low-cost providers that can and will have an abundance of information fine-grained classification see Reference will be located anywhere in the world. in a matter of seconds. And as search 14): The engineering education therefore has engines become more sophisticated 19th Century and First to add value beyond just teaching skills. the probability that the information is Half of the 20th Century: That skill is or will become a commod- relevant will increase. The transfor- The Professional Engineer ity does, of course, not mean that future mative effect of being able to access engineers do not have to possess skills. information instantaneously cannot be As engineering became a distinct Quite the contrary, they will have to be overemphasized. We all “know more profession, early engineering programs even more technically proficient than than we know” because in addition to focused on providing their graduates those making a living today practicing knowledge we possess we also know with considerable hands-on training. narrowly defined tasks. The engineers where to find information about specific However, the role of science and math- of the 21st century must constantly be things. Most of us know how to fix our ematical modeling slowly increased and able to gather information and decide on computers, not by knowing so ourselves, gained acceptance. a course of action, including what tools but by knowing whom to ask. The Second Half of the 20th Century: are needed for a given task. The technical introduction of the Internet expanded The Scientific Engineer skills, the people skills, and the innova- this network of contacts to literally tion required of the future engineers every piece of information that exists. By mid-century, technological prog- can be summarized—with only modest However, while finding information is ress, including the successful harnessing exaggerations—as follows: already trivial, the communalization of of nuclear energy, as well as geopolitical The entrepreneurial engineer of the knowledge will make it essential for the realities as materialized by Sputnik drove 21st century professional engineer to be able to judge home the need for engineers to be well- • Knows everything—can find in- the quality of the information that he or versed in science and mathematics and formation about anything quickly she has. Thus, teaching how to deal with the engineering curriculum adjusted to and knows how to evaluate and an abundance of information and how the changed needs. This structure has, use the information. The entrepre- to judge the relevance and the quality to a large degree, continued until the neurial engineer has the ability to of the information at hand will be the present time, although design content transform information into knowl- educational challenge. increased slowly. In the early 1990s it was edge. Engineers have always learned as they clear that more than science was needed • Can do anything—understands tackle new challenges. The explosion and many schools started to emphasize the engineering basics to the de- in the availability of tools to do nearly non-technical professional skills such as gree that he or she can quickly everything does, however, suggest that teamwork and communications. assess what needs to be done, can engineering educators must rethink how The 21st Century: acquire the tools needed, and can students are prepared in the foundation The Entrepreneurial/ use these tools proficiently. of their disciplines. Computer programs Enterprising Engineer • Works with anybody anywhere— to do virtually anything, from conduct- has the communication skills, ing simple calculations to simulating The rapid changes occurring in the team skills, and understanding of complex systems to design a complete world coupled with changes in engi- global and current issues neces- engineered artifact, empower the modern neering education starting to take place sary to work effectively with other engineer to do more than his or her in the 1990s are likely to result in an people. predecessors could ever imagine. These extensive re-engineering of engineering • Imagines and can make the imagi- tools do, however, not only require that education. While the new structure will, nation a reality—has the entrepre- the engineer knows how to use them, but almost certainly, continue to be based neurial spirit, the imagination, and also require him or her to be able to first on a solid preparation in mathematics the managerial skills to identify to assess what tool is appropriate for a and sciences, it is likely to emphasize needs, come up with new solu- given task and then to be able to evalu- the professional role of the engineer and tions, and see them through. ate the result in a critical way. “To err is then demand new qualifications suited How do we educate someone barely human, but to really screw up you need a for the new world order. into their adult life to possess these quali- computer,” so the importance of common tHE EngInEEr OF tHE fications? Or, for that matter, do such sense will be even greater when design 21st cEntury generalized statements mean anything and analysis are done exclusively on the concrete? Our contention is that they do computer. While teaching engineering We cannot, of course, say what the and that first of all, these goals translate students how the physical world works engineering profession will look like into specific curricular requirements and is at the core of engineering education 100 years from now. The intense discus- second, that we are well on our way to today, re-examining how we teach the sions that are currently taking place4–8 JOM • October 2006 16
  4. 4. tried to be general, but we believe that the extracurricular activity, available only fundamentals of engineering science to suggestions made here have very specific to those with the time and resources to students is needed. Knowing the scale implications for engineering curricula. spend an extra semester abroad. Every of phenomena and the distribution of The actual implementation, however, student must now develop the attitudes knowledge over multi-scales are critical remains a topic for further study. and skills necessary to function globally, attributes. right from the time they first enter the In addition to the changes in the tech- references workforce. nical skills engineers must possess, their With skill becoming a commodity, the non-technical professional skills must 1. T.L. Friedman, The World Is Flat: A Brief History of engineer of the future must be able to do be suited for the modern way of doing the Twenty-first Century (New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2005). more than just perform technical tasks. engineering. Considerable progress has 2. D.S. Landes, The Wealth and Poverty of Nations, There have always been extraordinary already been achieved in the United Why Some are so Rich and Some so Poor (New York: engineers who have had the imagina- States to make communication in the W.W. Norton & Company, 1998). 3. L.E. Grinter, Report of the Committee on Evaluation tion, vision, dedication, and endurance broadest sense an integral part of the engi- of Engineering Education, 1955 (Washington, D.C.: to change the way we live. Those who neering curriculum.12,15 Most programs American Society for Engineering Education, 1955), have not have, however, in the past been now require their graduates to exhibit http://www.asee.org/resources/beyond/grinter.cfm. 4. Rising Above The Gathering Storm: Energizing and able to make a living performing routine proficiency in oral and written communi- Employing America for a Brighter Economic Future engineering tasks. The young engineers cations and to be able to work on diverse (Washington, D.C.: National Academy of Sciences, of the future must, on the other hand, all teams. Engineering, possibly more than 2005), www.nap.edu/catalog/11463.html. 5. Tapping America’s Potential: The Education for be extraordinary. They will not be able most professions, requires accurate and Innovation Initiative (Washington, D.C.: Business to enjoy the comfort of well-paid jobs efficient communications—I have to Roundtable, 2005), http://www.businessroundtable. where routine tasks are performed more understand what you are saying and vice org/pdf/20050803001TAPfinalnb.pdf. 6. The Engineering Workforce: Current State, Issues, or less unchanged year after year. More versa for the design that we both are and Recommendations. Final Report to the Assistant and more the engineer of the future will working on to function. The surprising Director of Engineering (Arlington, VA: National Science be responsible for creating new ideas thing about communications is not that Foundation, 2005), www.nsf.gov/attachments/104206/ public/Final_Workforce.doc. and solutions and seeing them through. engineering schools have recently started 7. The Engineer of 2020: Visions of Engineering in the Innovation has already been identified to emphasize it (motivated by ABET,15 New Century (Washington, D.C.: National Academy as one of the most important factors in in some cases), but that there ever was a of Engineering, 2004), www.nap.edu/catalog/10999. html. the future prosperity of both nations and need to remind educators that engineers 8. Educating the Engineer of 2020: Adapting individuals.1,2,7,8 The engineering chal- need to communicate! However, in a flat Engineering Education to the New Century lenges are, however, even greater. Not world the ability to communicate takes (Washington, D.C.: National Academy of Engineering, 2004), http://fermat.nap.edu/catalog/11338.html. only must the engineer innovate, he or on a much broader meaning. Not only 9. ASTRA Briefs, 4 (6) (June 2005), www.tms.org/ she must be able to help the innovation are engineers frequently working on PGA/NEWS-policy/ASTRABriefsSummer2006.pdf. become a reality. Thus, the education of products that will be made in a different 10. J. Sachs, The End of Poverty: Economic Possibilities for Our Time (Toronto, Canada: The Penguin Press, the engineers of the future must prepare country and marketed to people of differ- 2005). them to see new opportunities as well as ent cultures, but product engineering is 11. L.R. Brown, Plan B 2.0: Rescuing a Planet Under to give them the skills needed to marshal increasingly done by teams consisting of Stress and a Civilization in Trouble (Washington, D.C.: Earth Policy Institute, 2006), www.earth-policy.org/ the resources to realize their ideas. people located in different countries and Books/PB2/index.htm. with diverse cultural background. Such 12. D. Apelian, “Re-engineering of Engineering cOnclusIOn interactions obviously have enormous Education—Paradigms and Paradoxes,” Alpha Sigma Mu invited lecture, presented at the ASM Fall meeting, It is unthinkable that U.S. society can potentials for misunderstanding and Pittsburgh, PA, October 18, 1993; in Advanced remain competitive and can sustain its conflicts. To make the case, we quote Materials & Processes, 145 (6) (1994), pp. 110–114. present standard of living without a large Ron Zarella, chief executive officer of 13. Samuel C. Florman, The Existential Pleasures of Engineering (New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1996). number of people with the knowledge Bausch and Lomb, who said, in a speech 14. L.E. Grayson, The Making of an Engineer: An and know-how to innovate.1,2 In the that he gave at WPI during a globalization Illustrated History of Engineering Education in the early days of the nation, Noah Webster workshop: “We make a product called United States and Canada (New York: John Wiley & Sons, Inc., 1993). claimed that democracy succeeds and interplak. The electromechanical design 15. Criteria for Accrediting Engineering Technology prevails only if the people have economic for this home plaque-removal device is Programs (Baltimore, MD: Accreditation Board for and educational hope, and that these done in Germany and Japan. The batteries Engineering and Technology, Inc., 2004), www.abet. org. two are closely interlinked. To educate are supplied from Japan, the motors are engineers ready to face the challenges built in the Peoples Republic of China, Gretar Tryggvason is department head and of tomorrow we must appreciate how the charging base is made in Hong Kong, professor in the mechanical engineering department profoundly the world has changed from the precision molded plastic pieces are and Diran Apelian is professor and director of the Metal Processing Institute at Worcester Polytechnic just a few decades ago. Thus, we need manufactured in Atlanta, Georgia, the Institute, in Worcester, Massachusetts. to examine the curriculum from a new brush head is made in Ohio, and the final perspective and accept the possibility that assembly is done in Mexico.” For more information, contact Diran Apelian, Worcester Polytechnic Institute, Metals Processing changes that go beyond minor tweaking Preparing young engineers to work Institute, 100 Institute Road, Worcester, MA 01609- are needed. Here, we have attempted to in a flat world is no longer something 2280, USA; (508) 831-5992; (fax) 508) 831-5993; e- set up a framework to do so. We have that engineering schools can treat as an mail dapelian@wpi.edu. 17 2006 October • JOM