Thanks for challenging me
I enjoyed your article in Design News on Engineering Education's unhappiness quotient. As an engineer with a bachelor's degree from Akron University (Akron, OH), I am proud to say that it was tough, difficult, damn near impossible sometimes, but that is what I expected. I went to school to learn and earn my degree in mechanical engineering, while trying to have fun when I could, and I did. But I knew that if I didn't get my work done, I would pay the price and end up in business or education, at least that was the running joke on campus. I think that if universities make it easier on engineering students today it will only hurt the engineers, myself included, who have to compete with the enormous pool of foreign engineers being pumped out of India and China. I still think they can't touch us with regards to the quality of education and hands-on experience we received in school. By making the curriculum as difficult as it was, it only helped us stay one step ahead of these cookie-cutter engineers being produced in foreign countries. So thank you, Akron University, for challenging me and forcing me to work long and hard hours to complete my degree. Now I can sit back after work and drink that beer that I didn't always get a chance to have while in college.
It's almost as good as sleep
Your article reminded me of a college story a colleague of mine likes to recall about his engineering school days at Ohio State. One day the business majors were talking about "getting some" and my colleague thought they were talking about sleep.
Michael Marcum II
But can happy students find jobs
As an alumnus of Stevens Institute of Technology, I take exception to Stevens students having a "low quality of life" even if the ad-hoc survey taken by the Princeton Review would suggest that.
I believe that the "low quality of life" feelings that the students may have asserted are directly proportional to the rigor and difficulty of the curriculum. I am not surprised that the liberal arts majors you referred to, having a much lower workload and far less credits than Stevens students, are the "most happy." I would be safe in saying that once they graduate and many are in the unemployment line, unable to find employment commensurate with their education, their happiness level will markedly decrease. At Stevens there is very little grade inflation. When I was there, many students felt they deserved higher grades than they received and this tended to cause some at the time to have low opinions of their professors. However, once they graduated and were treated like royalty when seeking professional employment, their opinions were quite different (in contrast to the liberal arts majors).
If the Princeton Review survey placed Stevens in the category of "low quality of life" and "low ratings of professors" in the company of such other renowned institutions as California Institute of Technology and Georgia Institute of Technology, I consider that a significant figure of merit, not a negative!
Barnet M. Schmidt, B.Eng., MS, MSEE, Ph.D., Senior Member, IEEE, Assoc. Member, Sigma XI Scientific Research Society
Unhappy or weak?
Is student unhappiness an acceptable by-product of engineering's intense educational experience? It strikes me (based on the survey) that modern students are a little spoiled. They seem to want to be coddled. They have not yet learned to take the bad with the good. They need to overlook the discomforts of life, and find happiness in things other than creature comforts.
Engineering's eternal struggle
I found it interesting that not much has changed since I graduated 27 years ago. I would like to add another possible source for the unhappiness. At most engineering schools, the incoming students were at or near the top of their classes. Within a very short period of time, they are "average" students that are struggling to keep up in class. This can be a difficult transition. A faculty member, who had no problem making himself available, shared this thought with me during a tutoring session that took place my first quarter.
Bruce R. Deeds, Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology, Class of '78
More hours, less fun
Yeah, the workloads are tough. In the 1970's, the number of (quarter) units required to graduate with a BS in Aero Engineering at Cal Poly Pomona was 210. Those fun-loving liberal arts folks got off with 186 units for a BA. We engineers had to petition for excess units every quarter as freshmen and sophmores just to stay on a four-year schedule.
Sun Valley, CA
Schools could do more
I believe that some unhappiness is inevitable, due to the complexity of the material engineering students must study and master, but I do believe that engineering colleges could do a lot more to improve the quality of life for their students—especially since most students will be spending 4-5 years (or more if they go on to graduate study) of their life engaged in intense study. Engineering colleges could have more computer labs and tutors available at all hours to help students in need. There could also be class projects that pull in students from other colleges to diversify the engineering experience. Hard work and discipline are necessary ingredients for a successful engineering career but we also need to encourage more youth by showing them that it is a worthwhile and fun career and not always boring or hard. There is a lot of personal satisfaction in seeing a design, process, or system meet and exceed expectations.
Would you rather work at Wal-Mart?
Not long before I went to college, engineers went five years for a BS. Students demanded (so I am told) a four year curriculum, or at least the other nearby engineering school was offering a four year program, so my school had to as well.
Yes, it may not be as fun as a liberal arts college but how many liberal arts majors are working at Wal-Mart because they can't get a job in their field? I don't remember having much trouble getting a job out of school in my major.
I enjoyed reading your editorial. I graduated from Stevens Institute of Technology (M.E.) in 1971. I must admit, the curriculum was grueling. We (freshmen) had an exam every Saturday morning at 8:00 a.m. in one of the four major subjects (alternating each week). The catalogue called it "Science Hour." It was also "men only" in those days. All in all, I don't recall being unhappy. It's a small but pleasant campus on the Hudson River with a gorgeous view of Manhattan. We enjoyed going to the city on weekends.
I got my M.S. degree at New Jersey Institute of Technology in 1988. That is a different story. The campus is ugly (in the center of Newark), the buildings are ugly, and since I went as a commuter it was not a fun drive to and from campus. Also, being a commuter meant no social life at all. I believe most of the students are commuters.
My older brother went to Rensselaer and, according to him, Troy, NY looked like a city that had just lost the war. Anyway, perhaps the reason for the "unhappiness" factor in engineering schools has a lot to do with the curriculum. There's not much in the way of BS in engineering education. You either learn what is taught or you fail out. There is little room for "interpretation" in calculus, materials science, physics, etc.
And unless you go into your own business (successfully) you can look forward to a life of middle classdom if you can find a job.
Greg Wakeman, P.E.
Cedar Grove, NJ
It's not all about smashing robots
As far as the high attrition rates, I think most high school guidance counselors paint an unrealistic picture of our profession. They portray it as an exciting profession, rather than the highly complex mathematical analysis that it really is. It is no wonder that the dropout rate is so high. When most kids think of engineering they think of building robots and making them smash one another in some absurd arena or loading that ubiquitous balsa wood bridge to destruction. But when they start studying the myriad of actual engineering topics and courses like feedback loops, kalman filters, adaptive algorithms, amplifiers, metallurgy, degrees of freedom, programming, artificial intelligence, precise motor speed control, electronics, electrical power systems, structural engineering, etc., they lose interest. But then, most engineering students would really not have it any other way.
Colorado Springs, CO
Easier ways to make a buck
At the University of Iowa, it was "learn on your own." Most of the teaching was by graduate assistants. The emphasis was on reading, writing, arithmetic, and problem solving, which sums up a great education compared to other majors. All that effort can easily be for naught—you would be better off being a plumber because you have a "hands-on" job that cannot easily be transferred to India, China, Taiwan etc. I am forced to sum up that the pain is not meaningful; there are easier ways to make a buck.
Real-world experience needed
My thoughts on improving the happiness quotient of engineering students.
Force professors to have at least some real world design experience before unleashing them on unsuspecting students. Grad students, or professional student/teachers, are unworthy of the respect that comes with little real world experience.
Force professors to build, test, and prove functionality of labs before presenting them to students. There's nothing worse than getting a bad grade for failing to succeed on a lab that is poorly designed and the professor is too stubborn to admit it.
Give students 24-hour access to high bandwidth, state-of-the-art computer-aided design and simulation software. Forget the "student version" software and dial-up access to antiquated computer resources.
Give students 24-hour access to the bare essentials of living on or near campus (food, water, shower, laundry).
Maybe my experiences are not the norm, but I did indeed struggle with these exact issues throughout my engineering education.