A new multi-year study by the Carnegie Foundation for the
Advancement of Teaching takes engineering schools to task, saying they need
to be more sympathetic to the concerns of the profession.
book-length study, Educating Engineers: Designing for the Future of the
Field, calls on engineering colleges to more effectively link theory with
professional practice, enabling students to move from being passive viewers to
creators within the field.
many ways one could think about reducing the barriers between the academic
engineer and the practicing engineer," says Sheri D. Sheppard, one of the four
authors of the study and a professor of mechanical engineering at Stanford University. "We're advocating
starting from a clean sheet and re-building the engineering curriculum."
of the study propose a new model for engineering education that includes four
basic building blocks: providing a professional spine; teaching key concepts
for use and connection; integrating knowledge with practice and encouraging
engineering students to draw connections to the greater world.
suggests that since the 1950s engineering curricula have been heavily
influenced by certain academic traditions, particularly a move toward
"science-centric engineering." And while the authors don't object to heavy
doses of science, they say they don't want it to be done at the expense of
having a different framework in deciding what an engineering curriculum is,"
Sheppard says. "The central framework should really revolve around the core
ideas of what it is to be a professional. And if you hold those tenets central,
it makes it easier to decide what should be in and out."
says engineering professors in general have not been unsympathetic to the
needs of the profession, but says some walls between the two need to be
broken down. "Maybe they are sympathetic but not empathetic," she says.
"There's a certain tension when you've got faculty who have not rubbed elbows with,
or been in the shoes of, practicing engineers. And there is a difference
between how engineering is practiced at the academy, and how it is practiced by
a design engineer at GM."
The authors believe students would
benefit if schools would encourage professors to take sabbaticals in industry,
or work in industry between earning M.S. and Ph.D. degrees, or to work in the
profession after they've earned their Ph.D. degrees.
efforts would benefit the profession of engineering, Shepard says. Moreover,
the study's authors believe by starting from scratch in the creation of a
modern engineering curriculum, schools could integrate more of those
professional concerns into courses, beginning at the freshman level and
proceeding up through graduation and beyond.
to be a professional is a gradual process," Sheppard says. "It doesn't just
happen your senior year when you take your capstone design course."
summary of Educating Engineers is available on the Internet. The
book can be purchased
from Jossey Bass publishing. †