In going through four years of engineering school, I can understand how engineering schools can be on the top of unhappiest students. Spending weekends in the computer lab to get projects done can be tiresome. On the other side, this was something that was enjoyed by my fellow students and I.
As for real world application of engineering principles. This was not seen or emphasised until the final senior project, and this was really a canned project. I learned almost as much my first year on the job as I learned in four years in college.
In answer to your question, Beth, some of the well known engineering schools have taken the lead on this and are incorporating more of a sense of context into the early part of the engineering curriculum. To name just a few: MIT; University of Texas; Olin College of Engineering; and Rose-Hulman Institute. Still, I'm told that far too many engineering schools are making token efforts or no effort at all in this area. I think there's still a sense -- somewhat justified -- that efforts on this front can only go so far; students will always find the curriculum difficult.
Students at Olin have very good reasons to be happy. For starters, their tuitions are fully covered by the Olin Foundation. Also thery are in very small classes. I have been able to take some night classes there as a part of a commmunity program (Needham, Mass.) and Olin seems to encourage students to study creatively, and in a sense pursue their dreams. You see a lot of interesting projects in the classrooms and hallways. And yes, the students are smiling.
I wonder if the "unhappiness" quotient directly translates to how post-graduate engineering students will feel about their jobs. Long hours and poor communication with management are likely conditions that will carry over to the real world as those are some of the constant struggles of engineering management.
The point about the curriculum being theoretical and not tied to real-world engineering problem solving is one I've heard consistently, but I was under the impression that a lot of the leading schools were implementing changes to provide a more hands-on experience. Is that not the case?
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