Warren--back in the "dark ages" when I was going through the university, we were required to take one semester of "machine shop". I know those days are long gone but that experience became extremely valuable for the very first job I had and most others following that initial experience. We also had included with our engineering schedule three semesters of mechanical drafting. Most of our professors were academics with considerable manufacturing experience and this fact generally provided classroom exercises targeted towards solving design problems relating to manufactured products. This became valuable as we graduated and found ourselves in "real-world" situations. My co-op experience provide additional "value-added" and introduced me to "the slings and arrows" most working engineers experience on a daily basis. You can't beat hands-on.
Thanks for the feedback, Dave, that makes a lot of sense (and is reassuring). And Cabe's comment about engineers needing to be a jack of all trades was borne out by DN's materials buyers survey, where we saw how many engineers are working in multiple disciplines: http://www.designnews.com/author.asp?section_id=1392&doc_id=252670
@Ann: I think it's safe to say that a lot of engineering students have some degree of practical experience before starting college. My lab partner in circuits class, who was from Uganda, had built an ultralight airplane using an old motorcycle engine and some aluminum tubes before coming to the U.S. I think he's working for Boeing now. But this kind of project is important in order to get experience working as part of a multidisciplinary team. Besides developing hands-on skills, students need to learn "people skills." In spite of the stereotype of the solitary engineer laboring away at a desk or in a lab, real engineers work in teams, and not just with other engineers.
I agree it's a great program, naperlou. Sounds like they've taken a page from IIT's famed design school and gone one better by actually building prototypes that work. It also goes a step farther than the traditional senior design project. After suffering through the heavy helping of theory that engineering students always get, this is an important trip toward reality.
Dave, that sounds like a great idea: providing real-world hands-on experience. I'm a little surprised to learn that so many young engineers don't have some already. The Silicon Valley model (where I grew up) was taking apart stuff in the garage, often, but not always, with a dad who was an engineer. The one thing that occurs to me is whether today's electronic systems have become less easy to take apart because so much has become inaccessible now in software and/or inside the chip's guts--I know this is true for automotive systems.
Today demands that every engineer be a "jack of all trades."
I can't even remember a job where I only performed one function. Every job had me designing circuits, placing components, machining parts, mechanical design, and in one case sawing wood by hand. (They needed rigging parts.)
It will behoove any graduating engineer to diversify.
@warren: I didn't have room to mention this in the article, but a recent addition to the IPRO program is a space called the Idea Shop that includes several CNC milling machines, 3D printers, vacuum forming equipment, and a laser cutter, among other cool stuff. So students have ample opportunity to get hands-on experience making things. This is an important part of the program, and like you say, an important part of becoming an engineer.
I was talking to another older engineer the other day about how modern grads are afraid to learn how to use a lathe or mill, breadboard a circuit, or just build something from scratch all by themselves. I hope this Chicago program inspires a new generation of fearless engineers ready to learn and experience before we lose that wonderful edge this country has enjoyed for generations...
Dave, I have a son at IIT. When we were looking at schools we visited many. Marquette has a similar program, as do many others with strong engineering programs. As you point out, this is not something that has been going on for a very long time, though. There is also a project at IIT that is installed as a type of outdoor art on the campus. It consists of a number of ways of connecting steel beams. Some of these are pattented and are now standard practice in the industry.
Internships are also a good way to give students experience. I have a nephew who did one for a large auto parts manufacturer. He did well at it and is likely to be able to work for that company. My understanding is that about 40% of students do internships. It should be 100% in engineering.
As for the lack of qualified graduates, I think the companies are being a little short sighted. In the past, companies brought in newly graduated engineers and put them through a two year program with six month rotations in four areas of the business. Now they expect them to come in and start deisgning final product immediately. I don't think the schools have changed so much as the companies.
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