Engineering education must be broken apart, updated, rebundled with a balance between fundamentals and industry best practice.

Engineering education is broken

Engineering content must be broken apart, updated, and rebundled with a balance between fundamentals and industry best practice

The problems the world faces are multidisciplinary in nature and their solution requires an integrated, multidisciplinary approach, i.e., science + engineering + business + society + managing complexity. This is not the way engineers are educated, nor the way companies function. Only through innovation can these problems be solved. But what is innovation? It is hard to define, but one knows it when one sees it!   

Innovate or perish is a mantra I have heard over the past decade in industry throughout the world. Companies that have heeded the warning have flourished, while others have vanished. Silos and comfort zones are the biggest impediments to innovation. Eliminating them requires changing culture–attitude and behavior–and instilling ownership of the challenge. Innovation is local, not imported but created, and is a way of thinking, communicating, and doing. The same mantra applies to engineering education. 

I have heard it said that is easier to move a cemetery than it is to change an engineering curriculum. Engineering schools for whom that is true might soon be buried in those cemeteries. While that all sounds humorous, it is in fact tragic. Engineering colleges are operating in the past with a huge time lag. They are ineffective in preparing students for 21st-century engineering problem solving. Why? Engineering schools are siloed, staffed by professors with little or no hands-on practical experience who are content to teach “textbook” courses that are outdated with no multidisciplinary integration. Why? Because they can, and it is easy! Add to this the fact that students do not buy or read textbooks, rarely take notes in class, and focus only on exams and grades, relying on the internet to prepare for exams that test a student’s ability to memorize how to solve a typical exam question in 30 minutes or less. 

This is a far cry from actual engineering practice. This does not mean that faculty do not care about their students; I am sure they all do. Show you care and give good grades, and no one complains. But effectiveness is not a consequence of caring. Being effective requires faculty to get out of their comfort zones, i.e., become comfortable being uncomfortable, as they should instill in their students. That is how problems are solved.   

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