NATIONAL CHENG KUNG UNIVERSITY, TAINAN, TAIWAN
BANYAN  Research Express@NCKU
Volume 3 Issue 1 - January 11, 2008
Commentary
Make Engineering a Liberal Art with Social Relevance, Report Suggests
Article Digest
Shoou-Jinn Chang
Nanoscale Mechanical Characteristics of Vertical ZnO Nanowires Grown on ZnO:Ga/glass Templates
Ten-Chin Wen
Spatially Electrodeposited Platinum in Polyaniline Doped with Poly(styrene sulfonic acid) for Methanol Oxidation
Dong-Hwang Chen
Trace Ag Nanoparticles-induced Conductivity Enhancement of Al-doped Zinc Oxide Thin Films by Sol-gel Process
Hubert J Chen
Optimal Confidence Interval for the Largest Normal Mean under Heteroscedasticity
Article Digest
Yung-Ming Lin
Association of Spermatogenic Failure with Decreased CDC25A Expression in Infertile Men
I-Wen Sun
Electrochemical Preparation of Porous Copper Surfaces in Zinc Chloride-1-ethyl-3-methyl Imidazolium Chloride Ionic Liquid
News Release
News
NCKU Micro/Nanoscale Heat Transfer International Conference Begins on the 6th More than 220 Papers about Micro-Nano Technology Presented
Opportunities
Activities
Editorial Group
Make Engineering a Liberal Art with Social Relevance, Report Suggests
By JEFFREY BRAINARD

James J. Duderstadt
The pace of change in engineering education is "glacial" and needs to accelerate greatly for American engineers to compete economically and solve society's pressing problems, writes James J. Duderstadt, a leading advocate of change, in a new report.

In particular, engineers should receive a liberal-arts education as undergraduates and then pursue graduate degrees as a standard route into the profession, says Mr. Duderstadt, a president emeritus of the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor and a former dean of engineering there. He released the report, http://milproj.ummu.umich.edu/publications/EngFlex%20report/download/EngFlex%20Report.pdf "Engineering for a Changing World: A Roadmap to the Future of Engineering Practice, Research, and Education," last week.

Mr. Duderstadt has helped draw attention to engineering education as a member of the secretary of education's Commission on the Future of Higher Education and as the lead author for a 2005 National Academy of Engineering report <http://www.nap.edu/catalog.php?record_id=11393> on engineering research, "Engineering Research and America's Future: Meeting the Challenges of a Global Economy." In an interview, he described his own report as a synthesis of those and other studies on the topic. Some universities have taken steps toward some of his recommended goals, but he said he wanted to "add a shoulder to that and push." Integrating engineering into the liberal arts would better prepare all undergraduates to work in an increasingly global economy, he says, and to become lifelong learners who can make sense of the rapidly growing base of knowledge in technology.

Integrating engineering into the liberal arts would better prepare all undergraduates to work in an increasingly global economy, he says, and to become lifelong learners who can make sense of the rapidly growing base of knowledge in technology.

A recurrent theme in his report is the need to make engineering education more like that of professions that require graduate study. Like professional schools in medicine and law, engineering colleges should better prepare students to practice their discipline in a way that will meet society's needs. For engineering students, that could mean learning how to deal with climate change and keep America's global edge in creating technology-based products.

Instead, existing engineering education is more focused on science, he writes, and "remains predominantly dependent upon narrow, discipline-focused undergraduate programs" which are challenged by "their declining ability to attract a diverse cadre of the most capable students compared to other professional programs."

Linking Education With Practice

To become more socially relevant, engineering schools should give practicing engineers a greater say in their curricula, he writes. That will prove difficult, he says, because engineering has become too fragmented a profession to speak coherently. In addition, some academics he consulted while writing the report see such a change "as a bit threatening," he says, because they fear a loss of control. But, he notes, medical schools went through a similar transformation in response to a famous exposé in 1910 by the educator Abraham Flexner, who called their quality shoddy.

Many companies will also resist a change toward better-educated, more-professional engineers, he writes, because they "will continue to seek low-cost engineering talent, utilized as commodities similar to assembly-line workers, with narrow roles, capable of being laid off and replaced by off-shored engineering services at the slight threat of financial pressure."

One encouraging sign of change, Mr. Duderstadt says, was the opening in 2002 of the Franklin W. Olin College of Engineering, which provides the kind of undergraduate education he recommends. The college, outside Boston, was financed by nearly $500-million from the Olin Foundation. Mr. Duderstadt hopes more foundations will support similar innovations at the graduate level, much as the Rockefeller and Carnegie Foundations helped finance the development of modern medical schools a century ago.

In addition, the federal legislation enacted this year to improve economic competitiveness, the America Competes Act, authorized new grants to create university-based centers that would more closely link engineering research with practical applications. But Congress has yet to actually provide the money to finance these grants.

Mr. Duderstadt hopes that more such changes will follow. "The point of this" report, he says, "is to raise awareness and dialogue."

Copyright 2007, The Chronicle of Higher Education. Translated and Reprinted with Permission

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