SAN FRANCISCO--If you're lucky enough to have one of your kids
interested in following in your engineering footsteps, now is a time
of great stress. Which engineering school is going to be the right
fit? It's applications time, and the choices seem infinite.
But there's hope: The
National Academy of
Engineering recently released a report that may gave you
some ammo, especially if you're looking for schools that emphasize
an integrated, real-world-experience approach to their engineering
curricula. The report, "Infusing Real World Experiences into
Engineering Education," details 29 engineering programs at colleges
and universities across the country that NAE considers progressive
in this way. It breaks up its analysis into segments such as
capstone programs, first-year programs, extracurricular programs,
co-op programs and basic curricula, among others.
AMD sponsored the project as part of its NextGen Engineering
“Simply mastering technical engineering is no longer enough to
successfully compete and lead in today’s marketplace,” Mark
Papermaster, AMD’s senior vice president and CTO, said when the
program kicked off.
The report raises eyebrows--in a good way. For instance:
Grand Valley State.
Who? This unheralded engineering program in Allendale, Mich., was
cited for its 25-year-old coop program which prepares graduating
engineers who are “industry ready.”
Other programs of note:
Arizona State's iProjects
program, which began in 2008, is open to all 35
degree programs in the five primary units within ASU's College
of Technology and Innovation. The iProjects program uses large
numbers of team-based projects, and recognizes that
"traditional academic degree program structures do not engender
pervasive interdisciplinary practicebased work."
Worcester Polytechnic offers a first-year program (first
year!) titled "Great
Problems Seminars" that gives provide students
project experience that prepares them for more substantial
required projects. These projects can focus either on an area
such as energy or healthcare or can analyze the NAE Grand
Purdue engineering's EPICS (Engineering
Projects in Community Service) program gives
students credit for participating in multidisciplinary design
teams that real problems for local and global not-for-profit
I mention this for two reasons. First, as a parent of kid in
college, I know every little bit of information helps in decision
making. But, second, this highlights an encouraging trend in
engineering schools (even though industry leaders like Bob
Dobkin at Linear and Tunc
Doluca at Maxim offer some different perspectives).
While we can't ignore the fundamentals of engineering education, we
need to think bigger and differently about preparing the generation
of engineers that will deal with tomorrow's problems.
I'm interested in your experiences: Have you assessed engineering
schools, either for yourself or your kids, with the NAE's real-world
experience criterion in mind?
No, of course not. I was not referring to summer jobs here. I was referring to courses which have you go off to some company in town, perhaps, for that "hands on" experience in industry, while you have two homework assignments, two lab reports, and a quiz to study for, for the next day.
By the way, Sylvie, doing has always been part of an engineering curriculum. That's why engineering courses include such a large number of lab courses (like two lab courses per semester is common, which adds a whole lot of work for each of those courses). There's plenty of actual "doing" involved, even if the layman might not appreciate that.
So yeah, the universities make this more obvious now. I'm not really sure this helps, aside from image.
Maybe it's a good thing to have students get this "real world" experience, either as part of the course work, or as summer jobs. Maybe it looks good on their resume, looking for that first job.
But to be honest, when I was going to school, this sort of activity always made me feel like I was wasting precious time. It got me late in doing what I should have been doing, homework assignments, labs and lab reports, studying for that blasted exam. And it felt like I had to waste this time to fulfill some silly requirement.
Maybe just a personality thing. Even now, I am obsessive about feeling like I'm on top of what I'm responsbile for. And I hate to spend time on what I consider useless distractions, to fulfill some arbitrary requirement imposed on us for the sake of some image thing.
What these programs have in common is making students "industry ready" by providing them opportunities to do real engineering work, as part of a team, before graduation.
For students attending schools that don't have programs like these, summer internships can provide a similar real-life work experience. Internships are a win-win for both parties. Students get essential work experience in their field and employers get to "try before buy" when making hiring decisions about offering full-time employment to new grads.
A generation ago, co-op or internship work experience was a nice-to-have. I think today it is mandatory. New graduates who have nothing more than the degree -- no matter how high their GPA or how prestigious their university -- are at a significant disadvantage relative to their peers, most of whom will have these co-op or internship work experiences on their resumes.