This week I want to know how valuable you feel work experience is for new engineers, and whether trying your hand at some "ideological" engineering might offer a boost to both your job prospects and morale.
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"We have done a miserable job, by and large, of explaining just how engineering is essential and can change the world," said National Academy of Engineering (NAE) chief Charles Vest, in a recent interview in USA Today.
Vest and others are now recommending that young engineers spend less time in a classroom and more time in the field tackling real-world problems like delivering energy, food, clean air and water to the world's billions.
"This is an idealistic generation, despite everything going on in the economy, and they want to help people," Vest said. "We have to get them out of the lecture hall and show them how engineers do just that," he added.
Currently, just 4.5 percent of U.S. college graduates are engineers, with Europe posting a slightly higher 12 percent and Asia turning out 21 percent.
The NAE believes it could boost the number of engineering graduates by leveraging Generation Yís ideology, and has launched the Grand Challenges Scholars Program to appeal to the spirit of todayís youth.
The program, sponsored by a grant from the U.S. National Science Foundation, is designed to prepare students to solve the Grand Challenges facing society. It identifies 14 subject areas requiring immediate engineering attention, ranging from "preventing nuclear terror" to "reverse-engineering the human brain."
The projectís goals are defined as "enhancing student interest in engineering and science, increasing the visibility and importance of engineering and science to society, underscoring the importance of recognizing that engineering education must be coupled to policy/business/law and must be student-focused."
The NAE is also hoping that the program will enhance student interest in engineering, science, and technology entrepreneurship while fomenting future collaborations of interested scientists, engineers, policy makers and researchers to successfully address complex societal issues.
What do you think, readers? Will the lure of ideology attract the next generationís brightest minds to the profession? Would this type of program prove an enticing sabbatical option for more seasoned engineers? And is it enough? Let us know, we love hearing from you.
Green tech and needs-driven engineering will never be the new Apollo program. It does not in any way have the capacity to motivate a "tipping point" of engineers. The new Apollo program will be a manned mission to Mars. Period.
Interestingly enough, a related article at EETimes recently put NASA as the number one choice for engineering students. I don't think they want to work for NASA to send up robots or create solar panel farms - unless the goal is terraforming Mars or a return mission to the Moon. Just my two cents.
Perhaps, however, the two can be intertwined somehow. It will be clear that green tech will be required for future manned space missions - unless nuclear power will be the foregone conclusion there.
The Apollo space program, politically motivated as it was, fired up an entire generation of engineers. Even if it was a sham it was valuable for that reason alone. Green tech and needs-driven engineering may be the new Apollo program.
I think part of the problem is compensation; broadly speaking you can get paid much better with a JD or MBA than with a MS in engineering. This is a broad problem with how society "values" the contribution of a class of workers and isn't restricted to engineering (for instance schoolteachers are grossly under-compensated IMHO).
It is not the math itself that you can't gloss over, but the mental discipline of going through the problem solving process, that has always been part of the engineering education. A precise statement of the problem - is there really a problem. What info do I have? What info is missing? How can I test my guesses? Etc, etc, etc?
You cannot eliminate the hours per week of doing the homework, solving the (made up) problems. I cannot work the calc problems now, and don't really need to, but as a pretty good problem solver and troubleshooter, I know the learning of the calc and other higher level math, made me what I am today.
Back in the 50s and 60s my idealism was anti-communism and the cold war. We were in a race with the Russians. But that is not the reason I wanted to be an engineer. Most good engineers (and they know who they are), were born to be that way. I am not sure you can make them from an artificial premise. Still working in my 70s.
So long as companies continue to treat engineers as fungible assets, and until companies start showing that they really, truly believe the mantra repeated by the HR department that "our people are our most valuable resource", talented young people are going to continue to stay away from a career in engineering.
I don't know that this generation is any more idealistic than most others. Folks coming of age in the 60's wanted to save the world. Those coming of age in the 70's seem to have suffered more from malaise than most, but this brand new universe of technology was exploding into society. The 80's, while clothes and hair were pretty weird, were full of people that wanted to use this new technology to create a better world. Extrapolate backward and forward and I think that idealism will be found in almost any generation.
Quite frankly, Sylvie, I think that fluff is a distraction. Yes, maybe some people will appear more interested when you fill a curriculum with "ideology," but that aspect of the curriculum won't make them better engineers. If they squeak by based on their "ideology" scores, I'd give them a pass as an employer.
And I'm not implying that ideology doesn't matter! I'm merely saying that ideology should not distract from the rigorous course work, during the critical college and grad school years. Ideology will be part of the equation regardless.
The other thing is, I have no clue how any student would not understand the value of engineering to society, especially these days. Adding fluff to make engineering more pleasing is a questionable approach.
What is needed to get more kids into engineering, I believe, is more job prospects upon graduation. With all of the outsourcing frenzy in the daily news, it's hardly surprising that the less passionate are dissuaded. I don't think the "brightest minds" will be convinced with fluff, is my main point.
Engineering is a demanding profession. I do not see many more of the current and future generation who would be willing to go through the effort. Especially given the current educational phobia about math and science. We are doomed to see engineering skills leave this country and I see very little we can do about it.
Just my opinion.
David Patterson, known for his pioneering research that led to RAID, clusters and more, is part of a team at UC Berkeley that recently made its RISC-V processor architecture an open source hardware offering. We talk with Patterson and one of his colleagues behind the effort about the opportunities they see, what new kinds of designs they hope to enable and what it means for todayís commercial processor giants such as Intel, ARM and Imagination Technologies.