I neglected to add this, but any engineering degree program really needs interning opportunities. This provides a chance for real world applications and project work, plus it provides a chance for the student to discover if the life of an engineer is really what they want.
This article seems to be completely missing what I think is the true purpose of a technical degree. An engineering degree remains one of the few sure ways to gain entry to the middle class in the USA without going to grad school. As a result, a lot of people desire the end state even though they lack what it takes to succeed in the role.
The traits and characterstics that make a great engineer are something that a student brings with them. Schools main function in my opinion is more in the nature of of filtering out people who are unable to become accomplished engineers. Once they graduate and start work, their real education begins. And most technical fields require people who are able to tease out details from complicated and lacking resources. Spoon feeding them data in the classroom does not prepare them for what they need to be able to do.
Equiping a new grad with technologies and skills are nice, but does anyone really think that engineers are "made" in school? My expererience is that most important part of the process refining and revealing so the student is able to redirect somewhere else if engineering is not really for them.
In my first year of physics grad school in 1971, I had to give a presentation how Raman spectroscopy works. I first gave the standard explanation that a sample is illuminated by laser light and the frequency-shifted reflections are observed to measure low-frequency (compared to the laser frequency) vibrations in the sample. I then noted that most of the students had amateur radio (ham) licenses, and explained that the Raman effect was a self-oscillating upconverter. The ham students got it, but the professor was angry, saying I should not have given an explation that not every student would understand.
In my repeat of physics grad school at Dartmouth in 1972, I encountered a convention of mathematicians. One downcast mathematician was sitting all alone, so I struck up a conversation. He was an applied mathematician who felt ostracized by the other mathematicians. Ironically, it was Dartmouth's math department which had pioneered time-sharing computing as a utility for all to use.
WPI switching to project-based curriculum in the early 1970s just as the microprocessor appeared: excellent timing!
That mathematical view is unfortunately examplified by G.H. Hardy, http://tinyurl.com/kyz5xc7 one of the 20th. century's great pure mathematicians. I believe he was once asked if his work had any practical application, and he replied "I hope not". (Can't find the actual quote, though.) The fact that having a real-world example can make it easier to verify a piece of mathematics seems to have escaped him.
Doctors somehow got dragged into this discussion. I suspect that they are grossly over-educated for a huge portion of their work, most of which could be done by a nusrse or orderly with common sense and 5 functioning real senses. (Well, maybe taste is now irrelevant, but the other 4 are important, especially in diagnosis.)
Excellent point about relevance. When I was taking the required math classes for my undergraduate degree, I was very frustrated that there were no practical examples given of their usefulness. The big problem, as I saw it, was that the math classes were taught by math professors who felt that practical applications were beneath them.
As a WPI alum, I would have to agree. WPI started project-based engineering education in the early 1970s, throwing out the previous rigid cirriculum.
Worcester Polytechnic Institute is an excellent college where most of the EE clases had practical lab exercises to do just that. If you don't get the opportunity to burn your fingertips on transistors, the education is wasted. WPI is also a project heavy college with MQP, IQP and so on. http://www.wpi.edu
It's really difficult to tell what skills will be needed in the future. A lot of what I learned and used to do has long become obsolete. And yet, even though I'm working on cutting-edge technologies, the main text I've been referring to was written in 1968, before I was born.
I don't think engineers need an internship like doctors. I almost wonder if the engineering degree is too much in some cases. I don't know if big companies still operate the same way, but when I worked at Motorola back in its heyday, it seemed like half of the engineers there did jobs that were skilled but didn't really need an engineering degree. There were a lot of jobs that were more about management and logistics and planning than circuit design.
I agree with others here that the fundamentals are essential, for without them it is difficult to meaningfully extend knowledge either through self-study or work experience, which is essential in our profession. Students do need project-oriented undergraduate work, but not at the expense of marginalizing this crucial ability.
From my experience in teaching engineers, an important aspect of successful engineering education is relevance. Good engineers are both creative and pragmatic (hopefully), and are interested in solving problems that have a useful outcome. I find that student interest and retention are greatly improved if the subject matter is presented with relevance to their profession (e.g., seemingly dry differential equations are used to analyze circuits and EM ... understanding a device's I/O circuitry yields more robust board-level products ... matrices can be used to solve structural trusses, etc.).
I am a passionate engineering practitioner and educator who strongly believes that engineering educators should bring their experience from industry to fuel the enthusiasm of their students. Background: I started as a young hobbyist in '65 and have numerous years of experience in industry along with having taught over 30 different post-secondary courses in computer science and electrical, computer, and mechanical engineering. I continue to learn.