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Unformatted text preview: Do We Teach the Things Engineers Need to Know? by Dr. Eric A. Walker, Massachusetts Gamma ’32 HERE IS WIDESPREAD UNHAPPINESS in what ourchildrenlearninpublic schools-not enough math and science, and they do not learn to ex- press themselves in clear, precise English. There are millions of Americans unemployed: dropouts, fresh high-school graduates, laid-off manual workers, dis- placed middle managers, and even engineers whose jobs have evaporated. Our representatives in Washington seem to think that openings exist or can be created by funding public works. All that must be done is to provide adequate education or training. But training for what? We engineering teachers face the same dilemma. What should we teach our students? It is certainly an oversimpli- fication to say that all we need to do is determine what knowledge freshmen bring to us, learn what people need to know to hold a job, and then supply the difference with whatever himmings we desire. Such was the idea of the “Goals of Engineering Educa- tion” study made bythe ASEE some 25 years ago. Unfortu— nately, finding out what practicing engineers needed to knewwas more difficultthanexpected,andthe question was not answered. The committee thought only of technical coursetaught knowledge, and industry answering through its personnel departments could only reply, “You teach them the fundamentals and we will teach them what they need to know in this company.” The Societyfor Promotion ofEngineeringEducaiionwas founded in 1893 and later changed its name to the American Society for Engineering Education. Its major thrust has been to improve the quality of engineering education, and it has, from time to time, commissioned wideranging studies on the topic of what engineering students ought to know. Rarely in any of these reports has the quality of teaching been mentioned, for most were written before the use of teaching assistants became widespread. The assumption, undoubtedly unwarranted, was that all engineering profes- sors knew how to teach. During the past 75 years, the profession and curriculum have gradually changed from an artisan-type set of courses (including machine shop, welding, design and installation of lighting systems, and the operation of steam engines} to a highly technical curriculum based almost entirely on theory and science. This did not happen haphazardly, but was prompted by a series of reports, starting with the so-called “Mann Report,” in 1918, through the Wickenden Report published in 1930 and 1934, the Grinter Report published in 1955, and theWalker Report (“Goals of Engineering Educa- tion") published by the society in a series of articles ending in January 1968. These studies and recommendations led the curriculum to become more theoretical, but they always includedaloose requirementoft‘ne EngineeringCouncilfor 22 7 Professional Development to devote 20 percent of the cur— riculum to the “humanities.” In 1968, the “Goals” study reported that 70 percent of the recent engineering graduates believed that their role in society should be increased. The report went on to say, "Iherefore it is recommended that (a) the engineering student should be sufficiently exposed to the new facts and theories that are being offered by the social sciences which would help him understand the large social problems of his time; (b) he should be persuaded in college to set a course of lifelong study in this broad area, etc.” And then it added, “It is also recommended that the appropriate organizations launch another nationwide investigation of the education of the engineering communications, the humanities, and so- cial sciences.” Unfortunately, nothing was done about this last recomn mendation, and engineering professors and counselors con- tinued to allow the students to take ahaphazard potpourri of courses randomly selected from English literature, psychol- ogy, and history, with little or no theme and certainly not with the objective of making the engineer a cooperating, cultured, active citizen. Thus we nd so many of the educational needs of a successful working person, such as organizational skills, ethics, and leadership, completely ne- glected. . Speaking of ethics, William L. Killer in an article entitled, “Cheating,”inthe November 11, 1992, edition of The Chronicle of Higher Education says, “Even though the mission state ments of most institutions still include the development of students’ ethical standards as an educational goal, many colleges and universities have taken a neutral position concerning traditional values in recent years, including takinga laissezmire attitude toward students’moral develop— ment. Atthe same time, traditional agents of socialization in society, such as the family and the church, seem to have become increasingly ineffective ill-providing young people with moral direction." This is true forengineeringeducation as well as education in general. Recently, the labor department issued a series of reports on what is required of a worker to hold aiob and to advance inanorganization (“The Secretary’s Commission onAchiev— ing Necessary Skills,” U.S. Department of Labor, June 1991 and following). The general title is “A SCANS Report for America 2000.” It is interesting to note that the report was issued by the labor department, rather than the department of education. The commission questioned employees in their work places, asking what skills they used and what further skills they needed to have a satisfactory career. It should be remembered that the committee asked the workers them- selves whatthey needed and not the vice presidentin charge of human resources, or even their bosses. The skills listed {HE BENT of Tau Beta Pi include those that educators generally recognize and teach, and many others of which we are conscious and do not ordinarily list as part of a graduate’s accomplishments, but certainly do not teach in the college classrooms. For some years i have been asking successful engineers whatthey learned in college that helped them be successful. The answers cover a wide range: “I learned to think . . . to solve problems . . . to get the facts before making a decision;” “I learned some leadership . . . how to stand on my feet and express myself. . . how to work." This last statementusually uncovered the fact thatthe student had to work his/her way through college, held down a part-time job, and still found time to study and graduate with honors. The SCANS report’s findings are shown in Figures 1 and 2. They list a three-part foundation for a “useful” education, some of which we teach formally, but others which we hope our students will absorb. The second figure lists competen- cies, few of which are covered in engineering or humanities textbooks. The question then remains, “How do workers learn these other skills or competencies?” The report lists reading, writing, and arithmetic. But it goes further than ordinary reports by adding why and how such skills are necessary. For instance, in reading it includes “locates, understands, and interprets written information in prose and in documents such as manuals, graphs, and schedules." In writing it adds, “communicates thoughts, ideas, informa- tion, and messages in writing and creates documents such as letters, directions, manuals, reports, graphs, and flow charts.” To these three basic skills it also adds listening, receiving, attending to, interpreting, and responding to verbal messages and other cues. And in speaking, “orga- nizes ideas and communicates orally.” A list of thinking skills includes, one must “think cre- atively, make decisions, solve problems, visualize, and know how to learn and reason.” These we try to teach in our engineeringcurricula. Butthereisalist ofpersonal qualities on which we fall far short of success, such as teaching responsibility, self esteem, sociability, self management, and integrity and honesty. Under the title “sociability,” the report asks that the worker demonstrate “understanding, friendliness, adaptability, empathy, and politeness in group settings.” These, and the other personal qualities, have rarely been the subject of formal engineering courses. One could have learned them through the general atmosphere of the classroom, when professors dressed appropriately and students satwith feet on the floor and hats off. Much of this discipline has deteriorated. Once, many of these qualities were learned in the student’s living situation —- fratemities, sororities, dormitories, and dining rooms {dining at home, in the scouts, or in the church) . But the Iaissezfizz're attitude of today leaves few role models and nothing to continually upgrade social standards. Such polite behavior has a ten- dency to degrade as students who know no better join the flow of undergraduates, and no one tells them differently. Certainly today the upper levels of engineering and the management of industry require these qualities in success fulinhabitants andwill continue to do so inspite of aminority of free souls who defy all standards of etiquette. However, the report, after listing skills and competen- cies, comes up short on defining a specific salable skill that one must have — such as operating a computer, a rolling mill, or doing carpentry, plumbing, or electricalwork. VVIth- out the latter, interpersonal skills won’t guarantee a job. Summer 1993 Engineering education is now reaching another turning point which probably will have a great and long-term effect on what we teach and how we teach it. This has been brought sharply into focus by a recent symposium spon- sored by the National Academy of Engineering and pub- lished under the title “Engineering as a Social Enterprise,” (National Academy Press, 1991). In the introduction of the report, Emeritus Professor Walter G. Vincenti [Califbmia Gamma ’38] of Stanford University says, “We the comrnit— tee agreed that engineering, far from interacting with soci~ ety from outside, has often assumed itis in reality an integral part of the social fabric. Engineering, that is, constitutes a social activity that humans pursue. The sum of these activities, including engineering, makes up what we call society. Thus, the question is not one of engineering and society, but engineering in society. . . . Unfortunately, and unproductively, it is not the view that prevails. Most people, I think itis fair to say, and I include engineers in most people, unconsciously regard engineering as somewhat apart from society. Engineering, like technology as a whole, provides good things or terrible problems for the society. For whatever it is, it takes place somewhere out there.” This view led to the conception that new artifacts or systems started with the research and went through devel- opment, design, and manufacturing to produce things that people want It reminds one of the old definitions of engi- neering. “Engineering is taking manpower, money, and materials and producing artifacts and systems that the public wants at a price it can afford to pay.” Somewhere hiddeninthisconceptisthe admission thatthe engineerhad a good idea that led to the invention, but left intact the belief that: if we did enough research, we would end up with desirable goods and services. Vannevar Bush [Massachusetts Beta ’16] apparently believed this when he wrote in The Endless Frontier. “New products, new industries, and more jobs will require con- tinuous additions to knowledge of the laws of nature and the application of that knowledge to practical purposes.” All of this is true if there is a market for the new products. Apparently, Bush believed if there were enough research, and he did not differentiate between basic (pure) and ap- plied research, that new saleable products would come out of the pipeline. Bush wrote, “Basic research leads to new knowledge. It provides scientific capital. It increases the frmd from which practical applications of knowledge must be drawn. New products and new processes do not appear full grown; they are founded on new principles and new conceptions which in turn are painstakingly developed by research in the purest realms of science.” He completely ignored the economic requirements and the demands of society in setting up this algorithm. He seemed to ignore what is essential in bringing a new product into commercial use— a need and a good idea asto how to fill that need. Take the cotton gin, reaper, steam engine, and automobile, all engineered without formal research programs by people who had no degree in engineering, but who knew that the public would buy the devices they could produce. The number of inventions that never reach the market- place is legion. The picturephone is an example. Millions of dollars have been spent during 30 or 40 years on research and development, but the picturephone has not been a commercial success, simply because the customer does not want it. 23 What Workers Need to Hold a Job A Three—Part Foundation 1. Basic Skills: Reads, writes, performs arithmetic and mathematical operations, listens, and speaks. A Reading— locates, understands, and interprets written information in prose and in documents such as manuals, graphs, and schedules. B. Writing—communicatesthoughts,ideas,infor- mation, and messages in writing; and creates docu- ments such as letters, directions, manuals, reports, graphs, and flow charts. C. Arithmetic/mathemafics — performs basic computations and approaches practical problems by choosing appropriately from a variety of mathematical techniques. D. Listening~ receives, attends to, interprets, and responds to verbal messages and other cues. E. Speaking—organizes ideas and communicates orally. 2. Thinking Skills: Thinks creatively, makes deci— sions, solves problems, visualizes, knows howto learn, and reasons. A. Creafive thinking — generates new ideas. B. Decision making — specifies goals and con— straints, generates alternatives, considers risks, and evaluates and chooses best alternative. C. Problem solving — recognizes problems and devises and implements plan of action. D. Seeing things in the mind’s eye - organizes, and processes symbols, pictures, graphs, objects, and other information. E. Knowing how to learn — uses efficient learn ing techniques to acquire and apply new knowledge and skills. . ' F. Reasoning — discovers a rule or principle un- derlying the relationship between two or more objects and applies it when solving a problem. 3. Personal Qualities: Displays responsibility, self- esteem, sociability, self-management, integrity, and honesty. A. Responsibility - exerts a high level of effort and perseveres toward goal attainment B. Self—esteem — believes in own self-worth and maintains a positive view of self. C. Sociability - demonstrates understanding, friendliness, adaptability, empathy, and politeness in group settings. D. Self-management — assesses self accurately, sets personal goals, monitors progress, and exhibits selfcontrol. of action. E. Integrity/ honesty — chooses ethical coursesJ Five Competencies 1. Resources: Identifies, organizes, plans, and allo- cates resources. A Time—selects goal-relevant activities, ranks them, allocates time, and prepares and follows schedules. B. Money -— uses or prepares budgets, makes forecasts, keeps records, and makes adjustments to meet objectives. C. Material and facflifies— acquires, stores, allo- cates, and uses materials or space efficiently. D. Human resources —- assesses skills and dis tributes work accordingly, evaluates perfo rmance, and pr0vides feedback. 2. Interpersonal: Works with others. A Participates as member of a team — contrib- utes to group effort. B. Teaches others new skills. C. Serves clients/ customers — works to satisfy customers’ expectations. D. Exercises leadership - communicates ideas to justify position, persuades and convinces others, re- sponsibly challenges existing procedures and policies. E. Negotiates —works toward agreements involv- ing exchange of resources; resolves divergent interests. F. Works with diversity — works well with men and women from diverse backgrounds. 3. Information: Acquires and uses information. A Acquires and evaluates information. B. Organizes and maintains information. C. Interprets and communicates information. D. Uses computers to process information. 4. Systems: Understands complex inter-relationships. A. Understands systems - knows how social, organizational, and technological systems work and operates effectively with them. B. Monitors and corrects performance—distin- guishes trends, predicts impacts on system opera- tions, diagnoses deviations in systems’ performance, and corrects malfunctions. C. Improves or designs systems —— suggests modifications to existing systems and develops new or alternative systems to improve performance. 5. Technologn Works with a variety of techniques. A Selects technologr— chooses procedures, tools, orequipment,includingcomputersandrelatedtechnologies. B. Applies technology to task — Understands overall intent and proper procedures for setup and operation of equipment. C. Maintains and troubleshoots equipment— Prevents, identifies, or solves problems with equip ment, including computers and other technologies. Figure 1 24 F igure .2 THE BENT of Tau Beta Pi Engineers for years have believed the old adage, “Build a better mouse trap, and the public will beat a path to your door.” It just isn’t so. Engineering and innovation are continuing and complex processes of research, develop- ment, design, test, design formanufacture, design the manu- facturing plant, survey the market, plan sales, and maintain and repair what is sold. This whole process is fed by dollars and powered by a bright idea. Sometimes there are many loops in the process. Development shows that more re search is needed. Amarket survey shows thatadesign must be changed, and sales report that the color of the cover is wrong and must be redone. Small companies are better at innovating because usually one person guides the process from beginning to end, while in big companies the project usually starts with the research under the vice president of research, and then the project is passed on to the vice president of engineering, the vice president of marketing, and so on. Inpassingthe project along, energy is lost at each transition point, and the “not invented here” syndrome attenuates the enthusiasm. We might ask, “1n innovation, what is more important— the engineer's good idea or societst need?" Engineers have ignored the latter. They’ve always considered themselves a little outside of society, and what they did determined the way society was bent Indeed, productdevelopment engi- neers often have to reach back into the discoveries of pure science; yet their driving force comes not from scientific knowledge but from their trying to produce something the public wants at an affordable price. Often the knowledge they need is not there, and they must conduct their own research to find it But it is research directed at an objective and can truly be called applied research. Thus, engineering educators are confronted with a di- lemma. We already have many curricula which produce engineers who have been exposed to approximately 100 credits of textbook engineering in fairly narrow specialties and some 20 credits in social and humanities studies. But most of these curricula completely ignore the requirements for professional development and advancement in com- merce and industry that are spelled outin the SCANS report There are few, if any, courses designed to fulfill those requirements and few universities with mechanisms for teaching such things as ethics and responsibility. So, we end up with students who may be well trained in theory, but lack experience in practice. Deplombly, they have little knowledge of the nonetextbook, social require ments for success, and have no concept of engineering as part of our social system. Thomas P. Hughes, Mellon professor at the University of Pennsylvania, in the NAB report, writes: “Students leave school with the mistaken impression that political and social factors are extraneous. If the arguments offered in this essay are valid, then these young professionals are being ill prepared to preside over either technological change or the development of socio- technicai systems. . . . There are countless examples of experienced engineers . . . who focus their energies on political and social matters in order to bring about innova- tion. lfwe do not prepare engineers and scientists for this imaginative flexibility, then we must relegate responsibility for long—range technological change to other professions.” Thus, if we are to assume that engineering is a social enterprise, obviously a different direction is needed. Fortu- nately, not all of those who enter the profession of engineer» Summer 1993 ing need to aspire to what might be called the highest level. The profession will always need technicians who make the tests, design the components, and test the product. Such people probably do not worry too much about advancing in their industrial organization or in determiningwhether their product is socially acceptable. But, there are others who must accept social responsibility. It is obvious that a redesign of engineering education is needed, specializing in what engineers will do and at what level they expect to operate #— not according to civil, electri— cal, or mechanical, but by what place they expect to occupy in the engineering process. The time is here for bold new ideas and experimentation. George Bugliarello, [New York R110 ’5 1] president of Polytechnic University, in the same NAE report asks, “Are we willing to ensure that the new technologies are placed in acontextthat affords the maximum utility to society? Or are we satisfied with confining our task to the creation of technologies that make change possible? Will we broaden our social role and take the lead in developing more inte- grated socio—technological approaches to society’s prob lems? Or will we continue to play a specialist role without participating in the broader decision ab out technology in the future of our society? “If engineers are to play a more decisive and enlightened social role, the engineering community must be willing to act on a number of issues: 1) work more closely with leaders of business and government to develop a sense of engineer ing and technology as one of the essential components of their preparation; 2) engage more actively in the political dialogue and in the definition of sociotechnological prob- lems; 3) increase attention to complex sociotechnological problems such as poverty or education, and propose new institutions such as technological “magistiatures” with com— bined teclmical and legislative power to address complex sociotechnological problems; 4) reshape engineering educa— tion to serve society as well as the engineering community, and 5) foster the involvement of engineers in cultivating the philoso- phy of technology, the rational and moral underpinnings of the modification of nature and the creation of artifacts. ‘To conclude, engineering has performed extraordinar- ily well in responding to technical challenges, but has shied away from the vigorous pursuit of complex socio—techno logical issues. This is surely the Achilles heel of US. engi- neering. If unaddressed, this weakness will do a disservice to society by confining engineers to a mainly technical role in the engine compartments of society. Until engineering is prepared to assume greaterleadership, it will remain a most honorable and skillful profession, but it will renounce its legitimate role as a splintered manifestation of humankind’s will to control its destiny.” 4 W Dr. Eric A. Walker is emeritus president of the Pennsylvania State University, where he has spent much of his career. He earned three degrees at Harvard Univer— sity, the bachelor's in 1932, the master’s in 1933, and the doctorate in 1935. In positions of leadership in academe since 1945, he served as head of the depart- ments of electrical engineering at Tufts College and the University of Connecticut, before moving to the Pennsylvania State University, where he was head of electri- cal engineering for six years, and ulti- mately president for 14 years. 25 ...
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