St. Thomas Engineer Magazine

prophetically, they even outlined a scenario where a virus pandemic paralyzes much of the world economy. With all of these new technological tools and perspectives at our fingertips, the real question is howmuch has engineering education really changed in the last 20 years? Or for that matter, 40 years? Outside of our labs with many examples of modern tools, for all intents and purposes, we still rely on the traditional curriculum: four semesters of calculus/diff eq, two semesters of physics, a computer science course, nominal treatment of statistics, traditional engineering discipline-specific courses and, for the most part, a survey-level series of courses in social science and humanities. Topped off, of course, by the capstone experience which attempts to cover everything that we didn’t cover in the previous three years of the curriculum. I am sure that every one of us reading this could showcase this or that in our respective curricula, but if we are truly honest with ourselves, across the nation, not much has really changed since the turn of the century.


‘A 5-POUND BAGWITH 10 POUNDS OF STUFF WE COULD TEACH’ PROBLEM As “The Engineer of 2020” report stated, “engineering education must avoid the cliché of teaching more and more about less and less, until it teaches everything about nothing.” For 40 years, while our technological world has been entirely transformed, our profession has struggled with the “5-pound bag and 10 pounds of stuff we could teach” problem. With the increasing democra- tization of technology, the approach of having a thin skills- based appreciation of everything technical in our curricula may be undermining the true value of an engineering degree. The differentiating value of an engineering education is being diminished by the accessibility of our basic tools to those from any background. The issue with the 5-pound bag problem is compounded by the need to develop traits that have traditionally not been a part of the engineering educational experience, but nonetheless are vital to advancing any great technological ideas for society.

The NAE group who crafted “The Engineer of 2020” report in 2002 highlighted the big themes of new technologies which would serve as new tools for today’s engineers, as well as outlined the emerging technological challenges that we would likely face. We have to put the report into the context, because at that time there were no smartphones (2007); there was no Facebook (2004); the value of data was just being realized with the launch of Amazon Web Services (2002); the prospect of all-electric vehicle production (the EV1) had just been called off by General Motors (1999); and the U.S. was boldly turning toward the “hydrogen economy” (G.W. Bush SOTU address, 2003). The team correctly envisioned vastly improved technological tools in the areas of bio- technology, nanotechnology, materials science, photonics, logistics, communications, IT and an “information explosion” of data covering all disciplines. The team also correctly anticipated the critical importance of the “extinction-level” crisis of climate change. And, somewhat

St. Thomas Engineer 2020 Page 7

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