“The Engineer of 2020” report called for improvements in a broad range of skills and traits, such as creativity, leadership, business management, communications, empathy, moral reasoning, virtue ethics, dynamism, systems thinking and comfort with ambiguity. These topics are not generally associated with our engineering curricula or even the comfort level of our own engineering faculty. Developing the right balance of skills, knowledge and traits is the challenge for engineering education. There isn’t enough time for building skills and a knowledge base in everyone that only a few will actually use. We need to push back on the refrain at the departmental meeting, “Well, every engineer needs to know how to do X,” when the reality is that only about 10% of the engineers who graduate will ever be in a room where X is even happening. This “rite-of- passage” mentality will only mire us in what we have always done, which, in truth, hasn’t been bad, but is it great? PREPARING STUDENTS WITH THE MINDSET TO SUCCEED As engineering educators, the worst thing we could do for our students is to have them be surprised by what little they know as they walk through the door to their first job. The products, the markets, the science, the customers, the designs, the finance, the regulations, the supply chain, the equipment, the
timing, the documentation, the history, the communications, the manufacturability, the software, the laws, the cultures are so different for each company in each product sector, that we could not possibly “train” a student for any specific job. But
everyone’s fingertips, what have we actually removed from the backs of our students in working through obsolete tasks in the curriculum? As conveyed in “The Engineer of 2020” report, “The speed and
computing power of desktop machines …will enable design and simulation capabilities that will make the routine activities of contemporary engineers obsolete, thus freeing them for ever more creative tasks.” Isaac Asimov said something similar only 30 years earlier in 1970, “the Machine is only a tool after all, which can help humanity progress faster by taking some of the burdens of calculations and interpretations off its back.” With these powerful and increasingly accurate tools at our fingertips, what parts of the curriculum have we labeled as obsolete to allow more time for creative tasks?
we do need to prepare them with themindset to succeed in the vast majority of other possibilities. And inmost cases, it will not require them to knowX or Y, but it will require them to recognize when they need to understandX or Y, and quickly learn. With time as a constraint and experience as the opportunity, we have to ask ourselves if we have fully taken advantage of the limited time we have with our engineering students.
Given the advances in technology, immediate access to information and computational power at
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