The empathetic 21st-century engineer
But times have changed. Besides working closely with industries to turn out qualified engineers who can fill immediate job positions, academia is creating a new breed of engineer—one who is involved in solving real-world, human problems.
A Whole New Engineer: The Coming Revolution in Engineering Education, a new book written by David E. Goldberg and Mark Somerville, describes engineering roles today. Goldberg is president of Big Beacon and emeritus professor of engineering at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign; Somerville is a professor of engineering and the associate dean at Franklin W. Olin College of Engineering in Needham, MA.
“The new vision of engineering is one where students and professionals are encouraged to follow their passions; work on real-world projects in teams; focus on solving the needs of people and society, not just technical problems; develop an entrepreneurial mindset to take risks; get things done—and work harder and have more fun than they ever thought possible,” says Goldberg.
“The needs of society have evolved,” he adds. “The obedient engineer of the 1950s has been replaced by a quest for the next Steve Jobs. To produce this type of person, the education system must replace fear with joy, replace suspicion with trust and replace passive obedience to authority with courage and initiative.”
Ironically, engineers weren’t always viewed the way they were in the last five decades of the 20th century, says Goldberg who has spent time perched high in construction sites holding surveying targets and slogging his way through Kraft Foods plants. “Civil and electrical engineers were rock stars in the late 1800s, but somewhere between then and now, engineers became ‘socially captive’ [a term coined by Stephen Goldman at Lehigh University] to the companies they work for. Technological culture treats engineers like the interchangeable components they design and build.”
For the last few decades, engineers worked for companies—which, in many cases, referred to them as “cost centers”—while sales staffs were labeled “profit centers” on the accounting sheets. But, thanks to schools that emphasize innovation and creativity, the concept of what an engineer does may be changing. “When engineers were rock stars, they were owners,” says Goldberg. “Many young engineers aspire to lead companies and be the creators of new products and services. Many of them also want to create companies that will do good for society and well by their friends.”
“The message of starting with what we call the ‘joy of engineering’ is so important,” says Goldberg. “It’s cool to be an engineer, to be able to go into the world and find problems/opportunities, solve them and see the evidence of your good work every day. Kids who get this and are educated like this get it.”
To read an extended interview about this topic online, visit www.foodengineeringmag.com/21stcentury_engineer.
Eight recommendations for bringing educational reform to engineering curricula
Source: Goldberg and Somerville.