While Dr. Frankenstein brought life to his creation, the result wasn’t exactly a warm, compassionate, empathetic being. Similarly, since the 1950s, academic institutions have turned out some of the best engineers the world has ever known, but the educational process often focused solely on producing well-trained individuals.

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 “The obedient engineer of the 1950s has been replaced by a quest for the next Steve Jobs.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.

For more information: David Goldberg, 217-621-2645, deg@bigbeacon.org, www.wholenewengineer.org


Eight recommendations for bringing educational reform to engineering curricula

Reform requires educational institutions, industry and communities to work in tandem

  1. Stop taking the crisis in engineering education for granted. Make engineering attractive to our best and brightest.

  2. Stop basing the education system on an operating system of fear. Build a new system that works through joy, connection and openness.

  3. Stop boring students into dull obedience. Start trusting them until they have the courage to be creative and unleashed.

  4. Stop educating engineers as if they are technical brains on a stick. Educate engineers with technical knowledge and knowhow, visualization and design capability, emotional and social intelligence, leadership presence and intuition, skill in language and story, mindfulness and reflection.

  5. Stop assuming the central actor in education is the professor. Start recognizing students are the power and light of all transformative educational reform.

  6. Stop throwing PhDs into classrooms as experts. Start training a new generation of skilled educators with both technical knowledge and the ability to coach young people.

  7. Stop assuming educational transformation can be accomplished by an 11th-century system that was designed to maintain the status quo. Start using new methods of change management to bring about the necessary change.

  8. Stop assuming change comes through competition with the school down the road. Start collaborating with your neighborhood schools, using open innovation (like Linux and Android) to create a whole new operating system for all your institutions. 

Source: Goldberg and Somerville.