Getting creative with engineering education

With a mission to revolutionize engineering education, Olin College of Engineering President Rick Miller, host of the upcoming Boston regional dialogue, talks about the challenges facing engineering and creating a curriculum and culture that produces graduates with the ability and self-confidence to solve big problems that cross boundaries and disciplines.

 

How does Olin prepare students for a career in engineering?

Our goal is to make engineering education empowering, relevant and exciting to a new generation. We’ve focused on creating a culture that supports innovation in all its dimensions.

Faculty teach in interdisciplinary teams. Students learn by doing hands-on projects in teams, in the context of real people’s problems in the real world.

 

How can we increase diversity in the engineering pipeline?

To help solve engineering’s “image problem” with underrepresented groups, we should concentrate on implementing big changes that make engineering study more creative, adventurous and inspiring to young people. We need to demonstrate that engineering is one of the best ways to help people and make a major difference in the world. If we can do that, we can begin to address the diversity problem.

 

How can gatherings like the NEF dialogues impact the nation’s future?

There is broad consensus that science- and engineering-based innovation drive economic growth and job creation. The stakes couldn’t be higher: if we can’t figure out new ways to educate technological leaders, America’s prosperity and reputation as an innovation groundbreaker could be called into question. Only through collaboration and dialogue can we form the coalitions among business, academia and government to confront this challenge. I’m optimistic we’ll succeed.

ENGINEERING THE CHANGE WE WANT TO SEE

The National Engineering Forum (NEF) is growing the movement, gathering grass-roots support across the country and adding more engineering hubs to the NEF map. This fall and winter, you’ll find regional dialogues happening in Pittsburgh, Boston, Chicago, Atlanta, Phoenix, and Madison, Wisc.

Regional dialogues provide an opportunity for local leaders from academia, industry, government and media to engage in solutions-oriented discussions to address three main challenges facing American engineering – the 3C’s: capacity of the engineering pipeline, capability of engineers to meet today’s complex challenges, and competitiveness of American engineering in a global economy.

The fall dialogue series kicks off October 1 in Pittsburgh with co-hosts University of Pittsburgh and Carnegie Mellon University.  The University of Pittsburgh has one of the nation’s oldest engineering programs and the Swanson School of Engineering is known for being on the cutting edge of biomedical engineering, energy and sustainability.  Carnegie Mellon University is home to 48 National Academy of Engineering members and 28% of the student body is enrolled in the College of Engineering, also known as the Carnegie Institute of Technology.

On October 27, the Olin College of Engineering is hosting the Boston regional dialogue. Olin was founded in 1997 with the goal of radically changing engineering education through a creative hands-on approach to learning and a focus on technical innovation needed to solve real world challenges.

Three days later, on October 30, the University of Illinois hosts the Chicago regional dialogue. The College of Engineering at Illinois is one of the top five programs in the world, and its 80,000 alumni include the founders of YouTube, Bloom Energy, Grainger Industrial Supply, Tesla Motors, and PayPal, along with six astronauts and the CEO of BP.

On November 20, NEF heads south to Atlanta, where the Georgia Institute of Technology hosts a dialogue.  Georgia Tech is a science and technology-focused research institution known for achievements in clean, sustainable energy research, discoveries in diseases and treatment, and advancements in national defense and security.

Arizona State University hosts the Phoenix regional dialogue on February 19, 2015.  At ASU’s Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering, more than 13,500 students are enrolled in programs that focus on problem solving and teamwork, entrepreneurship, and engineering’s impact on society along with design and innovation.

The University of Wisconsin-Madison and Rockwell Automation will host a dialogue in Madison. UW-Madison College of Engineering’s major research themes include transportation infrastructure, advancing healthcare, energy independence, advanced manufacturing, improving security and environmental sustainability.  Rockwell Automation’s products help make other companies more efficient.  Headquartered in Milwaukee, Rockwell is the world’s largest company dedicated to industrial automation and was named one of Newsweek’s Top 10 Green Companies in the U.S.

As NEF crosses the nation gathering ideas, it is building the foundation for a well-informed, representative approach to solving the 3C’s and advancing America’s engineering enterprise.

A limited number of invitations are available for executive-level leaders. Get more information on attending a regional dialogue by emailing us at info@nationalengineeringforum.com.

ENGINEERING AMUSEMENT

Michelle Phillips is about to have a lot of friends who want to come visit her.  And not just because she’s smart, outgoing and interesting to talk to.  She’s also got the inside track on fun at Universal Orlando Resort.

We met Phillips at the NEF Gen event at NC State University in the spring.  Now, she’s using her Bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering with a minor in business to help bring new attractions to life at one of the country’s biggest amusement parks.  Phillips is beginning her career as an associate engineer for Universal Creative, helping develop new attractions. “By taking a vendor’s design and doing the calculations to ensure a design works, I’m taking what I learned in class and applying it in the context of working with a vendor, and doing project management.”

She points to outside-the-classroom experiences that developed management skills.  Phillips served as one of NC State’s Engineering Ambassadors and volunteered with the Krispy Kreme Challenge race to raise money for the North Carolina Children’s Hospital.  “Engineering students are great at math and science, as well as learning and problem solving… but engineers in practice are not just solving problems on paper.  You’re talking to people.  And extra-curricular activities help build those skills.”

So besides technical knowledge and people skills, what did it take for Phillips to land this dream job?  Passion, persistence and guts.  Phillips was one of about 20 students (and one of only three female students) who attended the Spring 2013 American Society for Testing and Materials (ASTM) conference on amusement rides and devices.  While there, she met Universal executives and a comment about needing more women in the industry led to an exchange of business cards, and ultimately, a Universal internship last summer.  To students in any engineering discipline, Phillips urges, “Go to the conferences and have the guts to talk to different people.”

She spent last summer working with someone in the position she just landed, and “at the end of my internship they said keep in touch, so I did.”  Phillips says persistence and relationship-building are the key, and as she recently told a friend, “Keep trying – engineering is not one of those fields where you’ll get it immediately.  Keep at it.  Talk to a friend. Figure it out.  Especially with internships and jobs, apply to anyone and everyone and keep at it.  You’ll get one.”

And in Phillips’ case, she’s starting her new job just in time to see some of the creations she worked on last summer come to life in the expanded Wizarding World of Harry Potter, “I’m excited to go back and see everything I solved on paper come to life.”

Q&A: What do engineering students need to know?

An internship is an opportunity to network, build your resume, and get the practical experience that will prepare you for your engineering career.  And it’s the chance to get career advice from mentors and supervisors.  Here’s a head start.  Tweet us the best advice you ever got or gave @NatlEngForum #EngineeringAdvice

Approach the business – not just the job

Dr. Yannis C. Yortsos, dean of the USC Viterbi School of Engineering:

It is essential for students to be steeped – in addition to fundamental science and engineering – in the process of entrepreneurship, the translation of ideas to useful purposes and the global context within which they will work and compete.

Be passionate

Jami Grindatto, former director, Talent Enabling Solutions, Intel Corporation:  

[Students] are not lacking in head knowledge, it’s heart and hands. They aren’t learning the passion in college, and their feet aren’t moving because they don’t know which direction to go. So they need that hands-on experience applying the science.

Creativity is key to creation

Dr. Leo Kempel, acting dean of the College of Engineering, Michigan State University:

Technological innovation is the root of many of the changes in our society and way of life.  We must prepare students who are intellectually nimble and experienced at solving problems that have a non-specific solution…

Do the right thing

Mark W. Albers, senior vice president, ExxonMobil:

An engineer must have integrity.  In our field, integrity means more than tight seams and strong welds.  It means adhering to sound engineering principles, attention to detail, and an unrelenting focus on protecting people and the environment.

Engage your teammates

Dr. Michael B. Bragg, dean of the University of Washington College of Engineering:

Beyond fundamental engineering training, it will be essential for students to work effectively in interdisciplinary teams, embrace diversity and communicate well. An understanding of entrepreneurship and the translation of ideas will also be increasingly important.

Michael Kluse, director of the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory:

Educational experiences and real-world work experiences give students the exposure to multi-disciplinary teams where collaboration and communication are essential. These experiences emphasize the value of teamwork, creative thinking, and risk-taking, along with the discipline required to deliver solutions.

Duke and NC State students energize NEF Generation

NEF Generation, the National Engineering Forum’s effort to capture the enthusiasm and energy of students and young professionals around developing 3C’s solutions, held its first meet-ups at Duke University on March 25 and NC State on March 27, in conjunction with the Raleigh-Durham regional dialogue.

Students at both events found out more about the 3C’s and how they can join the NEF movement, as well as offering their ideas on the future of the American engineering enterprise. Dr. Louis Martin-Vega, dean of the NC State College of Engineering, attended the NEF Generation meet-up and observed, “Engineering is a platform, a phenomenally strong platform, that moves you into a plethora of careers.” That sentiment was reflected at both universities, where the students’ diverse interests were reflected in their career goals, which included everything from roller coaster design to biomedical endeavors that help restore the sense of sight.

Be on the lookout for more meet-ups, and get social with us @natlengforum on Twitter and NEFGeneration on Instagram.

Q&A with the NEF Generation

What are the most important skills and abilities engineers need to be successful and contribute to the competitiveness of the American engineering enterprise?

Alhaji Bah, Miami University

The most important skill is the ability to effectively communicate ideas, solutions and their passion for solving problems, with fellow engineers and the general public. This will allow others to understand the challenges we face as a society and the solutions that are being discovered on a daily basis, while generating interest in the field for future generations.

Dani Couger, Project Manager, ELDP 2014, Lockheed Martin

Dani Bio PicEngineers are too often put in a box. Being an engineer prepares you to approach a variety of situations and come up with an innovative way to be successful. I encourage all young engineers to break out of their shell and pursue things that interest them. Whether that is leading a team, speaking at a school to promote engineering, or just continuing to learn about all kinds of engineering, not just the type that their degree is in.

Lauren Saintz, Miami University

Lauren Sanitz
Aside from technical skills, I think it is really important for up-and-coming engineers to be strong in their soft skills such as effective collaboration and communication. These skills are essential to success and will help us have a competitive edge as we begin our careers.

ENGINEERING WEEK RECOGNIZES ENGINEERS AND THEIR CONTRIBUTIONS

Engineering Week is Feb. 16-22, when engineers and educators recognize and celebrate the engineering community and its contributions to society. With that in mind, we asked the co-hosts of next month’s NEF regional dialogue in Raleigh-Durham, to tell us how they think engineers impact America’s competitiveness in the global marketplace.

Dr. Louis A. Martin-Vega, Dean of the College of Engineering at N.C. State University:

“While there are many issues that impact America’s global competitiveness, few rise to the level of the extraordinary contributions that have been made and continue to be made by our engineering community. The technological leadership that our country continues to exert worldwide has been built on the platform of a vibrant, creative and innovative engineering workforce. The unique engineering mission of ‘converting ideas into reality’ underlies the development of the many new products and processes that are sold and used worldwide. It is unlikely that our country will continue to forge ahead, much less maintain its leadership position in an increasingly competitive global marketplace, without a national commitment that ensures we will continue to produce the outstanding engineering talent that has been the key driver behind who we are as a country and society.”

Dr. Tom Katsouleas, dean of the Pratt School of Engineering at Duke University:

“A couple of years ago, I co-organized with the ASEE an international workshop on “The Role of Engineering Education in the Global Economy.” The meeting happened to be in Shanghai and provided a rare opportunity to see the growing gap between Chinese and U.S. engineering education over the past decade. As their former Minister of Science and Technology told us, China was turning out 750,000 engineers a year, but they could not find jobs—yet at the same time, China’s industry couldn’t find adequately prepared engineers to meet their workforce needs. To me this underscores the importance of all three C’s that we discuss in the National Engineering Forum—it is not just capacity, but capability and competitiveness that are crucial to creating an engineering workforce that ensures American competitiveness in the global marketplace. We have to continue to support educational programs that prepare students with engineering fundamentals as well as a broad liberal-arts context for understanding how engineering addresses society’s grand challenges and helps people lead better lives. Fortunately, these last two messages are also quite appealing to young people and help draw the diverse population we need into engineering to build the capacity and capabilities we need for the U.S. economy.”