Connections are key to ensuring the future of American engineering

Dr. Gary S. May is the dean of the College of Engineering at the Georgia Institute of Technology and cohost of the Atlanta regional dialogue.  He talked to us about the challenges of capacity, capability, and competitiveness – the 3C’s – and how connecting the classroom to the professional world, while also connecting goverment, industry and education are essential to fostering the continued success of American engineering.

Please explain how Georgia Tech’s approach to engineering education prepares students to address 21st century challenges.

STEM classrooms are ideal laboratories for developing approaches to active learning. Although the foundations of theoretical knowledge are as essential as ever, millennial “digital natives” hunger for relevance and interaction.  As a result, STEM pedagogy is increasingly embracing student-centered groups engaged in project-based work using real-world scenarios. Framing the lessons of STEM in the free-market spirit that has defined our nation connects the classroom to the larger world.

How we can increase diversity in the engineering talent pipeline?

One of the best ways to increase diversity is through proven interventions which include summer bridge programs to ease the transition to college, tutoring, peer mentoring, and course clustering for underrepresented students. Rather than re-inventing the wheel, we need to find ways to adopt and adapt these techniques using a systemic and properly resourced approach.  We need to focus on encouraging students to “stay with it” and provide mentoring and role models. While majoring in a STEM field is rigorous, it is extremely rewarding.

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

They serve as an industry and government affirmation that engineering is key to long-term economic growth.  Innovation requires public and private sector investment operating synergistically. These dialogues ensure we are on the same page as we go forward and foster awareness of social, economic and cultural forces which affect engineering’s future, such as student demographics and global demands. We need to make sure those issues are raised from all who have a vested interest in our nation’s economic well-being, which is directly tied to engineering.