Innovation requires multidiscipinary approach


Leo Kempel, DEAN/CEE

A Q&A on the 3C’s with Dr. Leo Kempel (left), acting dean of the College of Engineering, Michigan State University and Dr. David Munson (right), the Robert J. Vlasic Dean of Engineering, University of Michigan, co-hosts of the Detroit regional dialogue.

How can universities drive innovation and make sure engineers have the capability to address 21st century challenges?

LK: 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 from the very beginning of their studies.”

DM: We face tough challenges worldwide. We need more sustainable energy solutions, clean water and global health solutions. We’ll need to adapt to the changing climate. Engineers will be on the forefront of providing solutions, but they’re going to need a breadth of experiences to give them the outside-the-box perspective. One way universities, colleges and technical schools can open students’ minds is to provide them opportunities to work on multidisciplinary teams. That’s an important way innovation happens.

What is the most important skill the next generation of American engineers will need in order to contribute to ensuring our national security and prosperity?

LK: Mathematics has always been very important, together with science. Students also need communication and collaborative skills, so they can work in teams from different disciplines and figure out how to leverage each other’s capabilities, then articulate a solution, how it works and what the impact is sot that it can have transformative impact.


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

DM: All of us — faculty, government officials, industry and media representatives — have a role to play in shaping the future. None of us can do it alone. We need academic institutions to devise successful educational approaches. We need government to support research. We need industry to support development and commercialization. And we need the media to help us inform the public.