On the lookout for engineering leaders


Ron Bennett on a trip to the maritime museum in Duluth, Minnesota, with his grandchildren, and as he told us, he’s “always on the lookout for leaders.” Photo by Haley Bennett.

How can we inspire the next generation of innovative engineers?

The world is faced with a daunting array of challenges this century, from global climate change to aging infrastructure to increasing security needs. Solutions to all of these issues will require innovative engineering. Today’s young people want to make a difference, and there is no better way to have a positive impact on the world than through engineering.  We need to provide mentoring to help these young people find their passion and realize how that passion can be applied to create new ways to solve these problems and create a more sustainable world.

How can universities ensure that the engineers entering the job market have the right skills and abilities for solving 21st century challenges?

Engineering programs are doing a good job of educating students in the technical skills needed for the profession. Industry acknowledges this, but identifies shortcomings in leadership skills like communications, teamwork and collaboration. The technical skills provide the power and are analogous to the rear wheels of a bicycle, but the leadership skills are the front wheel and are needed to steer each engineer’s decisions and actions in the right direction. Universities need to place more emphasis on broader education and critical thinking, understanding the behavior of people, how to work collaboratively and understand the value of diversity, including social style and learning style, to creating innovative solutions.

What is engineering’s role in keeping America competitive in a global economy?

Solving the challenges of the world’s major issues, which is essential to keeping America competitive, will require creativity and an understanding of more than just technical solutions.  Former 3M executive Joe Ling once said, “Environmental issues are emotional, environmental decisions are political, but environmental solutions are technical.” This also applies to all other major issues. It is critical for engineers to understand the emotional and political aspects of issues to be able to build a case for the technical solutions.

What is the American Society of Engineering Education (ASEE) LEAD’s charter?

The Engineering Leadership Development Division (LEAD) of ASEE has a charter of discussion and dissemination of the value and impact of engineering leadership education. Among the specific objectives are exploring leadership styles, learning about one’s personality, reflecting on leadership roles and traits and fostering the development of engineering leadership. Other objectives include assisting engineering educators in incorporating concepts of emotional intelligence and leadership development into courses and projects, providing opportunities for leadership development among engineering students, and disseminating knowledge on engineering leadership efforts in engineering education.

As a Member at Large on the Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology (ABET) Engineering Accreditation Commission, tell us about the ABET accreditation commission and revisions to the curriculum. What changes are being considered?

Comprehensive outcomes-based engineering accreditation criteria were developed by ABET 20 years ago.  In the past two decades, the world has changed and the profession has evolved.  In the spirit of continuous improvement, the criteria have been examined to ensure they match the reality of today’s world while leading us through the 21st century.

In July 2015, the Criteria Committee recommended selected changes based on extensive input, and these changes were approved by the Engineering Accreditation Commission. Since then, the ABET Board of Delegates suggested changes to two criteria: student outcomes and curriculum.