May 25, 2006

Engineering is becoming a liberal art

A nice quote from Michael Rutter of Harvard about their new engineering program. The quote is in a very good article in InsideHigherEd today, The Technology Mosaic by David Epstein. Basically, the idea is that Harvard wants their new program to be the ultimate in interdisciplinarity, reflecting what the core of engineering has always been but which is very rarely recognized. The engineering goal of designing within constraints will always mean that engineers need to keep environmental, economic and social considerations in mind when implementing their projects. The Harvard plan clearly seems to be aiming to educate engineers with a broad array of competancies.

As another quote in the Epstein article puts it:

[A]s Paul S. Peercy, dean of engineering at the University of Wisconsin and chair of the Engineering Dean’s Council at the American Society for Engineering Education put it: “I used to say, ‘look around, everything except the plants are engineered.’ Now I say, ‘look around, everything and some of the plants are engineered.’”

Update: Another quote from the article I really liked:
In his opening note in the most recent issue of the DEAS newsletter, Dean Venkatesh Narayanamurti quoted a question that the report posed: “Do our engineers understand enough culturally … to respond to the needs of multiple niches in a global market?”

James D. Plummer, dean of Stanford School of Engineering is working hard to make sure the answer will be “yes.”

In his recent “State of the School” address, Plummer emphasized efforts to create what he — and at least several other deans who have apparently adopted the term — calls “T-shaped students.” The vertical part of the T represents the traditional math and science education of an engineer, and the crossbar is all the other stuff, from marketing to sociology, that students need so they don’t end up as deep but narrowly educated toothpick students.

In an interview, Plummer said that a big part of his push is to inspire more students to turn to engineering. One of the ways Stanford is doing that is by getting freshmen and sophomores into the lab, and putting them in intro seminars of 15 or fewer students that Stanford hopes will bring students into engineering, rather than weed them out, as is the norm in cavernous g-chem lecture halls.

No comments: