Changing times

Changing times

Weese, John

The predictions of dire Y2K consequences have now been proven false, true, or somewhere in between. Frank Huband and the headquarters staff assure us that ASEE is thoroughly prepared and that the Society’s services to its members will continue uninterrupted. Whatever hiccups arose during the rollover from 12/31/99 to 1/ 1 /00, there undoubtedly was a mixture of hope for the new era and tinges of disappointment that it didn’t seem much different from the previous year. However, the degree to which each new year is different has accelerated, and shows no sign of abating. One such change is the way engineering, including engineering technology, is practiced; inevitably, that means changes in how engineering is taught and how engineering research is conducted.

Many of us have attended workshops on the Engineering Accreditation Commission/ABET Criteria 2000 and outcomes assessment symposia. Because of the new criteria, we are writing better mission statements and objectives, knowing that we must document progress toward achieving these objectives, as well as the nature of control systems to adjust and improve our programs. The Technology Accreditation Commission of ABET is developing a similar standard for engineering technology programs.

Reflecting the global practice of engineering, the new criteria emphasize the importance of having students learn to work in teams and to deal with resolution when differences of opinion arise. This is quite different from the environment that most of us mature faculty experienced during our student days. At that time, the majority of our work was done independently. The advent of the National Science Foundation’s Engineering Research Centers and other multi-investigator research programs has altered the research field that was once almost exclusively the domain of single investigator research projects.

Engineering faculties in U.S. institutions have changed dramatically. The male-dominated Anglo-Saxon faculty into which many of us were hired in the 1960s will largely be gone by the middle of this decade. As an e-mail to the editor in the November 1999 Prism observed, the vacant positions created by retiring faculty are being filled by applicants who often received their undergraduate education in other countries. The writer lamented that few U.S.-educated engineering students choose to prepare themselves for faculty careers.

The relative absence of U.S. students in engineering graduate schools is of serious concern. There is a need for more attractive programs to encourage bright U.S. students to continue their graduate education and qualify themselves for faculty positions. Engineering deans and ASEE are acutely aware of this, and many are engaged in raising funds to improve stipends for U.S. graduate students. By itself, additional funding for graduate stipends won’t guarantee that more U.S. students will choose to pursue faculty careers. They may still opt for lucrative positions in industry and government with twelve-month appointments, access to well-equipped laboratories, more focused objectives, and the perception of better upward mobility.

The hiring of non-U.S.-bom but highly qualified and talented faculty members with strong work ethics is a great strength for U.S. institutions. By all measures, the faculties of our engineering colleges exhibit rich and diverse backgrounds. This provides our students, especially our undergraduates, with insights into other cultures that stimulate their understanding and help prepare them to function effectively as members of teams engaged in the international practice of engineering.

Just as these new faculty members enrich our lives by providing us with a deeper understanding and a broader perspective of engineering, we must mentor them to appreciate the strengths of our education system. An obvious indicator of the excellence of the U.S. engineering education system is that the nations of the world send their brightest and best to the United States for their graduate education in engineering. This effect manifests itself more strongly in engineering than in almost any other profession.

The mentoring that we mature faculty should provide younger faculty members ought to include an appreciation of the importance of active membership in technical and professional societies. It is through these affiliations that we have tested our ideas through presentations to peers, learned of new developments, and gained knowledge through collegial interactions. Participation in ASEE should definitely be included. Due to its relative uniqueness, ASEE may not be well understood by some new faculty, yet it has a great deal to offer them.

Department heads and deans will fill faculty positions with the most qualified candidates. Many of them will be from other countries. Large numbers of foreign-born faculty members have been in the system a long time, and have earned responsible, leadership positions. Unquestionably, this trend will continue and will probably accelerate. It is important for ASEE to recruit new members actively from all backgrounds and ensure that they move into the Society’s leadership positions. The real winners will be the graduates of the U.S. system of engineering education and their employers.

Copyright American Society for Engineering Education Jan 2000

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