Technical Literacy

Technical Literacy

Huband, Frank L

AS I LISTENED to this year’s election year rhetoric that spanned everything from education to stem cell research to conntcrterrorism, I was struck anew by the relevance of what engineers and educators do. In these technology-driven times, the more we know, the better off we are. The public must able to grasp technical information and logically analyze data -otherwise, policy makers arc left to make decisions based on pure politics, and our understanding and voting is based on which news commentator or spin doctor sounds best. This point is made in the article, “Engineering for Everyone,” in which Bill Hammack, associate professor at the University of Illinois, says, “You want voters that make informed decisions on technical issues.” The article looks at how a handful of pioneering engineering educators and their schools are now offering courses such as Engineering & Life or Engineering in the Modern World to students outside engineering.

The article “Answering the Call” focuses on the need to increase the number of American students studying engineering. Defense and aerospace companies are particularly interested in getting more students into engineering because much of their work requires security clearances only U.S. citizens can obtain. Industry’s outreach to K-12 teachers now includes grants, faculty internships, and sponsored science fairs and student projects. In the past, there has been a tradition of foreign students coming to America to study engineering, especially at the graduate level, and many of them stayed. Increased U.S. visa complexities and delays, along with improved engineering study opportunities abroad, might diminish this source of engineering graduates. In any event, aerospace and defense company executives say the United States needs more domestic students earning engineering degrees, and they’re working to make that happen.

“Model Behavior” is a profile of Vanderbilt professor Peter Cummings, a chemical engineer, whose interests and expertise include computer modeling and molecular simulation. A native Australian, he began in applied mathematics but made a change to chemical engineering. He investigates how cancer tumors spread, works on designing a molecular model of water, and applies his computer simulation experience to the burgeoning nanotechnology field.

As I say each month, Prism tries to offer our readers a wide variety of articles. I am always interested in your comments and thoughts.

Frank L Huband

Executive Director and Publisher

Copyright American Society for Engineering Education Dec 2004

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