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Engineering education: Creating engineers for today and the future

By BL Ramakrishna &amp Yannis Yortsos

The scenario in which mankind finds itself is not comparable to something in the previous and tends to make the adoption of revolutionary measures a compelling necessity. It is not possible, hence, to apply approaches and measures which at an earlier age may have been adequate. We have to revolutionize our considering and revolutionize our action.
—From Albert Einstein ‘A Message to Intellectuals’ 1948



In this poignant message, Einstein urged the world’s intellectuals to work towards advertising peace and prosperity, as he recognised the good positive aspects that science and technologies can bring to the planet, but also the related dangers and unintended consequences if technologies is utilised for destructive purposes. While unintended consequences have normally been element of the improvement of technologies, with the extraordinary energy of technologies today, due to its exponential development, one requirements to spend unique focus. Ensuring that technologies is utilised for definitely valuable purposes that comply with ethical selection creating, needs also introducing more mindsets, goal and character in the education of our engineering students. More drastically, reimagining education might be just ideal, as the unprecedented Covid-19 shock to the planet revealed the indispensable function that science and engineering play in creating our planet greater, even though also led us to fundamentally re-examine the way we live and work.



Today, Covid-19 notwithstanding, we are in the midst of the Fourth Industrial Revolution. The earlier 3 Industrial Revolutions liberated humankind from working with animals for the generation of energy, created mass production achievable, and brought digital capabilities to billions of people today, respectively. The existing Fourth Industrial Revolution is once more fundamentally diverse, characterised by a variety of technologies that are fusing the physical, digital and biological worlds, impacting all disciplines, economies and industries, even difficult us about what it implies to be human.

“We stand on the brink of a technological revolution that will fundamentally alter the way we live, work, and relate to one another. The response to it must be integrated and comprehensive, involving all stakeholders of the global polity, from the public and private sectors to academia and civil society”: Klaus Schwab, World Economic Forum 2016.

The exponential development of expertise and innovation in science, engineering and technologies, coupled with the convergence of disciplines, automation and globalisation, which characterise this era of the Fourth Industrial Revolution, demand reimagining how we educate our students. In our growing complicated and interconnected planet, the results of our graduates will be driven not only by what they know, but by how they make sensible choices on the use of potent engineering technologies. We not only have to prepare them with the competence expected to participate and develop our technologies of the future, but also how they could contribute meaningfully to the societal great.

Imparting expertise and abilities, namely supplying technical competence, is a needed and possibly the most critical ingredient for all our engineering students. However, in today’s planet exactly where most, if not all, difficulties are an increasingly complicated mixture of technical, social, cultural, financial and ethical considerations, it is crucial that we also equip our students with the cultivation of mindsets, which will assist thrive in a complicated planet of continuous modify. ‘Knowledge, skills and mindsets’ really should be the mixture of attributes greater education really should strive to provide to their students. This implies attributes more to strict technical competence, from goal to character and to ethical selection-creating to complement technical expertise and abilities.

The Grand Challenges Scholars Program, in which we are each involved, is an outstanding instance of such a paradigm shift. Co-developed in 2009 by Duke University, Olin College and the University of Southern California, it has been developed to prepare engineering students to resolve the ‘grand challenges’ of our time, as articulated in 2008 by the US National Academy of Engineering. The programme, now spread more than practically one hundred engineering schools globally, consists of such a mixture of ‘knowledge, skills and mindsets’. It encompasses 5 components: exceptional technical abilities and expertise interdisciplinary abilities and mindsets to address the convergence of disciplines, tools and modes of considering driven by widespread ambitions in the Fourth Industrial Revolution entrepreneurial and innovation abilities and mindsets understanding cultures and the human element by means of international and multicultural mindsets and the understanding of the influence of technologies to society and the value of technologies ethics. In a lot of strategies, at the finish this prescription creates trustworthy engineers, these who will have each technical competence and character.

Similar educational paradigms can be developed about diverse ambitions, such as the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals. Regardless, such a blend of ‘knowledge, skills and mindsets’ will assist address the challenge for institutions to strike the suitable balance of seemingly competing competencies such as technical depth and the improvement of the human spirit for the creation of the engineer for today’s instances.

(This is the third and final post in the series ‘We need a new kind of engineer’.)

Prof Ramakrishna is chief academic advisor at the upcoming Plaksha University, and former director, US NAE Grand Challenges Scholars Program Prof Yortsos is dean of Viterbi School of Engineering, University of Southern California, and on the Academic Advisory Board of Plaksha

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