The following article was submitted to NSPE Magazine on October 21, 2015
Educating the Future Engineer
By Salvatore Galletta, PE
The standing and reputation of a Profession is a reflection of the standing and reputation of the individual members of that Profession. If society does not give a Profession the respect and recognition that the Profession deserves, it is the fault of the members of that Profession for not living up to the high standards that professionals are held up to by Society. Let us get down to specifics. The Engineering Profession suffers from a lack of recognition and standing. Who do we blame for this sad state of affairs, certainly not Society. The blame lies squarely on us. It is up to each one of us to adhere to the high standards that define a Profession.
Unfortunately, the educational process that molds the future Engineering Professional has not been up to the task. Most, if not all the woes that afflict the Engineering Profession in this country can be traced to the inadequate education that future Engineers receive in this country's Engineering schools. The narrow focus of the Engineering curriculum on the technical aspects of Engineering, produces Engineers that, while technically competent, are not prepared to deal with the many non-technical challenges that Engineers face in today's Society. That in brief, is the crux of the problem that faces our Engineering Profession.
If we want to improve the status of the Engineering Profession and elevate it to its rightful place among the learned Professions, we must address the education of the Engineer. The present four year curriculum needs to be revamped. We have to restructure the present curriculum to include all those non-technical courses that prepare the future Engineers to deal with the many challenges that they will face during their career.
These non-technical courses should cover at a minimum (1) ethics, (2) licensure (3) leadership, (4) communication skills, (5) business/finance concepts. There are undoubtedly, other social or non-technical skills that could be included in the Engineering Curriculum, but the five enumerated will adequately complement the technical component of an Engineer's education.
The ideal curriculum should strive to impart not only the knowledge and skills that will allow Engineering students to deal effectively with both technical and non-technical challenges, but also instill in them a sense of what it means to be a Professional. In essence, the challenge is to imbue in the young Engineer the ethos of the Profession. This means that the Engineering schools have to understand their critical role in molding the future Engineering Professionals.
The Engineering schools are the wellspring of the Profession; that is to say, their role is to produce Engineering Professionals who have a clear sense of who they are as Professionals and who know their responsibility to the Profession. In short, Engineering schools have to teach professionalism as part of a well-rounded curriculum. If we can accomplish this through a well-structured curriculum our Engineering students will enter the Profession fully prepared to handle the many challenges that face the Engineering Profession.
It is crucial that Engineering schools understand and embrace their fundamental role in educating the future Engineering Professionals. Until they do, Engineering will never be considered a true Profession. Given the critical importance of the Engineering education to the well being of the Profession, it is imperative that the Engineering Community become engaged in the education of its future Engineers. How can we best accomplish the reform of the Engineering curriculum? The most expeditious and efficient way is through ABET (Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology). ABET has the necessary clout to influence the composition of the Engineering curriculum. If an Engineering school wants its curriculum to be ABET accredited it must adhere to ABET’s requirements. But who dictates these requirements? It is us, the practicing Engineers who, through their respective Engineering Societies, i.e. (NSPE, ASCE, ASME, IEEE, etc.), determine what the educational requirements of the Engineering education should be. If we can get the Engineering societies that are members of ABET to agree on an Engineering curriculum that addresses the needs of the Profession, as outlined above, then we can be assured that in due time the Engineering Profession will gain the respect and recognition that a true Profession deserves, Only then can we hold our heads high as members of a noble Profession with equal standing among the other learned Professions.
My advice to my colleagues is to advocate for reform of the Engineering curriculum through your respective Engineering Society. In addition, become involved with your local Engineering schools. Share your knowledge, experience and wisdom with the students.
If we, in the Engineering Community, become more actively involved in the education of our future Engineers, then we can look forward to a bright future for the Engineering Profession and by extension, Society, the beneficiary of our services.
Salvatore Galletta, PE
NSPE Queens Chapter, Past President