Academic journal article Education

The Coming Revolution in Engineering and Engineering Technology Education: A New Paradigm for the 21st Century

Academic journal article Education

The Coming Revolution in Engineering and Engineering Technology Education: A New Paradigm for the 21st Century

Article excerpt

Engineering Education and the Engineering Science Revolution

The freshman mechanical engineering curriculum in the fall semester of 1950 was just beginning to undergo the transition that was to become the engineering science revolution. The requirement for a summer camp in surveying had been discontinued, and the required sequence in pattern making and foundry practice was being phased out. The shop course still emphasized the use of the various machine tools, and students continued the practice of making huge three-hole punches, large vises, or other pieces that demonstrated mastery of a variety of machining operations. Descriptive geometry and engineering drafting were important components of the mechanical engineering curriculum, as were the one-credit-hour laboratories connected with most of the introductory engineering courses. The engineering graduate was expected not only to conceive and design, but to build and operate as well.

This description of the typical program in mechanical engineering was by no means unique. Civil, electrical, and chemical engineers can relate similar stories of the programs they pursued as engineering students in the immediate post-war years.

The war years had witnessed the unleashing of a series of technological advances of a magnitude and at a rate hitherto unimagined. The concepts or radar, jet engines, and atomic energy were suddenly thrust upon an awed civilian population. Advances in communications, navigation, medical technology, construction techniques, chemical processing, and materials science occurred with increasing regularity. The years immediately following the war saw this technological boom continue with the invention of the transistor, the development of the digital computer and the introduction of new materials called "plastics." Engineers had their hand in these developments, but many began to worry that the engineers were increasingly less the creators of this technological wealth than they were the recipients of a scientific largess created by physicists, chemists, and mathematicians working in the research laboratories of industry, government, and a few large universities. In short, there was growing concern that engineers were not adequately prepared in basic science and mathematics to function effectively in a world increasingly dominated by "big science."

Of the several studies of engineering education that were released in the post-war years, none was as influential or controversial as that commissioned by the American Society for Engineering Education and known popularly as the "Grinter Report." Released in the mid-1950's, it became the essential blueprint for the engineering science revolution.

The Grinter Report introduced the concept in engineering education that came to be known as "bifurcation." Bifurcation suggested that the nation needed at least two types of engineering curricula. The first would be a practice oriented degree, much as had been known for years, but with upgrades in science, mathematics, and liberal education. The graduates of such programs were presumed to be headed for careers in industry, albeit industries that would deal with increasingly sophisticated and science-based products and processes. The second category of engineering curriculum was engineering science. This program would prepare graduates for advanced research and development and whose careers would be spent in the research laboratory or the university.

Several events occurring early in this period perhaps made these outcomes inevitable. In 1950 the U.S. Congress created the National Science Foundation and gave it a mandate to foster and support basic research. This same period witnessed the early failures of the United States in the international space program, pointing to a potential vulnerability in the cold war and the need to upgrade scientific and technological literacy at all levels of society. The response of the nation's schools and colleges of engineering was to move quickly to the engineering science mode and to de-emphasize the earlier practice orientation, in some cases to abandon it altogether. …

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