Where Are Today's Da Vinci's?

By Wormley, David N. | ASEE Prism, February 2007 | Go to article overview

Where Are Today's Da Vinci's?


Wormley, David N., ASEE Prism


ASEE's president says we must develop engineers who are creative and innovative.

THIS FALL, I was in Venice and visited an exhibit of machines reproduced from Leonardo da Vinci's codices. The exhibit provided an opportunity to "play" with a number of his inventions related to improving building and bridge construction and to observe depictions of human nature and concepts envisioned in future flying machines. The overwhelming impression from the visit was that as Leonardo da Vinci observed ordinary life, he saw everywhere ways he could improve the understanding of human nature and how tasks were performed. His extraordinary ability to identify human needs and to propose solutions are a precursor to what many believe to be a critical element of engineering today-"innovation."

We can ask the question that is relevant to ASEE today: "Are educational programs in engineering and engineering technology developing a cadre of creative graduates who, like da Vinci, can see in the world that surrounds them almost endless opportunities to improve human activity and well-being?"

Two recent National Academy reports have raised concerns about the need to accelerate the role of innovation and creativity in the education of our graduates. In "Rising Above the Gathering Storm: Energizing and Employing America for a Brighter Economic Future" (National Research Council/COSEPUP, Washington, D.C., 2005), the nation's future economic development is cited as strongly dependent on our capacity to be innovative and entrepreneurial. The report "Engineering Research and America's Future" (Committee to Assess the Capacity of the U.S. Engineering Research Enterprise, NAE, Washington, D.C., 2005) has focused on the future of engineering research to further the nation's competitiveness in the global marketplace. It proposes the creation of innovation centers focused on translational research in areas of critical national interest including energy, security, health and economic development. These centers would support teams of academic, industrial and government professionals to develop new products and processes-and graduates who will be innovators. Many of the recommendations in this report are reflected in the recent call for proposals by the National Science Foundation to establish five new engineering research centers focusing on innovation and on coupling universities in the United States and abroad with small and large companies. …

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