New Engineering Major to Address Humanity’s “Grand Challenges”

New Engineering Major to Address Humanity’s “Grand Challenges”

The David Crawford School of Engineering (DCSE) faculty propose an innovative engineering education program in the tradition of our founder, Captain Alden Partridge. Nearly 200 years ago, Partridge understood the need to educate students to assume leadership roles in building our growing republic. As we stand at the threshold of our third century of service to the nation, we recognize the need to educate engineers to solve the complex problems facing humanity–renewable energy, clean water, cybersecurity and concerns of biotechnology such as disease treatment and prevention, to list a few. Innovative thinking and action is required to meet these complex challenges, and so the undergraduate educational system to prepare future engineers should be equally innovative.

We propose a BS in Engineering degree that while using the resources of our existing engineering disciplines, more effectively breaks down the typical silo barriers among each through its interdisciplinary approach. This program is expected to attract Generation Net students, also known as Millenials, because it focuses on solving complex problems rather than specializing in engineering disciplines. The program will incorporate a mix of traditional courses with experiential seminars that incorporate selected engineering competencies. Collaboration with industry partners will emphasize real-world applications and potentially provide for internships and cooperative educational experiences.

Chubin et al. [1] in their article on educating Generation Net, quoted Charles Vest, president of the National Academy of Engineering and president emeritus of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology: “…this current generation of young people is actually very idealistic. They very much want to make the world a better place and very few of them see or understand engineering as a mechanism for doing that (Science and Government Report, 2007).”

The challenge for us is two-fold: Design a flexible program to attract Gen Nets, and promote the program as a powerful means to make the world a better place.

The new BS in Engineering has three major parts:

  • A freshman year that builds on the existing introduction to solving engineering problems.
  • An engineering core during the sophomore and junior years that reinforces teamwork and leadership in solving real-world engineering problems using just-in-time education.
  • A capstone year dedicated to the focused study of an engineering problem and subsequent articulation of the results.

The core will consist of project-based engineering studio courses mixed with traditional courses, evolving over time to competency-based learning using a variety of modes of content delivery. The undergraduate project-focused approach will enable us to create a “Service Corps,” or Norwich, Inc., if you prefer, modeled after business incubators found at many universities.

The literature extensively reports that many engineering first-year students in college perceive the required math and science courses as a death march. In many cases, this is cited as reason that some withdraw from an engineering program. We propose to add an “on-ramp” prior to the start of the first year that reinforces mathematical concepts to enable under-prepared students to be successful in pre-calculus. The first year will be a “merge-lane” that will provide additional help to ensure that all students have successfully completed Calculus I by the end of their first year.

[1] Educating Generation Net—Can U.S. Engineering Woo and Win the Competition for Talent? D. Chubin, K. Donaldson, B. Olds, L. Fleming, JEE, July 2008