Advancing Engineering Education
An Interview with American Society for Engineering Education Executive Director Frank Huband
Frank Huband discusses work by ASEE on behalf of engineering education, including its roles in outreach and advocacy, and the connection with standards.
How is ASEE working with industry and educators to ensure an adequate supply of engineers in the next few decades?
ASEE is keenly aware of the lead role it plays in engineering education and the need to support and work with partners in kindergarten through 12th grade education. Our purpose is to promote engineering as a career and also to educate the U.S. public on the importance of engineering to the quality of life that many take for granted.
The ASEE Web site, in the K-12 section, features an “EngineeringK12 Center” designed to build awareness of engineering education, provide education resources and promote networking on the topic. We are currently in the process of upgrading the K-12 Web site to be more relevant for today’s middle and high school students and will be producing a new edition of “Engineering: Go for it!,” a guidebook to engineering and technology careers for high school students.
We also support a number of groups dedicated to enhancing the K-12 education to workforce pipeline. ASEE has a K-12 advisory committee and the Dean’s K-12 Committee on the educational side, plus a public policy colloquium and a Corporate Member Council.
ASEE administers several federal programs designed to ensure an adequate supply of engineers. One good example is the SMART Program — Science, Mathematics and Research for Transformation Scholarship for Service Program — established by the U.S. Department of Defense to support undergraduate and graduate students pursuing degrees in the disciplines of science, technology, engineering and mathematics. The goal of the program is to increase the number of civilian scientists and engineers working at DoD laboratories.
These are just a few examples of what we’re doing. It’s critical that we find ways of increasing the level of collaboration and find new ways of working together.
Today, standards are business as well as technical documents. Similarly, do you see advantages to studying business principles in addition to engineering curricula?
Yes, there are advantages. The focus of the undergraduate degree in engineering is design. However, students are expected to gain an appreciation of context for the field of engineering they are studying.
Gaining this understanding means that engineering curricula are already jammed with topics such as the environment, sustainability, safety and business principles, which are all often required. The challenge is finding topics that could be taken out, left to graduate school or better learned on the job. We have not been very successful at that. It should be remembered that engineering remains a four-year curriculum and that this is not likely to change, although some fields are advocating a master’s degree.
A better strategy, in my view, is to find better ways to integrate what students need to learn. There are a lot of good examples of integration going on in first-year engineering courses. For example, first-year engineering courses are often structured around a relatively simple design project that allows students to integrate all aspects of design, including standards and specifications. That’s a strategy that has been demonstrated to work.
Not everything has to be done in the classroom. I’ve seen a lot of good examples where students have been exposed to business principles by being out on a co-op, an internship or a summer job. That comes back to the idea of integration. These activities are effectively integrated into the engineering curriculum by making them part of the overall college or university experience.
It’s also important to note that some programs in engineering have more of a business focus such as undergraduate degree programs in engineering management; they are focused less on design and more on management. There are even more such programs at the graduate level. Interestingly, the engineering master’s programs experiencing the most growth in the last several years have been engineering management.
Given that standards are an important part of the infrastructure of engineering practice, how can standards development organizations and ASEE work together to educate engineers around the world to give them the knowledge they need about standardization?