In 1988, the Institute of International Education issued a report, “Boon or Bane: Foreign Graduate Students in U.S. Engineering Programs.” In his foreword, ASEE’s then-executive director, F. Karl Willenbrock, noted the large and growing proportion of international students and ticked off various arguments as to whether this was a good or bad thing. He cited concern about “a growing dependence on foreign-born ‘brains’ to supply our academic and industrial workforce requirements.” He mentioned also “those who attribute the strength of U.S. engineering schools to their ability to attract top-caliber students from all over the world.” A quarter-century later, those arguments – and much of the IIE report – remain current. So is the question addressed in our cover story this month: If our grad schools can attract students from around the world, why aren’t more U.S. engineering students seeking the same chance to gain specialized research experience? In fields ranging from robotics to advanced manufacturing and biotechnology, the nation’s ability to remain an innovative leader is likely to depend more and more on the knowledge and skills that engineers acquire in graduate school. It’s in grad school, as well, that students can form ties with international colleagues – connections that will serve them well as research becomes a global enterprise.
A reader took us to task for Prism’s September 2014 cover photo, which showed a researcher in a lab coat scrutinizing six small containers of red fluid. She should have been wearing goggles, the reader chided. The photo was taken at the University of Florida’s engineering school, which along with Texas A&M, is promoting a culture of safety in its engineering labs – one based less on inspections and compliance, which spread fear, than on working with researchers to find safe ways of conducting their experiments. Beryl Benderly’s story, “No Accident,” tells how it works. She also recounts the tragic mishaps at other schools that underscored the need for vigilance.
Also in this issue in this issue, Tom Grose reports on efforts to revive supersonic commercial air travel, which ended in 2003 when the Concorde was grounded. NASA-funded researchers are working to muffle the ear-splitting sonic booms that led regulators to ban overland Concorde flights. It’s no flight of fancy. NASA engineers are convinced, Grose writes, that once a fleet of small supersonic business jets is successfully established, planes with up to 100 passengers soon will follow.
We hope you enjoy the January Prism. Please send us your comments.