We Should Specify What Skills Students Learn
In her Last Word column (Prism, February 2019), Anu Aggarwal discussed the diversity among engineering programs in the same discipline and the consequence that potential employers don’t know which skills graduates have obtained.
This is indeed a problem, but returning to uniform curricula is undesirable because such an approach cannot react quickly enough to changes in technology, scientific knowledge, and the engineering profession.
Today, curricular diversity in engineering is an advantage that allows students to find the programs that best match their interests and allows faculty to adapt the curricula as needed.
Unfortunately, engineering programs do not explicitly state the specific skills that their graduates learn (general outcomes such as those in the new ABET Criterion 3 are too imprecise), which contributes to the important problem that Aggarwal discussed.
Engineering programs should develop and publish lists of specific outcomes, which would help students and employers understand the skills that their students are learning.
Jeffrey W. Herrmann
Professor, Department of Mechanical Engineering and Institute for Systems Research
Director, Reliability Engineering Graduate Program
University of Maryland–College Park