The title of Sheryl Sorby’s President’s Letter, “Looking Backward, Looking Forward,” aptly sums up a theme for this Prism issue. As we think back on a difficult 2020, we must acknowledge the myriad challenges carried into 2021: pandemic, political upheaval, and racial injustice, to name just a few. But in 2021, we are also bringing forward some of the most promising elements of 2020: collaboration, innovation, and fortitude demonstrated as we have balanced turmoil with the necessity of marching ahead in our personal and professional lives.
ASEE President Sorby highlights both the struggles and the reasons for optimism in her letter. Beryl Lieff Benderly offers a similar dual outlook in the cover story, which picks up where she left off in 2019 with an update on how international students, and the institutions hosting them, have fared facing both the policies of the Trump administration and the obstacles of the pandemic. While growth in international student enrollment has been steadily decreasing over the past five years, this fall saw especially precipitous drops, according to the Institute of International Education—a 16 percent decline in overall international student attendance and a 43 percent plunge in first-time international enrollments. Institutions are feeling the hit financially. It’s too soon to tell how the changes brought by the Biden administration—both on pandemic response and immigration policies—will affect such numbers, but some educators and administrators are seeing reason for hope. They’re also expecting to take into the post-COVID era lessons learned while teaching during the pandemic.
In our second feature, Thomas Grose explores an old innovation—the internal combustion engine—and the ways some engineers are bringing it into the future. And the author of our Teaching Toolbox, Pierre Home-Douglas, highlights an idea that isn’t new—maker spaces—but examines a recent twist: their increasing importance for both student recruitment and retention.
Also looking both backward and forward: the ASEE Annual Report included in this issue. It spotlights the ways the Society has adapted and engaged to meet the recent challenges, and to bring its members and partners together to do so as well. The report outlines new initiatives that have contributed to those goals. As the introduction from Past President Stephanie Adams and Executive Director Norman Fortenberry says, “We look forward to emerging on the other side of this stressful time with all of you—soon. And we look forward to being stronger, collectively and individually, in the years to come.”
Happy 2021. In some ways, it looks a lot like 2020. In other ways, it seems very different. Here’s to leaving behind the worst and bringing forward the best.