Reformers and Improvisers
As this issue neared completion, America had yet to feel the full brunt of the global COVID-19 pandemic. But even as the nation prepared for an exponential increase in new cases, we saw evidence in the responses overseas of innovative engineering. A German biotech company, TIB Molbiol Syntheselabor GmbH, rapidly produced a viable test kit. China, with remarkable speed, erected so-called pop-up clinics, complete with plumbing and wiring, to relieve overcrowded hospitals. Taiwan merged health insurance and immigration databases to track people arriving from Wuhan, China, epicenter of the virus. South Korea led the world in testing, setting up phone-booth compartments to minimize person-to-person contact, and used data from electronic transactions, cell-phone records, and closed-circuit cameras to track the spread of infection. So to the ever-growing list of world problems where engineers make a difference, we can confidently add public health emergencies.
This issue of Prism is all about preparing the next generation of engineers to address such challenges and others we have yet to encounter. Partly, it’s about applying what has been shown to work. In starting a new engineering school at Campbell University, Jenna Carpenter had clear ideas on how to proceed. Using the National Academy of Engineering reports “The Engineer of 2020” and “Educating the Engineer of 2020” as a guide, she makes sure her students learn how to use state-of-the-art equipment and techniques. She and Andrew Lyon, founding dean of engineering at Chapman University, both drew on successful examples of active learning—their own and others’—and capstone projects, and have incorporated these ideas throughout their curricula.
Then there are particular classroom challenges for which the literature offers little guidance. This was the situation Tim Bretl of the University of Illinois–Urbana-Champaign found in teaching Introduction to Robotics and Aerospace Control Systems at a state prison. As he tells writer Margaret Loftus, “It’s not an easy environment to be in. Anything could happen.” What do you do if your students lack the math and science preparation expected of all engineering students? His answer: Be very, very flexible and, if necessary, devote a class to the math needed for the course. It worked.
Grand challenges, like climate change mitigation and resiliency, are finding their own niche in teaching practice, as Jennifer Pocock’s story illustrates. Finally, we report on lessons in education reform flowing from the National Science Foundation’s Revolution in Engineering and Computer Science Departments (RED) initiative. Yet, even where reforms have succeeded, many have not been widely replicated. Michael Prince, of Bucknell University, suggests why. As he tells Mary Lord, he has found that “change is much more of an emotional process than a cognitive one,” involving individual, institutional, and cultural contexts that can put faculty on the defensive, provoking anger or resistance.
To our readers: As you continue to find inventive ways to assist students during this epidemic, please know that your ASEE headquarters staff will do all we can to help you.