A Revolution for Engineering Education
A DISCUSSION OFStuck in 1955, Engineering Education Needs a Revolution
Kudos to Sheryl Sorby, Norman L. Fortenberry, and Gary Bertoline for trying to foment “humanistically” a revolution in engineering education. In “Stuck in 1955, Engineering Education Needs a Revolution” (Issues, September 13, 2021), they call for ending the “pipeline mindset.” Their article aligns with descriptions of structural education problems—and proposed solutions—in Educating Scientists and Engineers: Grade School to Grad School, produced in 1988 by the Office of Technology Assessment (OTA) and presented to the House Science Committee. It noted:
- The pipeline is a model of the process that refines abundant “crude” talent into select “finished” products as signified by the award of baccalaureate, master’s, and doctorate degrees.
- The pipeline model is still a black box of the educational process as a dwindling supply of talent, with its composition in flux, that has been sorted and guided toward future careers.
- To the extent that the education system unduly limits the talent pool by prematurely shunting aside students or accepting society’s gender, race, and class biases in its talent selection, it is acting out a self-fulfilling prophecy of demographic determinism.
Unfortunately, the pipeline metaphor persists to this day. Yet so does a fundamental policy prescription that OTA identified: “The skills of scientists and engineers must be both specialized enough to satisfy the demands of a stable market for science and engineering faculty and industrial researchers and general enough to qualify degree-holders for special opportunities that arise farther afield from their training but grow central to the national interest.”
What was compelling to the OTA project team back then is even more so today: the more “semi-permeable” the nation’s talent development pathways, the heartier and more inclusive will engineering education and the workforce become.