ASEE PRISM Submittal-10/9/00



Dr. Ray M. Haynes, TRW Space & Electronics Group

Dr. Gerald Jakubowski, Loyola Marymount University

September 2000


Engineering as a profession appears to be having an identity crisis as we go into the 21st century. One recent survey identified Dilbert as the only recognizable engineer to the broader population. Other surveys contain statistics confirming that the technical workforce of the future numbers are not being met by the engineering schools’ graduation rates in the United States. Therefore, at the same time that the work of engineers is vastly mis-understood, the demand for engineers is increasing.

One avenue for addressing the situation noted above is through engineering education. However, there are many challenges related to engineering education that are very complex. For example, at many universities, especially state-supported institutions, engineering deans are concerned about declining enrollments, department chairs compete vigorously for limited school resources based on headcount, faculty complain about either too many or too few students in a class, students are unable to enroll in required courses because of space and resource limitations, and students’ graduation dates are driven farther into the future. Meanwhile, ABET is implementing EC 2000 that requires significant administrative attention to maintain accreditation and assessment mechanisms for measuring success. One positive note is that ABET accreditation criteria encourage external collaboration with engineering professionals for measuring and assessing objectives and outcomes.

Engineering as a professional career is getting increased attention on a global basis. National Engineers Week 2000 was highlighted by Neil Armstrong announcing the Greatest Engineering Achievements of the 20th Century as selected by the National Academy of Engineering. ( This announcement is part of a greater public awareness campaign to bring focus to the contributions of engineering. Nationally, President Clinton commissioned one of the more complete studies with key references, "Enduring a Strong Scientific, Technological, Engineering Workforce for the 21st Century". ( The National Science Board ( just released a two-volume study of the "Science and Engineering Indicators 2000" that provides an extensive chronological reference relative to issues and opportunities.

While there are a wealth of text references available on the general subject of engineering education, one of the finer books is being used by many high schools, community colleges and engineering schools, the author is Raymond Landis, Dean of Engineering at California State University-Los Angeles. Currently in its second edition, "Studying Engineering-A Road Map to a Rewarding Career", provides an excellent, easy to read and easy to use guideline for a variety of users. (Discovery Press, ISBN 0-9646969-0-8) The foreward by Frank Huband, Executive Director of ASEE notes this text "…is a unique resource for freshman engineering students, engineering educators and anyone interested in gaining a better understanding of the engineering education process."


At a more tactical level, the Industry University Government Roundtable for Enhancing Engineering Education (IUGREEE) is an active group whose members presently include 12 companies, 35 universities, two key government agencies (NASA and NSF) several professional engineering societies plus a group of affiliated organizations. A visit to the IUGREEE website at provides linkages to several white papers covering the current focus topics with potential interest to both educators and industry. Strong IUGREEE participation with ASEE and AAES activities provides alliance and networking opportunities with academe and industry, respectively.

Linkage Project

One key IUGREEE initiative has been to "collectively enhance the engineering profession" with an adjunct project to identify linkages between schools of engineering and other disciplines, specifically, business, education and liberal arts. The attached Maturity Matrix in Figure 1 identifies a 10-year realization plan for this activity. As illustrated in Figure 2, the engineering supply chain flow begins in the K-14 arena, through undergraduate school with an eventual transition to graduate school and/or careers. The flow identifies three critical areas for consideration and directed attention:

  1. K-14: Early on within this stage, the student needs to be made aware of engineering as a premier area for college study and broad career choice potential. Efforts needed are somewhat marketing oriented and must be accomplished by teachers and counselors at those levels. Increased attention to educating the educators on engineering as a profession is critical to keeping the "supply chain" prosperous.
  2. Undergraduate: This stage encompasses 4-6 years of study which is typically highly loaded with required courses. Currently, the availability of "free electives" wherein an engineering student may explore areas outside of engineering such as liberal arts or business is severely limited. Furthermore, most curriculum models are front-loaded with general education requirements, science and math fundamentals and eventual emphasis on a specific engineering major discipline. Engineering schools need to examine revising their undergraduate curricula to include more engineering related courses during the first two years, the elimination of too many "in-depth" courses during the final two years and the addition of more elective courses in liberal arts and business throughout the curricula.
  3. Graduate school: This stage encompasses both MS and PhD degree levels. Typically, these levels usually involve more "in-depth" focus on a particular discipline or problem. However, in general, the need of industry is for engineers with more breadth than depth especially for exposure in business related areas. It is encouraging to see the emergence over the past decade of "engineering management programs" which have better cross linkages between business and engineering functional areas while providing an integration "breadth" perspective.

Business Link

This business-engineering link has been championed by U.S. industry with a need for employees that can integrate high technology products and services with the business case. As illustrated in Figure 3, the Enterprise Business Case Model, new products require business and technology integration to deliver value to the market. In a recent issue of the MIT Report (June 2000, 28, 5), Professor Ed Roberts ( documents the results of a global management of technology study that confirms integration between technical and business disciplines in the workplace is critical to corporate performance and survival in the 21st Century. This particular linkage typically takes place at the graduate level by combining topical elements of an MS Engineering degree with an MBA degree in some fashion. Representative examples are found at private research universities such as MIT and Stanford, state research schools including Arizona State University and the University of Michigan, and teaching schools such as California Polytechnic State University-San Luis Obispo, and Loyola Marymount University. The National Coalition for Manufacturing Leadership (NCML) administered by MIT (, search and select NCML) provides the most highly visible umbrella organization for this type of linkage. The NCML also provides a popular recruiting forum annually to match dual-degree graduates from 10-12 schools with more than 100 participating companies.

Education Link

The link between engineering and education disciplines, in many cases, tends to exhibit much more "State-specific" localized efforts that are geographically defined. Many of these are identified in a June 30th, 2000, article from the Chronicle of Higher Education entitled, States Set a Course for Higher Education Systems ( State programs noted include those from Arizona, California, Colorado, Florida, Illinois, New York, Texas and Wisconsin. At a higher level, one organization provides ideas for collaboration ( at various levels of the higher education system. While each locale/state has differing needs and approaches, a few programs have been selected and are shown below to provide a sense of focused best practices.

The value of the local programs often translates to building increased awareness for teachers and counselors so that they can then more effectively "market" engineering as a profession and career choice to their students. In most cases, formal and informal networks are expanded through active industry participation in K-14 programs. One website provides a toolkit for preparing practicing engineers to assist educators in teaching science and technology to pre-college students. (

Liberal Arts

The engineering linkage to liberal arts takes place both informally and formally at a variety of levels. For an engineering student, general education and breadth curriculum requirements typically mandate coursework from liberal studies plus may provide some elective opportunities in this area. Furthermore, some universities offer a general engineering degree program wherein a motivated student can construct a non-discipline specific set of courses. For example, two schools that have been highly successful in institutionalizing this type of program are noted below.

  1. Harvey Mudd College in Southern California is a private school ranked #2 by U.S. News and World Report for undergraduate engineering programs ( Mudd combines a world-class systems engineering program with extensive liberal arts coursework culminating in a year-long capstone "clinic" experience wherein student teams work on industry sponsored projects.
  2. The University of Arizona in Tucson offers an innovative, integrated undergraduate BA degree program called Engineering and LIberal Technical Education (ELITE) across engineering and liberal arts ( A strong emphasis on communications and interpersonal skillset development yields a graduate with firm foundations in science, math and engineering balanced with softer skills including teamworking.

The recruiting community is just beginning to recognize the value of these cross-trained engineering graduates and recent indications are that demand far outweighs supply. For those institutions looking for an emerging niche, contact with these schools is encouraged to share lessons learned.

Nurturing the Pipeline

However, perhaps more germane to "establishing linkages", teacher and counselor education typically takes place in Liberal Arts/Education programs. These folks need to have a better understanding of engineering beyond the Dilbert stereotype. As they graduate and migrate to their own career positions, they then might provide early-on encouragement of K-12 students to pursue an engineering career with its attendant rewards that include high levels of job satisfaction, financial compensation, career growth and virtually worldwide opportunities for employment.

Various organizations such as NSF (SMET) and NASA encourage K-12 teacher appreciation and development with respect to science, math and engineering technology through workshops, grants and seminars. For reference, the NASA Opportunities for Visionary Academics (NOVA) Program has a goal of encouraging participation by engineering, science and math faculty in training new K-12 teachers. Visit their website at The lead institutions in NOVA include the University of Alabama, Fayetteville State University and the University of Idaho plus a network of 62 other member institutions focused on producing enhanced scientific literacy for pre-service teachers.


The bottom line is that engineering is an excellent profession. Challenging work assignments can vary from designing new roadways in less developed countries to figuring out how to colonize the solar system and beyond. Scott Adam’s Dilbert, humorous as he may be, represents the dark side of engineering wherein a somewhat introverted, but highly intelligent engineer bumbles through his life. While most engineers will empathize with and laugh about his encounters with marketing, management, vendors and administrators, what we really need to do is create positive role models for the engineering profession and communicate these vigorously to whoever might be listening. Engineering is "cool", depending on personal ambitions the sky is the limit on career positioning and finally, starting salaries for entry-level positions remain higher than any other discipline and jobs are abundant according to all Career Placement Service reports from U.S. institutions.

Given all the issues and opportunities, both the academy and industry need to nurture strategic linkages based on collaborative needs assessment resulting in tactical roadmaps that will enhance the engineering profession and creatively develop the workforce of the 21st Century.


Figure 1: Maturity Matrix Chart

Figure 2: Education Process Flow

Figure 3. Enterprise Business Case Model


**** An IUGREEE sidebar could be added that might include a reference to the vision and specific objectives of the organization as noted below. Further information including a logo can be found on

The ten year vision for IUGREEE is to create and sustain an Industry-University-Government Roundtable for Enhancing Engineering Education to influence the quality of engineering education programs, to produce engineering graduates able to meet the challenges of tomorrow’s business environment and professional standards. Within this context, the specific objectives are to articulate and draw attention to critical issues that will affect engineering education as perceived from an evolving industrial perspective. The Roundtable will develop action agendas to accomplish needed reform in engineering education and facilitate implementation of these agendas through existing organizations and mechanisms, using established resources to the maximum degree possible.