Educating Engineers for the Next Century
- D.W. Gentry (Colorado School of Mines)
- Document ID
- Society of Petroleum Engineers
- Journal of Petroleum Technology
- Publication Date
- April 1991
- Document Type
- Journal Paper
- 382 - 384
- 1991. Society of Petroleum Engineers
- 6.1.5 Human Resources, Competence and Training, 7.5.1 Ethics, 7.4.4 Energy Policy and Regulation
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Just as there has been a restructuring in the minerals and energyindustries, there also must be a restructuring in the manner in whichuniversities educate the future leaders of these industries. Educators mustrealize that their role is not simply to transfer knowledge and that it is nolonger sufficient to prepare students only for today's technologies. Studentsmust be prepared to grow and to learn in order to meet the problems oftomorrow. A clear problems of tomorrow. A clear distinction must be madebetween training technicians and educating engineers for leadershippositions.
This paper offers suggestions for educational goals and processes thataddress the technological and intellectual bases for the successful practice ofengineering in the 21st practice of engineering in the 21st century. Thesegoals and processes may best be accomplished by teaching engineering accordingto a professional-school concept similar to that professional-school conceptsimilar to that of medicine and law. The 4-year, preprofessional curriculumwould preprofessional curriculum would concentrate on developing andstrengthening the fundamentals of engineering education. Only limited exposureto a specific engineering discipline would be provided at this level, therebyforcing the graduate to complete the necessary disciplinary education later ina professional school.
Engineers in the 21st century will face new and different demands. Industrypersonnel suggest that companies wanting to achieve and maintain competitivepositions in the international marketplace will need engineers with thefollowing qualifications: more liberal arts and humanities education with someknowledge of a second language to understand other cultures better and to workwith people internationally; more people internationally; morecross-disciplinary technical study, with greater breadth in the engineeringsciences; more in-depth disciplinary studies; more abilities in design,creativity, and innovation; more exposure to business practices and a betterunderstanding of the legal, social, and ethical problems associated withengineering decisions; more exposure to industrial life through internships;enhanced communication skills and an ability to reason; and an ability toselfeducate.
The time has come for engineering educators to evaluate future needs withinthe scope of these and other parameters. Universities must reassess theirpositions, philosophies, and roles with respect to educating philosophies, androles with respect to educating the future leaders of the minerals and energyindustries.
Finding a Niche
Each university initially must decide what type of product it wishes toproduce. Basically, graduates of undergraduate engineering programs will eitheroccupy, or have the potential to occupy, one of three positions potential tooccupy, one of three positions in a pyramid.
The broad base of the pyramid represents the largest volume of engineers,the "keepers of technology." These engineers are responsible forensuring that existing technology is used productively. In essence, theymaintain or advance productive capabilities through the efficient, effectiveuse of existing technology.
The middle-level engineers, the "designers of technology," are thoseadequately schooled in the fundamentals to participate in the design anddevelopment of new technology for use by the keepers of technology.
The pinnacle of the pyramid represents the relatively small number of"decision makers" responsible for determining the objectives andapproaches to be used by the designers of technology. It is from this groupthat the future leaders of the restructured minerals and energy industries willemerge.
Therefore, institutions must distinguish between training technicians andeducating engineers for future leadership positions.
An Educational Mission
Universities that choose to educate engineers for leadership positions mustdevelop appropriate educational philosophies (goals), identify supportingeducational objectives, and define specific strategies to accomplish these.Educational goals might be generated, for example, by recognizing thefollowing.
1. The role of educators is not simply to transfer knowledge. We musteducate engineering professionals for long-term careers in the industrialsector, not simply train them for the first few years of a career.
2. It is not sufficient to prepare students for today's technologies.Students must be prepared to grow and to learn in order to prepared to grow andto learn in order to meet the technological problems of tomorrow.
3. Major advances in minerals and energy engineering and related sciencedisciplines over the next decades will be accomplished through andcharacterized by interdisciplinary efforts addressing open-ended problems andthe development of rapidly problems and the development of rapidly changingtechnologies.
I suggest that an appropriate goal for professional educators should be toprofessional educators should be to structure their undergraduate engineeringcurricula to develop within students the ability and basis for continuedintellectual growth and to encourage students to continue learning throughouttheir professional careers.
After educational philosophies or goals are clearly articulated, educationalobjectives must be formulated. I submit that the engineering professionalsrequired to lead the minerals and energy industries in a competitiveinternational market will emerge from educational processes and environmentsthat (1) motivate students to learn and instill in them a desire to achieveintellectual growth through lifelong learning.
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