Friday, March 28, 2008

Engineering Education

Chiu ChoiChiu Choi

Electrical Engineering

In January I directed one of the design teams in my EEL4915 Electrical Engineering Design II course to participate in a national engineering design contest (the Freescale Green Design Challenge). Three weeks ago we were notified that our team was listed among the top ten finalists. It was very good news because the ten finalists were selected from 65 participants from the United States, Canada, Mexico, and other countries in Central and South Americas. UNF is the only university selected in the United States.

Last week I received a call from one of my former students. He told me that he read about the news in the Times Union website and congratulated me. He then asked me to read the responses from the readers. (

The first response was: “nerds.” It did not bother me because there were nicer comments from other readers. But it did raise a question for me: “Is there any correlation between engineering education and nerdy behaviors?” I did some research and found a publication[1] written by a former President of Worcester Polytechnic Institute. In the paper, the author argued that modern engineering education reflected a liberal arts education. If this were true, then the correlation is minimal because liberal arts education has not been known to produce nerds.

The author stated that “the term liberal arts was derived from Medieval Latin, viz., artes liberales, which included studies in the trivium (grammar, logic, and rhetoric) and the quadrivium (geometry, astronomy, arithmetic, and music).” It appears that trivium is concerned with developing literacy and communication skills and quadrivium is for dealing with the physical world. The author said that “modern liberal arts programs had evolved from this foundation and continued to focus on developing critical thinking skills, an ability to communicate, and the capacity for continuous learning.”

The author further stated the following. “The Engineering Criteria 2000 of ABET[2] may be interpreted in terms of artes liberales. Criterion 3 Program Outcomes specifies eleven specific attributes that graduates of accredited engineering programs must attain at graduation. These attributes can be rearranged according to their membership in the trivium and quadrivium.

-Ability to function on multidisciplinary teams
-Understand professional and ethical responsibilities
-Ability to communicate effectively
-Understand impact of engineering solutions in global and societal context
-Ability to engage in lifelong learning
-Knowledge of contemporary issues

-Ability to apply knowledge of mathematics, science, and engineering
-Ability to design and conduct experiments, analyze and interpret data
-Ability to design a system, component or process to meet desired needs
-Ability to identify, formulate, and solve engineering problems
-Ability to use the techniques, skills, and modern engineering tools necessary for engineering practices.

In addition, Criterion 4 Professional Component requires a general education component to complement the technical content that is consistent with both program and institutional objectives. Consequently, there is some validity to the claim that a modern engineering education reflects a liberal education.”

It will be interesting to hear the comments from our colleagues regarding such interpretation of engineering education.

[1] Edward Parrish, “Issues for Engineering Education,” Proceedings of China-US Bilateral Seminar on Engineering Education for a Global Economy, Oct. 20-24, 2002, Shanghai and Beijing, PRC, pp.197-201.
[2] Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology, the recognized accreditor for college and university programs in applied science, computing, engineering, and technology.

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