Engineering Lecturer Advocates Restructuring
JENNIFER CLAMPET | March 28, 2012 | UNIVERSITY COMMUNICATIONS
A November 2011 New York Times article summed up the life of an engineer-in-training – "Would-be engineers hit books the hardest, a study finds."
What the headline didn't say was more important, said C. Judson King, director of the Center for Studies in Higher Education at the University of California at Berkeley.
"(Student) engineers spend the most time studying and have the least extracurricular activities," King said. "This leads to an image problem."
With the latter statement, King displayed projected images of two studious-looking cartoon students with glasses and happily vacant stares. The audience laughed as King continued his lecture titled "Restructuring Engineering Education: Why? How? When?"
"We need a new structure for engineering education," King said during his March 21 visit to The University of Texas at El Paso as part of a College of Engineering lecture series.
King advocated for engineering students with a deeper understanding of the human condition, of the attributes that foster innovation and of the ability to work with people from a variety of disciplines.
In short, King pushed for an undergraduate engineering degree more open to the inclusion of liberal arts studies and less focused on an engineering bachelor's degree as a professional degree. Comparing the engineering field to that of medicine and law, which require graduate-level degrees, King advocated the same for engineering.
As students enter engineering study, the vast majority have interests in mathematics, chemistry and other engineering subjects, King said.
"That limits us to linear thinkers. And more and more what engineers do cannot be reduced to equations," King said. "We need to draw people with interests in what engineers do … We need to broaden the appeal of engineering."
But John McClure, professor of metallurgical and materials engineering at UTEP, questioned whether that trend was being rejected by society at large with "happily narrow people."
"I agree with what you're saying, but I don't see society responding," McClure said.
King responded that it will be those in industry with varied experiences who will recognize the value of interdisciplinary approaches.
The UTEP College of Engineering lecture series, "Engineering Leadership for the Conceptual Age," began in September. The series is intended to bring speakers, such as King, to the UTEP campus to address topics at the intersection of society and technology.
Since joining the University of California in 1963, King, now a professor emeritus of chemical engineering, has served in a variety of academic and administrative posts on the UC Berkeley campus and the system level. Most recently, he was provost and senior vice president of academic affairs of the UC system from 1995 to 2004. Prior to that he was the systemwide vice provost for research.
He is a member of the National Academy of Engineering and has received various awards from the American Institute of Chemical Engineers, the American Society for Engineering Education, the American Chemical Society, the Council for Chemical Research, and the Yale Science and Engineering Association.
King's advocacy is not original. Five times since 1918, national reports have pushed for the broadening of engineering education in the United States. But for the most part, "there has been no movement in engineering education," King said.
Barriers have included industrial recruiters content on hiring at the bachelor's level, unchanging curricula and degree structures, the cost of pursuing a graduate degree and the tendency for students to opt for the shorter degree program.
"But this change is going to happen. It's not a matter of whether but when," King said, noting that European countries have already adopted a system recognizing engineering professional degrees as a second-cycle degree – equivalent to a master's degree in the United States.
"The rest of the world changes and the United States (will) change in response," King said.
The next lecture in the engineering series – to be held in April – will feature David Lesar, chairman, president and CEO of Halliburton Energy Sources.
The Engineering Lecture Series is made possible by contributions from Bob and Diane Malone and the Halliburton Foundation.