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RE: Future Generations of Engineers

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To be fair, to my knowledge ABET does not tell you which humanities
classes to take.  While I don't know what ABET requires off the top of my
head, I do know that when I went to school (through an ABET accreditted
program) I only had VERY broad requirements for my humanities courses.  At
Michigan, the requirements (at the time but I still think that they are
nominally the same) were to take 17 credits of humanities.  The classes
were my choice, except that there had to be at least two courses that were
"continuation" courses from a 100 or 200 level (1st year or 2nd year)
course to second course that was a 300 level course (3rd year).  Other
than that, there was little else "required" (at least that I
of them may have had to be an economics course...but since I am not
getting old and senile I cannot quite remember).  Of course, there were
some loose limitations as to what qualified as a humanities course, but
they did include art (including art history), language, social
studies/sciences, literature, etc.  For me, I took the first economics
course, an American lit course, two courses in the history of architecture
(my continuation courses), and a second year Spanish course (from AP type
credits...the two first year courses that I had AP type credit for did not
count toward the humanities).  These courses were my choice to take.  I
even had to be a little proactive in convincing the department to have the
two history of Arch course count as my "continuation" courses since both
were 300 level courses.

The end result is that I certainly understand your position.  I did not
like have to take the humanities courses when I was in college and likely
would not like to have to take them even after I have become "wiser".  I
was the proto-typical gear-head engineer that liked engineering courses.
At U of Michigan, in effect meant that I liked staying up on North Campus
(where the engineer school is located in Ann Arbor) and hated having to be
down on Central Campus to take the physics, math, chem, and other courses
with the "L, S, and Players" (a common reference from us gear-head types
that referred to those in the L, S, and A [Literature, Science and Arts)
school at Michigan...i.e. the liberal arts programs).  While I did hate
those courses, I do feel that they were necessary and a benefitial part of
my education...even if they were painful.  I was the same way in high
school...loved science and math courses and hated English (but I do have
to admit, as much as I hate to, I rather enjoyed the two credit [two hours
each day] humanities course that I took my senior year of high
school...although I still to this day wonder what crime I committed such
that I had to be punsihed by being made to read "Crime and Punishment"

As far as your comment on decision making skills, I worry that the poor
performance in this area will only get worse.  With achivement tests
becoming the requirement for the public K-12 schools, I see it more and
more likely that schools and teachers will just end up "teaching" to the
test so that they "get good grades" on the tests.  That is the pitfall
with such tests, not to mention other things (i.e. the apparent, but still
unproven, effort in the Houston school system to systematically "push"
poorer performing students to drop-out so they won't be part of the
testing but still find some neat "accounting" trick so that they don't get
called this point this instance only "smells" bad with no
real hard proof that have seen).  But enough social comments...

The end result is that while I did not personally like the humanities
requirements, I thought that they were such a small part of the over all
engineering degree that I could easily live with themm.  And I now feel
that while I did not like them (and still would not), they did provide me
with some benefit, so they can't be too bad.

For me, the things that I see as needing to be changed in the education
process are:

1. The profession needs to get off of its lazy, profit/productivity-driven
tushie and recognize that the 4 years of experience required after
graduation in order to get a PE license is really supposed to be part of
the overall engineering eduction experience.  This part of the education
experience is meant to be an "apprenticeship", while the first four years
is the formal education part.  Thus, we as a profession need to get a
little more serious and responsible when dealing with newly graduated
engineering students and make sure that they get good, well rounded earily
work experience.  Unfortuately, this will mean that some companies will
have to live with some young employees that will not be nearily as
productive as they want and will also eat some time from more senior
engineers that would otherwise spend all their time on billable hours.

2. We need to convince the unversities that while research and publication
of research is good, it should not be done at the expense of teaching the
undergraduates.  I seen and heard about too many situations where college
profs at major universities did not get tenure because they did not
publish enough but they were excellent teachers that constantly got good
reviews from the students.  It seems that in the tenure process the
ability to teach well is either not important at all or significantly less
important than getting published.  So, maybe the problems that those
behind the ASCE initiative see (i.e. graduates that are not very well
prepared for the "real" world, even in the basics) are really caused by
our undergraduate programs not really doing what they currently do as well
as they should due to priorities that have shifted too far to one side.
Now, the down side of this type of change would be that either the states
would have to kick in more money to the universities or the universities
would have to increase tuition, since research monies do help the
universities meet their budgets.

3. It _MIGHT_ (I am on the fence on this one) be time to require a little
more specialization at the undergrad level of the CE programs.  As I said,
I am on the fence on this one.  It is certainly true that CE has gotten
more specialized.  I can see that it would be reasonable to have those
interested in structural engineering be able to specialize in that area
and not have to take things like waste water treatment or environmental
engineering course.  I definitely know that this would have been a good
option for me.  It so happens that when I went through Michigan I did not
have to take any environmental course (that has changed).  As it turns
out, this is perfectly fine for me as I have no desire nor intent to EVER
do anything related to environmental engineering or waste water treatment
(I would rather go work at Taco Bell or McDonalds).  This is not to "bad
mouth" these areas...they are just not for me.  AND I knew this during my
freshman year of college and NEVER looked back.  OTOH, many CE students
have no clue what area they might wish to specialize in until they reach
their junior or even senior year (or even until after they graduate).
This means that there is a definite value to still keeping the CE
undergraduate degree rather broad, and allow the specialization to come
later.  Thus, I have mized feelings on this issue.

4.  I think that we need to change the PE exam back to the format that had
SOME "essay" type problems (i.e. so as that it is not all multiple guess).
I realize that this is not an educational related issue, but it does
relate to the over all issue.  Now, the test makers will tell you that
they can still design the multiple guess PE exam so that you can get the
same passing rate, but I would argue that while that may be true, it may
not be the same people who pass if the exam were a different format.  Like
it or not, multiple guess tests are more "succeptible" to have someone
passing it that does not really know the material that well, but is good
at taking tests (i.e. being able to elimate answers in the multiple guess
question so that they end up with a 50-50 guess, but if they did not have
answers in front of them to choose from would not be able to produce an

Well, enough from me for now...I am off to read a book (not "Crime and
Punishment"...once in a life time was enough for me...instead I am reading
some useless fiction that has little literary value, but does provide me at least).


Ypsilanti, MI

On Fri, 25 Jul 2003, Jake Watson wrote:

> I guess it's time to clarify my post a bit.  Here is a list of my
> viewpoints:
> Decision making skills: sorely lacking in both the engineer and "other"
> educations.  In both public school systems and colligate level.  Too much
> effort is spent on telling people what to think, and not on training how to
> solve problems.  The reference to 10th grade geometry proof was right on
> point.
> Liberal Arts:  Taking an art class does not make someone a better person by
> default.  I have had them, and still think people splattering paint on a
> canvas are wasting there time.  I can do that too, but its not art because I
> have the wrong name (see that piece on the news about an elephant
> painting?).  Secondly, trying to make me a better person while I am enrolled
> in an engineering program is the wrong place and time.  If you want to force
> these classes on people, do it as part of the public school system where
> your tax dollars pay for them and everyone gets the same opportunity.  I
> don't argue that the opportunity should be there.  I just don't feel it's
> ABET's place to tell me that I should take History of Film or Sculpting.
> Give people the opportunity to study what they want.  Don't force your
> agenda on someone else.  I could live with requiring 10 classes (or
> something) outside the engineering college.  But I can appreciate the world
> just as well from a rafting class as an art museum.
> Real world experience:  It seems to me that people have a habit of assuming
> educated = better person.  I take deep offence to this.  Some of the most
> intelligent and best people I know have no secondary education.  The school
> of hard-knocks takes no prisoners and is very effective at teaching lessons.
> I can learn more about humanity from a single Saturday at the homeless
> shelter than from a four year degree.  As Twain said: "Don't let school
> interfere with your education."  If you ask me, too many people spend too
> much time in school, and too far from the real world.  Compare our Yale
> educated President to Mother Teresa, who would you say is the better person?
> Those of you hiring engineers, would you rather have a Master's degree
> student who just finished college, or someone with a B.S. and two years of
> experience?  Or better yet, someone who worked construction to put himself
> or herself through school?
> To those who like to study the Liberal Arts.  I encourage you to do so, they
> can open your mind to wonderful insights.  One of my favorite joys in life
> is a good book.  But the last thing I want to do is force my passion for
> reading onto someone else.
> Sorry to turn this wonderful technical forum into this......
> Respectfully,
> Jake Watson, P.E.
> Salt Lake City, UT
> -----Original Message-----
> From: Scott Maxwell [mailto:smaxwell(--nospam--at)]
> Sent: Friday, July 25, 2003 9:04 AM
> To: 'SEAINT Listserv'
> Subject: Re: Future Generations of Engineers
> Stan,
> My friend...I have gased up the flame thrower and it is itchin' to go.
> Now, I have to admit that I am confused by your position.  You seem to
> agree with Jake's postion.  That is you seem to be in favor of eliminating
> things like humanities courses in an engineerings program in favor of more
> engineering courses.  YET you also seem want the engineering educational
> system to be more like that which is used by the legal profession and the
> medical profession.
> The thing is that _IF_ we go to a system more like either the legal
> profession or medical profession, then the overwhelming amount of
> additional education that you would be required to take would be of the
> type that you and Jake profess to not want.  Both the legal profession and
> the health profession operated with a "pre-degree", which is essentially
> usually a liberal arts undergraduate degree with some very minimal
> required courses (although just about any undergrad degree may work as
> long as the minimal required courses are taken), and then a graduate
> degree in the actual area of question.
> Thus, for your example of 4+3 for lawyers, that really means 4 years of
> humanities, social studies, languages, etc course and _THEN_ a 3 year
> graduate degree that would contain the actual law courses.  This is
> similar for the medical profession, which uses a 4+4 (to graduate and get
> your then have to "go further" to get certified in
> specialties...but more on that in a second) educational system.  Again,
> the first 4 years are basically a liberal arts degree with a few core
> required courses in biology and chemistry, etc (kind of similar to
> engineering undergrads being required to take physics, chemisty and
> math...i.e. "pre-engineering" courses).  Then, you have a 4 year graduate
> program that consists of the true medical "technical" course, but this
> time keep in mind that it is really on the first 2 years of that graduate
> degree that contains the hard core class work...the final 2 years are done
> "on the job" in a hospital doing med school rotations through various
> areas of specialization.
> The end result is that for the legal profession you only really do about 3
> years worth hard core "technical" coursework and for the medical
> profession you only really get 2 years worth of hard core "technical"
> coursework.  This is not too terribly far from what engineers have in
> hard core "technical" engineering coursework (my undergraduate degree,
> which was not too terribly long ago, basically had about 2.5 years worth
> of hard core "technical" engineering coursework).  Thus, if you really
> want the engineering profession to emulate the legal or medical
> profession, then you are essentially advocating have future engineers take
> a 4 year "pre-engineering" undergraduate degree that will be mainly
> liberal arts courses and THEN have a graduate degree in engineering (3
> years or so) that will have all the engineering coursework.  This seems to
> be exactly contrary to what you and Jake say you want.
> Now, my additional problem with compaisons to the law profession and
> medical profession is that their system towards achieving their license if
> significantly different in other way.  Take the legal is
> my understanding the after the person takes their 4+3 years of education,
> they are IMMEDIATELY able to take the bar exam and get their license.
> There is no experience requirement.  Now, I could be wrong on this since I
> am not completely familiar with their process.
> The medical profession, on the other hand, I have had explained to me by
> one of my doctors.  In the medical profession, you again are basically
> licensed (there is a test) after you graduate from your 4+4 formal
> education.  But, since the last 2 years of medical school are essentially
> on the job work-type experience (just not have the privaledge
> of paying to be able to "work"), you essentially end up with 4+2 years of
> true classwork and 2 years of work experience/"on the job" education.
> This then compares with the system that we know and love for engineers...4
> years of formal undergraduate education plus 4 years (2 in CA) of work
> experience (for a total "education" [as it is refered to in many PE act
> requirements] of 8 years).  Thus, like it or not, our system is not that
> much "worse" than the professions that you say we should be like.
> Now, the system that I do like in the medical profession is the required
> push toward specialties.  After you have gotten a license (and thus,
> graduated from med school), you then typically do a specialization.  Many
> just become an "internist" which is the "general" specialization, but you
> can do others.  This is not strictly required.  You only HAVE to have a
> certified specialty if you want hospital privaledges.  If you only intend
> to open up an individual practice and don't want/need hospital
> privaledges, then you can opt to not get a specialty.  But this is rare
> since most will want/need hospital privaledges at some point in time.
> The idea of specialties is something that I can embrace and agree with for
> the (structural) engineering profession and it was something that I
> embraced for my brief involvement with NCSEA's certification committee.
> I don't, on the other hand, embrace the idea of REQUIRING more formal
> education towards getting the PE (or SE) license.  To me, the 4 year
> program is fine.  If the current programs are not working well, then we
> need to FIX THEM not leave them as is and just add more potentially just
> as worthless coursework.  Also, keep in mind that most (if not all) PE
> licensure systems do PERMIT a master's degree (and a PhD) to count as 1
> years worth of experience.  Thus, if an individual feels that they do need
> more formal education, they can do so and have it count toward their PE
> requirements.
> Your arguements for more formal education requirements are a familiar
> thing to me and they continue to sound hollow of reason.  I strongly
> believe that the real problem is the (structural) engineering profession
> continues to overlook the aspect of the PE licensing process that needs to
> be take more seriously...the 4 years of work experience.  Our profession
> want those engineering graduates to be ready to work and be 100%
> productive right away.  Even you have aluded to that when you have told me
> in the past that you only hire graduates who have a master's degree.  This
> ignores the plain simple fact that in the eyes of the PE licensing system
> those 4 years of experience are still part of the educational process.  I
> have seen too many young engineers that are basically pushed off into a
> corner and told to do work, but never have any experienced engineers come
> over and mentor them or provide advise or suggestions or even just come
> talk to them.  To me, THIS is were the system is failing.  Face it...the
> profession doesn't want to do this because it interferes with the ability
> to make money.  To me, we seem to push more education requirements not so
> much to make engineering graduates better (although that is a "side"
> benefit...I do believe that more education [formal or otherwise] is a good
> thing) but rather so that we can get young engineers that add to our
> bottom line quicker.
> Now, if you want to argue about having things get specialized sooner (i.e.
> take more structural courses in undergraduate CE programs rather than
> waste water treatment or environmental engineering courses), then that is
> a more worthwhile arguement that has more merit than just saying we need
> more education.  But, then keep in mind that lawyers and doctors have
> rather a rather broad set of "technical" courses that they take.  In
> otherwords, a lawyer who ultimately will go the route of crimial law still
> has to have some basic civil, business, and contract law course.  Similar
> for the medical profession.  So, if you are going to argue that we need to
> be more like those professions, then you are basically agruing that the
> system of having to take non-structural CE coures (i.e. waste water,
> environmental, fluid, materials, geotech, etc) would still be advisable.
> HTH,
> Scott
> Ypsilanti, MI
> On Thu, 24 Jul 2003, Caldwell, Stan wrote:
> >
> > Cliff, just make sure your grandson gets a complete engineering
> > education.  That means as many technical courses as possible at the B.S.
> > level (yes Jake, I agree with your minority opinion).  It also means a
> > truly specialized M.S. degree.  Lawyers require at least 7 (4+3) years of
> > education, and doctors require even more.  Engineers of the future cannot
> > expect society to treat them as reasonably equal professionals with only
> > a 4 year, increasingly general, engineering degree.
> >
> > Okay y'all, flame away!
> >
> > Stan R. Caldwell, P.E.
> > Dallas, Texas
> >
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