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- To: seaint(--nospam--at)seaint.org
- Subject: Re: Schooling (was Connections)
- From: BCainse(--nospam--at)aol.com
- Date: Thu, 4 Dec 2003 00:25:55 EST
I would use a little different analogy than the "manufactured product."
Think of a student as analogous to a bottle of wine. When first produced the wine is probably somewhat drinkable though not finished (as the student is capable of doing basic routine engineering tasks, but not complex tasks). As the bottle ages, the flavor, body and complexity generally improve (this is the student gaining experience, able to handle more and more complex tasks).
I work with a lot of young engineers that have learned to run the computer really well in school. What they lack is engineering judgement. I have found that by mentoring them, forcing them to understand what the model is telling them and making them relate to the physical problem they are solving develops most of them into fine engineers. Of course the most difficult part seems to be getting them to understand constructability. This can only be learned by developing details, watching how they are built in the field and listening to the cursing of the workers in the field trying to build the difficult-to-build details, then, trying again to make it easier and more fool proof for the next time.
It is the responsibility of us gray beards to mentor the younger engineers on an ongoing basis, challenging them to continually take on more challenging tasks but providing a supportive environment where they can make their mistakes and learn from them. In my experience, most students right out of school have some basic skills I can use right away, but they are not a journey level engineer. Expecting otherwise is pure folly.
I have been in the profession since slide rules were used. On a basic level, I frankly don't see much different in how we go about things now versus then. I do see different tools being used (computers vs slide rules, CAD vs table drafting, etc.). But the basic creative process is still much the same. I also don't think today's student is any more or any less prepared than I was entering the profession. As we age, we often forget the learning process we went through.
Expecting a school to turn out a finished product is ludicrous. I remember one of my professors at U.C. Berkeley, Dr. Graham Powell, teaching one of his first courses at UCB, telling the class to look at the table of contents of the Mechanics of Materials text (which was by Popov, another great professor). He told us he didn't plan on teaching us every topic in the book. What he promised was to teach us how to learn, where to search for answers and how to develop confidence in our problem solving abilities. He said that if we learned how to research answers we could solve most any problem. Well, 37 years later I have found that Dr. Powell, as a young Professor, truly understood what education is and what it is not. It is developing an attitude of life long learning and and a pursuing a continual process of developing problem solving skills. It is not about learning a body of skills (other than some very basic ones). Learning professional skills is a life-long endeavor.
Bill Cain, SE
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