ASEE Prism Magazine Online - December 2001
Managing the Unmanageable
Spread the Word
A Bumpy Road
Giants of the Sea
On Politics
Teaching Toolbox
ASEE Today
Last Word
Back Issues


Birth of a New Science

Frank HubandThis month our cover article “Managing the Unmanageable” looks at bioinformatics, an academic discipline that promises to enhance our understanding of the scientific origins of human existence. Bioinformatics, which has expanded quickly in higher education, is an interdisciplinary field that analyzes the vast array of data generated by human genome sequencing. The new field promises to blur the lines between engineering and biology. Student interest is keen, and the number of graduate students interested in bioinformatics grew 10 times in the past few years. Salaries are currently very high and, unlike some other science-related fields where Ph.D.s face uncertain employment, those trained in both biology and computer science may enter the field at over $90,000 a year. The National Science Foundation estimates that 20,000 new bioinformatics jobs will be created by 2005. This field, of course, expands the research boundaries for engineering faculty in related areas and well as offering new funding opportunities. Our article examines how some universities are struggling to come up with the right combination of curricula and brainpower to train scientists in this new field and reports on partnerships forged among industry, government, and academia.

Our gratitude goes to Dean Doug Green of the Engineering Research Council for helping us obtain an informative article on the collapse of the World Trade Center's twin towers. The essay was written by Christopher Foley, a structural engineer, who describes the design and construction of the towers. The engineers who designed the towers thought that they had considered all reasonable loadings to which the structures might be subjected. Of course, it never occurred to anyone that a Boeing 767 with a full load of jet fuel would fly into the upper stories of the building.

In “A Bumpy Road,” we examine how distance education is faring at a time of economic uncertainty. While some programs are floundering, those that are well funded and understand the management of technology are staying above water. One of the success stories is the University of Maryland University College, which has been among the pioneers in distance education, and today has an online enrollment of 63,000 students and offers 20 full degree programs on the Web. A recent projection by the Maryland Higher Education Commission forecasts the tripling of enrollment at UMUC by 2010.

I hope you will find the articles in this month's Prism both current and thought provoking. As always, I welcome your comments and suggestions.


Frank L. Huband
Executive Director and Publisher