Last fall, it was my pleasure to attend the opening of the Harvard School of Engineering and Applied Sciences (HSEAS), and to hear Harvard President Drew Gilpin Faust affirm the importance of engineering. It was an impressive event attended by dignitaries from academia and industry nationwide. In this month’s Prism article, “Harvard Turns a Corner,” we learn that engineering education at Harvard has traveled a rocky road and come a far distance to a fine and fitting recognition with the establishment of HSEAS. Commended by Faust for his role in helping to establish the new school, Venkatesh Narayanamurti, dean of engineering, is convinced HSEAS will improve the quality of Harvard’s engineering education and the caliber of students it attracts.
Of course, it’s not only important to attract students but to retain them, and retention is a problem for engineering schools. According to the 2005 National Academies report, Rising Above the Gathering Storm, approximately one third of students who start college as engineering majors switch to other fields before graduation. Prism’s cover story, “Stay on Track,” looks at how a number of engineering schools are making worthy efforts to address the problem and reports on specific retention efforts undertaken at Pennsylvania State University, University of Wisconsin-Madison, the University Puerto Rico, Mayaguez, and the University of Maryland. In “Last Word,” Paul Mailhot of Autodesk also describes ways imaginative professors are improving retention rates.
“The Sky’s the Limit” describes the emerging science of geoengineering and the suspicion it engenders. Geoengineering would attempt to halt or reverse global warming by undertaking ambitious schemes, some of which sound pretty wild—dumping iron into the ocean to suck up carbon dioxide, or shading the Earth from the sun with a vast orbiting sunshade. Critics include scientists who worry about unforeseen dangers to the planet from tampering; environmentalists who prefer to retain focus on cutting greenhouse gas emissions; and ethicists who raise the specter of possible political and military abuse. But, as the article indicates, a growing number of scientists now think geoengineering is at least worth exploring.
This month’s Prism is a double issue containing information about the 2008 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition in Pittsburgh, June 22-25, which promises a fine technical program and an excellent venue for networking and meeting colleagues. You’ll want to read “A City of ‘Firsts,’” our article on Pittsburgh—an accessible and family-friendly destination. We hope to see you there.
Frank L. Huband
Executive Director and Publisher