PRISM - American Society for Engineering Education - Logo - JANUARY 2005 - VOLUME 14, NUMBER 5
last word
2020: It's Sooner Than You Think

By Stephen W. Director


Yogi Berra once said "The future ain't what it used to be." This is certainly the case for engineering. Rapid technological change, globalization, growing population, increasing environmental issues, and looming energy shortages will certainly change the practice of engineering in the future. Engineering education must change as well. And this change must go well beyond any of those made during the last decade in response to the Accreditation Board on Engineering and Technology Criteria 2000 and to a number of other reports published in the 1990s.

Students entering engineering colleges this year as freshmen will on average be 34 years old in 2020 and most likely will still have 30 plus years left in their careers. What will the practice of engineering be like in 2020, and what will the graduates of our engineering programs be doing then? Will the students we are educating today be prepared for the world of 2020? If not, what changes need to be made to our engineering curriculum to ensure that our engineering graduates are prepared for that world?

These questions fueled the Engineer of 2020 Project, sponsored by the National Academy of Engineering's (NAE) Committee on Engineering Education. The goal was to proactively modernize and reposition engineering curricula before a technological scare, such as the launch of Sputnik I in the 1950s, forces engineering colleges to hurriedly restructure their curricula. Given that by 2020 healthcare costs are predicted to become 20 percent of our nation's GDP, that California alone will need 40 percent more electrical capacity and gasoline, and 20 percent more natural gas energy, and that the American Society of Civil Engineers estimates that it will take $1.3 trillion to restore our infrastructure—that technological scare may already be upon us.

The first phase of the two-phase Engineer of 2020 Project was aimed at developing a vision of the jobs and activities that engineers could be involved in by 2020 and culminated last spring with the publication of "The Engineer of 2020, Visions of Engineering in the New Century." This report not only discusses the societal, global, and professional contexts of engineering in 2020 but also the aspirations and attributes required of the engineer of 2020. He or she must be prepared to work in a time in which the words "minority" and "majority" are applied to different groups than they are today, a time in which what we now consider to be engineering is more likely to be done outside the United States than inside, and perhaps, a time in which the United States is not the world's leading economic power.

In July the NAE held an education summit as part of the second phase of the 2020 Project to identify the curricular and other changes necessary to ensure that our engineering schools are prepared to educate the engineer of 2020. A report based upon the findings of this summit will be published early next year.

We pride ourselves on being a nation of innovators, and that has paid off handsomely for us in terms of standard of living and economic development. We must continue this tradition if our engineering graduates are to remain relevant and enjoy the standard of living we, and they, expect to have in 2020 and beyond. The NAE reports will, I hope, help to frame the discussions about the future of engineering education and be an inspiration to change.

Stephen W. Director is the Robert J. Vlasic Dean of Engineering at the University of Michigan and chair of the NAE Committee on Engineering Education.


Lending a Hand - By Margaret Loftus
Crafting a New Curriculum - By Lucille Craft
Measure for Measure - By Alvin P. Sanoff
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Tech View - By Mary Kathleen Flynn
THE SCIENCE OF FUN: Entertainment engineering programs are sprouting up. - By Linda L. Creighton
TEACHING: The Voice of Experience
FACULTY'S FINEST: Marcus D. Ashford
ON CAMPUS: A River Runs Through It
LAST WORD: 2020: It's Sooner Than You Think - By Stephen W. Director

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