It promises to be a long campaign season with a multitude of pundits and polls watching presidential candidates jostle for front-runner positions. The Iowa caucuses and New Hampshire primary loom large, with the media quick to cover what candidates say about health-care, fundraising and foreign relations—issues that have captured voters’ interest. But what does the 2008 presidential race portend for engineering and science education? Prism’s cover story, “Game of Chance,” reports, on the one hand, what educators and researchers want to hear from the next president, and, on the other, what the candidates have said and left unsaid. Candidates apparently agree that America must remain competitive. Some say federal funding for research should be increased, but offer little in the way of specifics. Meanwhile, China and India are stepping up the technological competition, flooding universities with engineering and science students and allotting funds for technological advancement. Is this another “Sputnik moment” and, if so, how will the United States respond this time?
If things look challenging at home, things look downright glum for engineers in the U.K. “Too Little Respect” considers the descent of British engineers, who were once the pride of the empire. Today, the profession is typecast as “Mr. Fixit,” and engineers seldom join the ranks of upper management. If attracting students to engineering is a universal problem, it’s reached acute proportions in the U.K. Educators there are exploring a number of ideas that their American counterparts would recognize, including expanding the curriculum to include business and management courses to improve career prospects, and broadening the degree to include the soft skills needed to complement technical competence.
The wheels of progress grind exceedingly slow, but today, a decade after the NSF report on engineering education that stressed the need for more hands-on learning, schools everywhere are joining the effort. As described in “Extreme Learning,” three labs demonstrate that studying engineering fundamentals can be fun. At OSU’s Tsunami Wave Basin, students study the devastation and plan for survival with simulated tsunamis. They can test explosives at NM’s Institute of Mining and Technology, and study the effect on plane windows and bank vaults. UM’s Neutral Buoyancy Research Facility lets students experience the weightlessness of space and determine how to make space exploration safer.
I hope you enjoy the stories in this first 2008 issue of Prism and wish you all a very Happy New Year.
Frank L. Huband
Executive Director and Publisher