Thomas Grose’s article “Opening a New Book” [February, 2004] contains
many valid points regarding the problem of preparing engineering students
for today’s market. There certainly is some inertia among academics
toward giving up technical courses in favor of more liberal arts courses.
But I see that as only one small component of a rather large problem.
I find particularly offensive his repeated claims that engineering
faculty are resisting these changes, especially the closing statement
that change will only come one grave at a time. All that
does is add fuel to those politically inspired rants about requiring
accountability of our public school systems, whatever
I've never heard any of my colleagues bemoan the time our students
spend on general education. As an adviser, I always encourage my students
to take additional liberal arts courses, though they seldom can afford
the extra time required.
Also, my engineering department recently voted to approve several
business courses as technical electives. We are working toward a joint
degree in engineering and business. This was in response to a survey
of our alumni who realized they should have had more business preparation
while in college.
The article failed to mention the alternatives available to all students
at most institutions. One alternative is an arts and science program,
e.g. in math, chemistry, or physics. These provide more hours in liberal
arts, including training in a foreign language, time for more electives
like philosophy, history, advanced composition, business, and the
like. Unfortunately, none of these programs really prepare a student
for a job upon graduation.
Another is engineering with a minor in something else, such as business
or math. This typically takes five years. Neither of these is at all
attractive to our working-class student body. They need that four-year
engineering degree to get out and earn a living.
What's happened to our junior and senior high schools? Perhaps
I was among the lucky ones to be educated in Grand Island, Nebraska,
in the 1940s. I credit my junior and senior high school experience
with learning economics, shop practices, typing, history, political
issues, some business practice, music, literature, and more. In California,
many of these subjects are considered fluff and are being
That is the core of the problem, not that our students aren't
taking these in college.
W. A. Barrett
Computer Engineering Department
San Jose State University