Engineers as Presidents

Arthur G. Hansen, a mechanical engineer, was the president of Purdue University while I was an undergrad. I'll always remember the time I was in the M.E. undergraduate labs, slaving away at some fluids experiment that wouldn't cooperate. I noticed that a group of rather official-looking people were touring the lab, and Dr. Hansen was in the group. He came over to my table and talked to me while the group toured, and gave me some hints for that pesky lab. He then said goodbye and returned to the tour. When the other students asked "Who was that?" I replied, "The president of this university."

I was also lucky enough to be a student and staff employee during Henry T. Yang's tenure as dean at Purdue (before he became chancellor of the University of California at Santa Barbara). Some engineers make great administrators!

Glynda Jones Davis
Jacobs School of Engineering

In response to our article "The Presidents Club," (March 1999, p. 34) PRISM readers sent us 20 more names of presidents and chancellors who have engineering degrees.

  • George Ansell, former president of the Colorado School of Mines
  • Lionel Baldwin, former president of National Technological University
  • Albert Carnesale, chancellor of the University of California at Los Angeles
  • G. Wayne Clough, president of the Georgia Institute of Technology
  • Robert R. Furgason, president of Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi
  • Richard J. Gowen, president of the South Dakota School of Mines and Technology
  • Arthur G. Hansen, former president of Purdue University
  • James John, president of Kettering University
  • Peter Likins, president of the University of Arizona
  • Modesto Maidique, president of Florida International University
  • Larry Monteith, former chancellor at North Carolina State University
  • Dan Mote, president of the University of Maryland at College Park
  • Constantine Papadakis, president of Drexel University
  • Daniel Reneau, president of Louisiana Tech University
  • John Brooks Slaughter, retiring president of Occidental College
  • Charles A. Sorber, president of the University of Texas of the Permian Basin
  • James J. Stukel, president of the University of Illinois
  • Charles Vest, president of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology
  • James Woodward, chancellor of the University of North Carolina at

 For a more complete list of notable engineers in academe, see the National Engineering Honor Society (Tau Beta Pi) home page at http://sense.engr.utk.edu.


Grasping Grading

Thank you for bringing up the very important and poorly understood subject of grading ("Hit Your Mark," March 1999, p. 18). The authors say quite correctly that there is no good method for adjusting test scores when the average falls below the "average."

The secret lies in making up exams that test what you have taught your students and not what you think that they should have somehow learned in spite of you. If you expect them to do more than just plug numbers in to a formula, this means giving the students clear objectives for every topic, illustrating with examples, giving out copies of old exams, and showing students how to extract the salient facts from a problem statement.

If you do all that and limit the exam's length such that a top student would normally finish in about two-thirds of the allotted time, your results should be "average" most of the time. If you have a disproportionate number of very good students in your class, your averages will tend to be higher; with fewer good students, they will be somewhat lower. That is as it should be. Almost always, poor test results are an indication that the teacher has done something wrong, either in teaching or in testing or in both.

I would hope that we no longer have colleagues in our profession who still think that final grades should follow a bell-shaped curve and would limit the number of A's in a course to the top 10 percent or so, regardless of the final numerical averages. The authors state, again correctly, that education is not about competing for grades but about gaining knowledge. Grades should serve as an encouragement and an incentive to learning and not be viewed as punishment.

Bohdan Lukaschewsky
Union County College


Profession Proposal

Merle Potter (E-Mail, March 1999, p. 9) and Ernest Smerdon ("Let's Make Engineering A Profession," March 1999, p. 41) are only the two most recent people to call for an upgrade of engineering to the status of a proper profession.

The status of our lowly trade needs many adjustments, but the most important of these-the sine qua non of professionalism-is raising the level of the gateway qualification from the baccalaureate to a graduate degree. Physicians, lawyers, nurses, teachers, and even librarians require graduate degrees before describing themselves as full members of their respective professions.

This is not merely a professional requirement, either, but an educational necessity. To maintain a sound professional content, ABET-accredited baccalaureate degrees have become massively overloaded and over-specified relative to other degrees on most campuses. In some cases, a degree that nominally requires 128 credit hours has distribution requirements and prerequisites that add up to more than 140; and the number of students that complete these degrees in four years is dwindling to a negligible level. The workload militates against students who need to work to support themselves, creating barriers to those of limited means. It also results in minimalist choices for and attention to distribution credits, adding credence to those who would describe engineers as illiterate.

The time has come to start developing pre-engineering undergraduate curricula, and professional-level engineering graduate degrees with significant practice components, along the lines of the training provided to medical doctors. We should deliver training comparable with that provided to medical students, requiring that just as medical schools are associated with teaching hospitals, engineering schools be intimately associated with real engineering firms-perhaps by using the distance-erasing capabilities of the Internet. The graduate degrees offered by these schools should become the preferred, and eventually the only, means of earning licensure.

Of course, it is not simple to get from where we are to where we need to be. Maybe only 20 percent of the students currently earning baccalaureate engineering degrees will follow a path that requires more years of study; but is that any worse than a figure of 20 percent of the current baccalaureates becoming professional engineers? Reducing the supply of baccalaureate-trained engineers will eventually create an economic demand for the higher degree that ensures the status so earnestly desired by so many.

Alex King
SUNY-Stony Brook

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