PRISM Magazine  On-Line - October 1999 - Exploring the future of engineering education

That Personal Touch

New Opportunities for South AfricaThe article by Don Boroughs ("New Opportunities for South Africa," May-June, p. 18) presents a generally accurate picture of bridging programs for black engineering students in South Africa. It is correctly reported that in the Pre-university Bursary Scheme (PBS) at the University of the Witwatersrand, bridging students do not earn credits. But later in the article, Jeff Jawitz of the University of Cape Town is quoted as saying "Forcing [students] to do courses without credit is a recipe for fomenting anger and resentment."

Unsuspecting readers would have to be forgiven for concluding that PBS is bedeviled with such negative sentiments. Nothing could be further from the truth. In the thirteen years that PBS has been in existence we have had no evidence of resentment, never mind anger, and only a few queries about the noncredit policy.

We go to great lengths to explain the PBS philosophy to our students, namely that the bridging year is designed for both academic and personal development. Credit courses require more time than our courses, and would necessitate reducing personal development activities. In any event, after their first two years at university, ex-PBS students will have had the opportunity to obtain a full-house of first year credits and be eligible for admission to the second year of the degree.

It is true that prior to university during recruitment some students, given the option, choose a bridging program that offers credits rather than PBS. But interestingly, in September 1998 we organized a reunion of PBS graduates who had been in the workplace for a number of years. In recalling how PBS had either helped or not helped them during their degree program and later life, not one mentioned noncredit courses as a problem. However, they all stressed, virtually to the exclusion of comments on academic development, how personal development in PBS had been a major factor in their success.

    G.C. Gerrans
    University of Witwatersrand

Hold the Muscles, Please

Survival of the FittestIt is an irony at the least when an educational organization that calls for inclusion and globalization as the future hallmarks of the engineering profession writes an article on globalization of industry in terms of battle and muscle power, rather than one of cooperation, understanding and brain power. The article "Survival of the Fittest" (May-June, p. 12) puts this issue in terms of brawn, blood, wounds, dominance, and David and Goliath. The cover shows three fists in a "Call to Arms."

If we engineering educators want to get our act together, let us talk about developing our brain power and ingenuity. Let us get our children to learn mathematics, and let us design the best technology ever for peace. Then the best and brightest brains of the United States will choose engineering as their life's work and we can once again lead the world-this time with compassionate technology.

    Indira Nair
    Carnegie Mellon University

Born in the U.S.A. (Not)

The last six professors we have hired in our engineering department are foreign-born Ph.D.'s who have elected to remain in the U.S. The last six professors who have retired are U.S.-born Ph.D.'s. We now have a substantial majority of foreign-born professors in our department. Is this happening other places? If so, we will experience a significant change in engineering education.

Professors who have not experienced our undergraduate programs personally bring a very different perspective to the table. Some positive results occur, but far too often the results may possibly affect our engineering programs negatively. Maybe we should consider the effects this hiring trend will have before it becomes a serious problem.

Is the root problem the lack of domestic graduate students in our engineering graduate schools? If so, why isn't something being done about it? An engineer can graduate and immediately start working for $40,000, or more. The engineering graduate schools must become more competitive with industry if we want to attract more domestic students to our graduate programs.

When are we going to tackle this problem? Wake up, deans! It's all about money! Just like it was when the Ford Foundation Fellowship program and other equally lucrative programs allowed you and me to attend graduate school without a significant sacrifice.

    Merle Potter
    Michigan State University

Send your comments to

Because of space limitations, not all letters can be published,
and those that are may be abridged.


navigation bar