Prism - September 2002
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Corporate Connection

Putting Stock in Higher Education

- By Robert E. Spitzer

We are operating in a world that has become more global and diverse. We are also operating in a world that is moving to higher levels of integration within the multitude of systems of different sizes and complexity that make up our corporate environments, products, and services.

Corporations, by necessity, are driven by business considerations in their decisions and relationships. Corporations want and need to engage with universities. Universities and their contributions to research, education, and community service are an obvious part of the value stream for corporations. The Boeing Company selects certain schools for focused engagement because of the relative significance of the business value of those schools to Boeing. This business value is provided through both education and research from individuals of diverse backgrounds. That education must promote the development of the prerequisite critical skills and thinking needed in the future workforce is a given, but there must also be the development of a culture that fosters an understanding of lifelong learning for our employees and communities. The research must be a source of new technologies and innovation for the future growth of all corporations.

Boeing's future and that of other corporations depends on the intellectual capital and diversity of the individuals that attend these educational institutions. Universities are the primary providers of these individuals to corporations. Companies have a strong need for diverse intellectual capital, in ideas and knowledge, that is the product of the research being done both domestically and internationally. Companies also need people to work in the expanding global enterprise. To meet these needs, companies like Boeing must engage with educational institutions on a global basis.

Ideas, technology, and innovation come principally from the research engagement. This engagement can be divided into three general classes. These are strategic, which usually involves longer time horizons and more fundamental research; tactical, which typically involves medium time horizons and often is associated with technology adaptation; and transactional, which generally meets a need with a shorter time horizon using existing expertise.

The educational engagement of corporations with universities is focused on the preparation of new talent and the continuing education of existing employees. The preparation of new talent generally involves an undergraduate focus on bachelor's degree programs. The implementation of ABET Engineering Criteria 2000, the new criteria for accreditation of engineering, has been a major step in trying to direct the outcomes of the educational process toward the needs of the workplace.

It is important to corporations that potential employees have the proper education and educational awareness, in addition to a proper work attitude. Included in the undergraduate education must be a sufficient working knowledge of the technical basics, as well as an appropriate introduction to some essential non-technical skills and knowledge. The latter includes multidisciplinary capability, liberal studies, and the integrative capstone design course. It never has been possible to teach bachelor's level individuals everything they will ever need to know. The educational system, however, has behaved for many years as if this were a possible achievement. EC 2000 formally recognizes that this educational model is not feasible.

A major educational challenge for engineering education continues to be how to get the individual the necessary functional expertise and departmental expertise while including sufficient introduction to and coverage of other elements that are needed by a practicing engineer. Educational institutions need to develop a comprehensive, integrated engineering education in the spirit of EC 2000 if companies like Boeing are to be successful and remain competitive in the new global economy and marketplace.

Most of the Boeing engagement with universities has an orientation toward people. In addition to business-related dollars that are spent at educational institutions, Boeing has some funds for charitable investment. The company's charitable investment is student-focused, particularly encouraging those students needing financial support or who are underrepresented. Boeing also supports education approaches that fulfill the EC 2000 principles for all disciplines and encourage universities to help with the K-12 pipeline.

The challenges that face both industry and educational institutions are many. There is a need for an effective integrated education that develops in these individuals the requisite skills, an attitude for work, an appreciation of the holistic environment of the practice of engineering, and a culture of continuous learning. There is demand in the workplace for diversity of ideas and people. Finally, in this quest, all of us must work together and effectively utilize the available resources in order to meet the needs of tomorrow. Failure to meet all of these challenges will have great economic impact on the future of our corporations and our country.

 

Robert Spitzer is vice president, external affiliations, at The Boeing Company. He can be reached by e-mail at rspitzer@asee.org.

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