ASEE Prism Magazine - September 2003
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From Our Readers

Education, Just Another Product

I WANT TO compliment O. Hayden Griffin, Jr. on "Our Students, Ourselves" (Prism, May-June). I have tried hard to find ways to break down the ‘us' vs. ‘them' mentality in the classroom, and look forward to trying some of your suggestions during the next academic year.

I also wanted to follow up on your comment that students want less than their money's worth. I am not sure this is true. I think that part of the problem is that many students do not see themselves as buying an education. I think most students see themselves as buying a degree—buying a line on the résumé. From this point of view, as long as they can graduate on time, they get the same "product" regardless of how often they attend class.

I hope that by finding ways to rekindle the love of learning in students, and by making clear to them that our main goal is to help them learn, we can continue to break down the ‘us' vs. ‘them' mentality.

John-David Yoder
Assistant Professor of Mechanical Engineering
Ohio Northern University


Preparing Tomorrow's Engineers

IENJOYED READING Kerry Hannon's cover story, "The Graduate," (Prism, May-June) on the struggle to produce well-rounded engineering graduates, and I applaud the calls for more attention to communication skills. However, I'd like to challenge the notion that business and entrepreneurship provide the best vehicle for "rounding out" a degree in engineering.

This world needs engineers who will be responsible professionals, aware of the impact of their work on others, and engaged citizens, bringing their knowledge to bear on improving the quality of life in local and global communities. For this to happen, engineering programs must incorporate studies in the humanities and social sciences, and expose students to problems involving human need and social values.

By integrating a social awareness of engineering into our technical programs, we can prepare "technological humanists" with not only the means to shape the future but, more important, the wisdom to do so responsibly.

Rick Vaz
Associate Professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering
Worcester Polytechnic Institute


I READ WITH interest Kerry Hannon's article "The Graduate." Several years ago Auburn University's Samuel Ginn College of Engineering recognized the need to help our engineering students develop their "soft skills." Previous experiences taught us that cross-functional teaming, leadership, and communication skills could not be developed in a single course. Together, Auburn's engineering and business colleges created a minor in Business-Engineering-Technology (B-E-T) for rising engineering and business juniors. The 16-semester credit hour, six-course B-E-T program includes formal academic coursework leading to a minor as well as informal instruction. Engineering and business students attend classes jointly taught by engineering and business faculty, work in cross-functional teams, and solve open-ended problems that have both business and engineering dimensions. The program admits equal numbers of business and engineering majors. Rising juniors, who must have a minimum 3.0 GPA (4.0 maximum), apply for admission in the spring. Only 20 students from each major are selected per year. For most engineering students, the minor requires that they take extra courses. This select minor is proving to be very effective in developing the cross-functional teaming, leadership, and communication skills that employers value.

More information about Auburn's B-E-T program is found at

James O. Bryant, Jr.
Associate Dean of Engineering for Cross Disciplinary Studies
Auburn University


I AGREE THAT engineering curricula must recognize the importance of soft, nontechnical subjects. I taught junior and senior chemical engineering courses for more than 11 years, after having spent 40 years in industry and consulting. I hired young engineers over that time and I found that there were three major areas where their education was lacking: The young engineer could not sit down and write a cogent report, stand before a group to make an oral report, and did not know how to function as part of a group. My efforts were directed toward dealing with these shortfalls. Returning students have confirmed the correctness of my concerns.

The article does not speak strongly enough to the requirement that an engineer be concerned with protecting the safety, health, property, and welfare of the public. I have been active in NCEES as well as the Massachusetts Board of Registration for Professional Engineers and Professional Land Surveyors and I believe that ASEE and ABET ought to recognize the importance of the licensing process. I see no other practical way to protect the public from ill-prepared engineers.

I would hope that this realization would begin to permeate the thinking that develops as engineering education evolves.

H.W. Flood, P.E.
Emeritus Professor
UMASS Lowell


COMMUNICATION SKILLS, working on teams, and application of knowledge are some of the more difficult abilities for engineering undergraduates to obtain. One tried-and-true method that you did not mention in your article is the field of cooperative education. At Georgia Tech, we are fortunate in that both our president, Wayne Clough, and our dean of engineering, Don Giddens, were co-op students as undergraduates here. Thus, they understand the value added to the students' education by participation in real-world experiences with employers while working as co-ops.

Georgia Tech places an emphasis on various types of "outside of the classroom" experiences. Whether it be in co-op, internships, study/work abroad, undergraduate research, or another method, there is great value in obtaining this experience. However, it cannot stop there.

These programs must go beyond a "good experience." They must be more experiential in nature, allowing for accountability on the part of the student and giving them a mechanism to reflect upon that experience and to internalize what was learned in the process. Together, we are all working hard to make the undergraduate experience at Georgia Tech one that will produce alumni who have "the ability to move with dexterity as team members and leaders" not only in their respective fields but in society as a whole.

Thomas M. Akins
Executive Director, Division of Professional Practice
Georgia Institute of Technology



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