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American Society for Engineering EducationSEPTEMBER 2007Volume 17 | Number 1 PRISM HOMETABLE OF CONTENTSBACK ISSUES
What Price Security? - By THOMAS K. GROSE
Team Player - ALVIN P. SANOFF
A Network of a Different Stripe - By DON BOROUGHS

Refractions: Confusing Calendars - By Henry Petroski

Click. Build. Learn. Digital K-12 engineering courses expand with stress on quality, fun. BY BARBARA MATHIAS-RIEGEL
JEE SELECTS: The ‘Random Madness’ of Work - BY JAMES TREVELYAN


LAST WORD: Why Not Here? - by Carolyn Williams  

Unlike many in the United States, K-12 students overseas gain early exposure to the world of engineering.

When I was awarded a college scholarship with the caveat that I major in engineering, I spent a week surfing the Internet to determine just what engineers did, other than “build stuff.” Still, I went into my engineering degree program with no real understanding of what I would be studying.

Now that I’m a graduate student headed toward a career in engineering, I realize that my own lack of preparation in primary and secondary school was not unusual. In fact, while many extracurricular engineering initiatives exist in the United States, only one state—Massachusetts—integrates engineering content directly into its K-12 curriculum.

How does America’s record compare with those of other major countries? I recently explored this question while spending 10 weeks at the National Academy of Engineering. Working on a study funded by NAE member Stephen D. Bechtel, Jr., I gathered information on pre-university engineering education initiatives abroad, identifying more than 25 major engineering education initiatives in nine countries.
My work was primarily descriptive, rather than intensely analytical. Nonetheless, I was impressed—not only by the many initiatives but also by their apparent quality and variety.

For the U.S. to remain competitive in a global marketplace, it is essential to consider how the international community defines engineering and how other countries are preparing their technical workforce.England provides several avenues for children to become involved in engineering during the course of their standard schooling, including engineering colleges (comparable to our magnet high schools). While engineering colleges make a specific effort to integrate engineering into all aspects of the curriculum, national qualifications in engineering and engineering diplomas are available to all students, whether or not they have matriculated at an engineering college. Students in Northern Ireland and Wales may also seek the same national qualifications available to students in England.

Vocationally oriented curricula are offered in Australia, South Africa and South Korea starting in high school. Junior Ingenieur Akademie in Germany and the ORT Innovative Scientific Tracks in Engineering Studies in Israel also introduce students at the high school level to complex engineering concepts. Many countries, such as Singapore, lack specific engineering courses at the pre-college level but still introduce students to the designed world through a design and technology curriculum starting in primary school.

In 2005, the National Academies were charged by Congress with identifying the “top 10 actions ... federal policymakers could take to enhance the science and technology enterprise” in the United States. The Academies responded with a report, Rising Above the Gathering Storm, expressing serious concerns about the country’s ability to remain competitive in science and technology. Recommendations included strengthening K-12 education, higher education and commitment to research.

The Academies’ report has generated tremendous discussion within the political arena about K-12 math and science education but surprisingly little commentary on the exposure of K-12 students to engineering.

The comparison of U.S. education to programs overseas raises the question of whether this country is falling behind not merely in the dissemination of existing curricula but also by failing to address the standard subject content required for the development of a proficient technical workforce.

For the U.S. to remain competitive in a global marketplace, it is essential to consider how the international community defines engineering and how other countries are preparing their technical workforce.

Carolyn Williams was a 2007 Science and Technology Policy Graduate Fellow at the National Academy of Engineering. She is completing a master’s degree in chemical engineering at the University of California, Los Angeles.




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American Society for Engineering Education