Without technologists, many an engineering project wouldn’t work as well.
Technology degree programs have long operated in the shadows of engineering, struggling against the misperception that their focus on application over theory makes them less challenging. It’s time for educators and professionals to take another look. When they do, they’ll realize that technology programs are vital to the success of engineering as a whole and also offer important educational lessons.
Today, engineering technologists are building instruments capable of evaluating pollution levels on specific street corners at different times of the day. They’re also designing equipment to survey land for the future development of residential communities. They’re researching and developing computer-based devices that will help to automate a process or improve quality of life. Whenever you travel to work and pass over a bridge, drive through a tunnel or run with an iPod on a treadmill, you are experiencing the results of a collaboration between engineers and technologists. Each side brings distinct skills and training essential to moving a project from conception to completion. Each works in different capacities throughout the process, yet both have the same objective: to create innovative solutions that work. Without engineering technology, the application of a concept, design or prototype, which is often created by an engineer, may not result in an integrated, functional end-product.
Engineering schools across the country are now discovering the value of stressing experiential, hands-on learning. However, this kind of instruction has always been the foundation of technology degree programs. Through practical training, extensive laboratory experience, project-based coursework, cooperative education and internships, engineering technology students gain a keen understanding of how the pieces of a project are integrated. Then they use a hands-on approach to apply engineering principles to fit systems together.
Engineering technology programs prepare graduates for a wide spectrum of roles in the engineering profession, including positions in product design, testing, development, systems engineering, technical operations and quality control. Engineering technology also fuels advanced-degree programs and continuing professional training.
The inclusion of technology-trained engineers in the technical job markets creates healthy competition at the entry level. It encourages established professionals to participate in life-long learning and professional development opportunities and newly-degreed engineers to consider furthering their education before entering the professional markets.
Engineering technology programs also have a significant impact on the staffing needs of industry and professional organizations, producing young engineering technologists who possess the skills and experience to move effortlessly into professional positions with little additional training. This allows industry to redirect resources once used for entry-level on-the-job-training to more advanced training and professional development.
Of course, there are ways that technology degree programs can be improved. Like all engineering programs, we need to combat alarmingly low retention rates. In an effort to meet industry demands, administrators and instructors must work harder to build strong relationships and partner with industry leaders and associations. To advance the profession, schools must listen to feedback, be nimble in making curriculum changes and show students how to fit into a collaborative work environment that enhances the relationship between engineering and engineering technology.
We also need to do a better job of increasing awareness of technology programs. Schools must promote the importance of engineering technology programs and the career opportunities that exist. Programs must be delivered in a way that reinforces their value to the profession.
Elementary and secondary schools must be enlisted as well. More efforts must be made at the K-12 level to inspire students to pursue exciting careers in the field.
America needs highly skilled, conceptually sharp workers in the engineering profession to meet the country’s growing high-tech needs. Engineering technology programs broaden the appeal of the engineering field to a wider population of capable students attracted to the hands-on aspects of these programs and the strong application skills required in the workforce.
Sandeep Dilwali heads the Department of Electronics and Mechanical at Wentworth Institute of Technology.