Monday, June 23, 2008

Plenary: Charles Vest, NAE President

Challenges of the freshman engineering curriculum
  • 1967: how to make 1st year exciting, communicate what engineers do, understand business processes, think about ethics and social responsibility
  • 2008: all these things, plus nano/bio/info, large complex systems, new life-science base, computation/storage capabilities, globalization, innovation, leadership, teamwork across disciplines/fields/nations/cultures, experiential learning (conceive/design/implement/operate), entrepreneurship, product development/manufacturing, sustainable development
The global engineer is...
  • Technically adept, broadly knowledgeable, innovative and entrepreneurial, commercially savvy, multilingual, culturally aware, able to understand world markets, professionally flexible and mobile
  • 20th century: physics, electronics, high-speed communications and transportation
  • 21st century: biology and information, energy, water, food, sustainability
  • Payoff from bridging the frontiers: bio-based materials, biomemetics, personalized/predictive medicine, synthetic biology, biofuels, etc.
  • U.S. declined: domestic R&D, scientific publications, S&E BS degrees, new U.S. patents, scientific researchers, new S&E PhDs
  • “Venture capital is the search for smart engineers” – venture capitalist friend
  • “Open innovation” – borrow best ideas from anywhere (Henry Chesbrough, Harvard Business School)
  • Employment growth driven by small and medium companies
Changing the Conversation: Messages for Improving Public Understanding of Engineering
  • Based on what works
  • Engineers are creative problem solvers
  • Engineering is not static – 21st century science/engineering/medicine interdependent, blending in new ways
  • Engineering is about systems: nanobio devices to (aging) largescale infrstructure to (adapting to warming) earth itself
  • Engineering is essential to our health, happiness and safety
Grand Challenges for Engineering
  • Doable in next few decades
  • "Advance Personalized Learning"
  • After 17 years at MIT, I’ve learned: Making exciting, creative, adventurous, rigorous, demanding, empowering environments = more important than curricular details
  • Innovation: CDIO (conceive, design, innovate, operate), UROP/UPOPP (professional opportunity in small companies), WebLab (run real experiments from dorm room), new schools like Olin College, Second Life, mega multi-player games, business plan competitions (how to communicate clearly), studio learning, computer-assisted learning, projects, experiential learning
  • Digital resources for education: cyberinfrastructure, inexpensive/limitless memory, digital archives (JSTOR, ARTstor, Ithaka, PLOS, Google Library, etc.)
  • Learning isn’t just sitting in front of a box and listening; role of IT is multidimensional; role of neural/cognitive science – more than putting books on the shelf, even more amazing things to do with IT – very fast, can be modified
U.S. advantage
  • Rest of world is focused on engineering education as practical subject – U.S. has clear and unrecognized advantage within our universities that mix together arts, humanities, social sciences – adds component to thinking
Question: "Rising Above the Gathering Storm" controversy
  • National Academies halfway through “America’s Energy Future” study
  • One uniform document with technical and economic facts for each technology with likelihood of being major players – generation, distribution, conservation
  • Pursued huge range of funding – no one asked us to do this – didn’t want to be accused of bias based on funder
  • Taking on another study on global change, asked by Congress – state of science, adaptation strategies
  • Everything may be okay now, but it won’t be in the future if we don’t work on it now – America Competes Act
Question: What can we do?
  • #1: Urge you to talk to Congresspeople to keep K-12 education on the front burner
  • #2: Local action on energy and sustainability issues in health and security context; get young people involved