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Exploring engineering education
CE News deserves our praise and gratitude for the excellent article by Shanon Fauerbach, P.E., in the June 2010 issue. As a practitioner for 50+ years currently lecturing on the subject of forensic structural engineering at Portland State University, I have some thoughts to share. Actually, with a foot in each camp it seems equally important that both points of view be supported.
One way to get real-world knowledge to students is to use the services of retired engineers to pass on the knowledge they obtained “the hard way,” by noting missteps along the way. Our own course is taught by Professor Franz Rad, Ph.D, P.E., S.E., with guest lecturers using cases from their own files as examples. These retired professionals contribute their own knowledge and derive great satisfaction from watching [students’] gleam of understanding and answering questions from students indicating [their] understanding and further interest.
Rad notes and corrects spelling and grammatical errors in the weekly homework. The quality of the reports improve rapidly as the term progresses. The progress of the students is reflected in the character of their term projects presented to the class. And the worth of the whole endeavor is reflected by the grading comments from students. The main theme is, “Thanks for sharing your experiences and giving us a great taste of the real world of engineering.”
Art James, P.E., S.E.
I was very pleased to read Shanon Fauerbach, P.E.’s article, “Exploring engineering education,” in the June 2010 issue of CE News. In many ways, she hit the nail right on the head with her major theme of getting practitioners involved with civil engineering (CE) education. When I began my involvement as a practitioner with CE education, I was told that “civil engineering education is too important to be left to the educators.” And that has never been more true than it is today.
I have been a consulting geotechnical engineer for [more than] 38 years, but I have been heavily involved with CE education since the mid 1980s by serving on seven industrial advisory committees at various universities and serving as an ABET program evaluator, team chair, and ultimately as ABET president. I have also served on many ASCE education-related committees, including serving as chair of the Body of Knowledge second edition (BOK2) committee. It is from this last perspective that I wish to comment on the article.
When we started working on BOK2, we formed the committee with the intent of having an equal balance of educators and practitioners so all sides would have a place at the table. The committee agreed that in the educational process of future civil engineers, the practitioners must play a meaningful role in order to accomplish what needed to be accomplished, and not all of the formal education could be accomplished at the baccalaureate level. This second point, which is often referred to as the “master’s or equivalent,” has received most of the attention from the press and practicing civil engineers, and very little attention has been given to the role of practitioners in the process.
Fifteen of the 24 outcomes identified in the BOK2 require practitioner involvement in the achievement of the specified outcomes. These 15 outcomes include all nine of the “Professional” outcomes, which Fauerbach refers to as the “soft” skills. In our committee, we banned the use of the term “soft” skills because of the negative connotations involved with the word “soft,” and the importance of these professional skills to the successful practicing engineer. Without a highly developed level of achievement in these professional skills, an engineer may be relegated to sitting in the corner being “fed” engineering problems given to him/her by the leaders of the firm. We wanted all civil engineers to have the education and training to become leaders in the built environment.
I applaud Fauerbach’s attention to the role of the practitioner in the education of civil engineers. I also urge practitioners to get involved with their local civil engineering program or the one at their alma mater. Chapter 4 of the BOK2 provides guidance on how a practitioner can get involved and be a mentor to a young engineer to help him/her get off to a successful start in their professional career. Free PDF copies of the entire BOK2 document can be downloaded from the ASCE website at www.asce.org/uploadedFiles/Leadership_Training_-_New/BOK2E_(ASCE_2008)_ebook.pdf. Thank you for pointing out how my peers in the civil engineering community can and must get involved in civil engineering education.
Richard O. Anderson, P.E., Dist.M.ASCE