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Time to Update Engineering Colleges

July 21, 2016
It’s time engineering colleges took a look at their curriculums and majors and made some changes. There’s already almost too much...

It’s time engineering colleges took a look at their curriculums and majors and made some changes. There’s already almost too much “essential” engineering knowledge these days to expect graduates coming out of traditional discipline tracks (EE, Mech E, Materials, even Civil E) to be productive in their first year or more in real engineering jobs. More co-ops couldn’t hurt, especially if they emphasized hands-on time with modern manufacturing tools (CNC, metalworking, injection modeling, IC design and construction).

The concept of a core of engineering courses seems like a good one. It provides a common base of need-to-know information and gives all the engineering students something in common. But that core should be updated to weed out courses that are a waste of time and money. For example, one course that apparently could be tossed is Differential Equations. It was voted the most useless course in a landslide in an informal poll of our audience a few years ago. One retired electrical engineer explained that the course was taught mostly to keep math professors busy and employed. Required physics courses on quantum mechanics and special relativity also failed to prove useful in most engineering careers.

There also some engineering schools that require Phys Ed. Now while the gyms, swimming pools, playing fields, and courts are nice to have, they don’t contribute much to an engineering education. If I were cynical, I’d say Phys Ed requirements are a roundabout way to keep coaches employed.

The core courses should also be expanded to include topics every good engineer should be familiar with, such as intellectual property law, the economics of manufacturing, engineering ethics, and written and oral communications. Then you can get rid of any requirements in humanities and social studies. The library has everything students will ever need to know in those subjects.

Perhaps adding a few new majors might also make sense. For example:
Robotics Engineering: Students would learn about industrial robots and automating assembly, agricultural, and even service processes. Courses could focus on motion control (electrical and mechanical engineering), software, AI, sensors, manufacturing processes, and safety.
Test and Measurement Engineering: This discipline would prepare graduates for the various types of testing, data acquisition, and analytics needed across all industries and disciplines these days. Courses would cover statistical sampling and analysis, various quality tools (SPC, Six Sigma, FMEA), DAQ, CMM, and material/metal testing.

Fastening and Joining Engineering: Without engineers who know how to attach one part to another, the modern world would fall apart. But I can’t recall any courses in my engineering education that touched on the multidisciplinary topic. Students should get a good grounding in screws, threads, bolts, rivets, pins, and joints, as well as adhesives and metal joining with soldering, brazing, and welding. Fastening techniques like hook-and-pile (i.e., Velcro), zippers, and others should also be touched on as well as gaskets and seals.

Are there any changes you would like see made to engineering college requirements? Share your comments below.

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