Share the Future IV

Systemic Engineering Education Reform:  It's About Time
Frank Splitt
Northwestern University
Evanston, Illinois

A myriad of articles, papers, books, and workshop and conference proceedings have made a compelling case for systemic engineering education reform and a new paradigm for engineering education. The new paradigm goes beyond the need to keep students at the cutting edge of technology and calls for a better balance in the various areas of engineering school scholarship. Commitment to the realization of the new paradigm will yield renaissance-engineer graduates with the tools to face an unpredictable future with confidence in their abilities and yield untold benefits to the world in which they will live.

Although there has been progress, resistance to change continues unabated, in spite of the numerous calls for action, increasing competition from alternate service providers, as well as student-pipeline and job-security issues. A survey conducted by the Boyer Commission indicated that research universities have invested considerable effort in improving undergraduate education in recent years, but it also suggests that most efforts have been directed at the best students.

Achieving change via engineering education reform presents a formidable challenge, given academe’s bias toward preservation of the status quo, in which publications and research funding drive rewards and recognition. This is a complex age of rapid change in which different points of view and conflicting interests characterize the stakeholders who often resemble disconnected parties. Recent times have seen no clear path forward and an apparent absence of focused, action-oriented leadership. Also, the engineering education reform movement has been clouded by mixed, and sometimes disquieting, messages of equivocation that could be interpreted as saying that there need be no sense of urgency about engineering education reform. So systemic change continues to proceed at geologic speed.

Although most change unfolds gradually, this seems to be a time when conditions are right to create a breakthrough. After providing a brief historical background on engineering education reform, this presentation summarizes related barriers to change and the current status of various reform efforts aimed at accelerating the pace of change—in particular, diffusing the idea of systemic reform via the Campaign for Systemic Engineering Education Reform. Background material is available at



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