Electronic Design

Engineering Education: Who's Teaching The Teachers?

Today's advances in technology that we almost take for granted are the result of hard work, fortuitous discoveries, and innovative thinking. But the accelerated pace of the industry requires that designers rapidly acquire the knowledge and know-how to develop next-generation technologies and products. This pace of development very often outstrips the ability of the universities and other institutions to evolve their curriculums quickly enough to keep pace. In fact, school curriculums are often years behind what the industry actually needs.

In the past, universities with engineering programs frequently graduated students who only had "generic" classes and perhaps a few electives. Such engineering programs provided the fresh talent that often required several additional years of on-the-job experience before the new engineer could tackle any of the many very specialized application niches. Today, with demanding development schedules, companies need designers with specialized knowledge and don't have the luxury of time for a new hire to get up to speed.

In this industry, we know that school is just the beginning of learning. Keeping current requires the combination of hands-on work, post-graduate education, attendance at technology-specific seminars and conferences, and a lot more. But the foundation for much of this goes back to the colleges and universities and to working with them to continually update their curriculums. Unfortunately, the bureaucratic atmosphere and certification requirements of most universities often inhibit curriculum changes, and this limits the speed at which degree programs can be updated.

Yet when curriculums are updated, the resources must be in place to teach the new courses. That could be where there's a significant shortfall of teachers. Just as the students must learn new technologies, so must the teachers who teach them.

Many college engineering instructors maintain links to the industry by serving as consultants to high-tech companies. Some also strike up "partnerships" in which the university could receive research grants funded by companies to study or analyze a particular problem or design challenge. Additionally, the instructors regularly attend industry conferences and symposia.

I wonder, though, if all of this is really sufficient to satisfy the educational needs of the teachers. Can the industry do more to prepare the universities for the future? Should more industry experts be recruited as visiting instructors? Can the industry increase the amount of hardware and software that it donates to the schools to help keep the laboratories and curriculums as up to date as possible? Should the industry also work hand in hand with the schools to help define curriculum changes? What do you think should be done to improve engineering education?

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