Reengineering Engineering

When we think of educating engineers, we tend to picture numbers and inclined planes rather than Socrates in a robe.

That, argue the Big Beacon movement’s Mark Somerville and David Goldberg in an article in the Huffington Post, is something that ought to change—at least a little. Yes, we’ve done great work in trying out new approaches to educating tomorrow’s engineers. But, write the authors, “What the work hasn’t addressed as much . . . is one key fundamental question: What are the underlying values in engineering education?”

They propose four: trust, joy, connection and courage—all of which, we’d add, are virtues that could well enhance just about any particular profession and management in general.

As Somerville and Goldberg see it, instructors must trust students, the work must be more joyful, students must work more as a team than as atomized warriors, and everyone must take more chances. “Let’s support and reinforce the idea—and the reality—that learning engineering can be a joyful experience, filled with passion, play, and purpose,” the authors conclude.

Peter Drucker, who liked to stress both the necessity of creativity in approaches to education and the bedrock of values, would have loved the approach. “There is no education without moral values,” he wrote in The New Realities. “To slough off moral values, as modern education proposes to do, only means that education conveys the wrong values.”

Image credit: Alfred Hermida

Drucker also would have agreed heartily that students should learn to work as allies rather than as lone warriors. One problem of modern education was, in Drucker’s view, that it failed to teach the student how to function in an actual enterprise.

“No education institution—not even the graduate school of management—tries to equip students with the elementary skill of effectiveness as members of an organization,” he asserted. Nor did students acquire “skill in making organization a tool for one’s own aspirations and achievements and for the realization of values.” Drucker noted that these were “very much the concerns that Socrates in Plato’s dialogues talked about 2,500 years ago as the keys to a life worth living.”

How do you think data-driven fields like science and engineering ought to incorporate values into their curricula—if at all?