11 November 2008

Engineering Dropouts

I have a memory of my first day at my first undergraduate Electrical Engineering (EE) course. Mind you, this memory is over 20 years old and has been told enough times that I can no longer be sure it has not been embellished. But it goes something like this ...

I am sitting in the middle of the Atwater Kent 200-seat lecture hall between two of my friends from freshman-year. Our professor starts the class by asking us to look to our right, and then our left. One of us, he says, will not be in the EE program next semester.
He was probably right in the aggregate, but in my case, my friends and I stayed in the EE program and graduated. It was our sophmore year, and we already had watched a number of friends decide that either college in general, or math in specific, wasn't for them.

I don't think this was an unusual experience for EE students at the time. It was during what Thomas K. Grose recently described as the "old sink-or-swim days of engineering education."

I also don't remember that first EE course being anything but theory: attending lectures, reading the text, and solving (lots of!) problems for homework. Of course, over the past decades, things have changed significantly, right?

Perhaps, not. Listen to former National Academy of Engineering (NAE) President William A. Wulf discuss what's wrong with Engineering education:


Yesterday, Don Dodge asked on his blog, How is it acceptable that 50% of students drop out? It's not.

I have read a number of articles on the shortcomings of engineering education over the years. A quick Google search for a set of recent public examples turns up:
If I'm happy, can this be EE school? (2004)
Engineering schools that tie theory and practice together retain more students (2007)
Top 5 Reasons It Sucks to Be an Engineering Student (2008)
I do think that one of the reasons I stuck with EE was the project-oriented curriculum under WPI's "Plan" (Part I and Part II). I also remember that once I got through the first two semesters of basic circuits and into a more focused EE curriculum (sometimes called a track or thread), I felt a sense of belonging to a group of professionals with a distinguished history at the school.

Since graduating from WPI, I stayed interested in EE; studying wireless and network communications, network security, teaching EE at USMA and getting my FCC Amateur Radio license. I consider that a success of my undergrad experience. I sincerely hope other professors provide to their EE students what my WPI professors gave me.

Related:
Science and Engineering Indicators 2008: Higher Education in Science and Engineering
Top 10 Amazing Physics Videos

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Investing in Education: The ARRL Amateur Radio Education & Technology Program

1 comment:

control valves said...

I believe construction of such projects requires knowledge of engineering and management principles and business procedures, economics, and human behavior.