Who will Engineer our Changing World?

Nancy Anderson
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In a Nanowerk Spotlight commentary, the website presents an interesting take on the waning interest of American students in engineering careers. Did you know there was actually a congressional act put in place to direct some of these efforts? The following is a selection of excerpts from that site.

When the U.S. enacted its 21st Century Nanotechnology Research and Development Act in 2003 it was clearly understood that the impact of nanotechnologies on all aspects of society would be deeply transformational. As the National Nanotechnology Initiative was set up, its goals were not only defined as "maintaining a world-class research and development program aimed at realizing the full potential of nanotechnology" but also to "facilitate transfer of new technologies into products for economic growth, jobs, and other public benefit."

The first part regarding world-class R&D is happening. The second part, converting the R&D results into economic growth and jobs, is nowhere to be seen yet. Who will define the role of educating the future generations of engineers that are required to transform the industrial base from today's macrotechnologies to tomorrow's nanotechnologies?

A strategic roadmapping exercise by the Millennium Project at the University of Michigan resulted in a report ("Engineering for a Changing World – A Roadmap to the Future of Engineering Practice, Research, and Education") which concludes that the complex challenges facing the U.S. will require American engineers with a much higher level of education in professional skills, innovation, entrepreneurship, and global engineering practice.

A National Science Board report says: “The number of Americans receiving scientific degrees fell to seventeenth in the world, down from third place 30 years ago and in engineering specifically, universities in Asian countries now produce eight times as many bachelor's degrees as in the United States.”

Also, the proportional emphasis on science and engineering is greater in Asian countries. Those degrees now represent 60 percent of all bachelors earned in China but only 31% in the United States. Factoring out science degrees, the number of Americans graduating in engineering is 5 percent, compared to China's 46 percent.

The Michigan study reports similar trends: "In recent years there has been a growing concern about the supply of American engineers ...there has been a noticeable decline in interest in careers in science and engineering over the past two decades. In the United States, baccalaureate engineering graduates dropped from 1985 to the mid-1990s, recovering only recently to near previous levels. Undergraduate enrollments have now leveled off but begun to decline again over the past three years with only 55% of engineering students actually graduating. Masters degree enrollments also declined while PhD enrollments have leveled off. Of more concern is the fact that today 40% of the engineering masters degree recipients and 61% of the engineering PhDs in the US are foreign nationals, raising the concern that U.S. citizens students show declining interest in graduate studies in engineering."

I’m concerned, how about you? I really thought EVERYONE wanted to be an engineer! It sounds like we have some PR to do in order to make engineering popular again. Join a local group, mentor at a school or work, talk to your kids; whatever it takes! Let’s turn this trend around now!

By K.B. Elliott

K. B. Elliott is a freelance writer for Engineer-Jobs.com. Working many related positions in the Detroit area for over 30 years gives him a unique perspective on the process. To read more of his blogs, please go to Engineer-Jobsblog.com, and be sure to check out the postings for jobs in nearly any industry at Nexxt

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