Fall 2005 Newsletter

From the Dean

Dean Katehi

In this Alumni e-Newsletter, we give you an update on Purdue Engineering's efforts to revolutionize the way we teach and prepare our students for their careers in an increasingly global and changing world.

Just last year, Purdue Engineering launched the nation's first Department of Engineering Education, and we'll be the first university to offer graduate degrees in engineering education.

As we continue our leadership role in redefining engineering education, Purdue Engineering's Curriculum Reform Task Force is creating a new approach to educating engineers and is also identifying key attributes that will characterize Purdue engineers well into the future.

We're pleased to report on our progress in revolutionizing engineering education at Purdue.


Linda P. B. Katehi
John A. Edwardson Dean of Engineering

Feature: Education Revolution

The engineers of tomorrow will be faced with a world much different than today. As technological advancements continue to erase our globe's geographical borders and the world population continues to balloon, our students will be asked to solve pressing issues dealing with economic development, poverty, the environment, healthcare, and energy—to name a few. We're at a tipping point in our history and we're now called to collaborate and secure our position as a leader in innovation. We're determined to revolutionize our curriculum to prepare our students for their 21st century careers in an increasingly global and fast-changing world.

The Workforce Challenge

There's no doubt that engineering plays a key role in the world's economic development and in improving the quality of life for all. U.S. universities have been the world leaders in engineering education for over half a century, but there are many indicators that engineering and, in particular, engineering in the United States, is at a critical turning point:

  • Interest in engineering among U.S. high school students is declining: The U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Educational Statistics reports that high school student interest in engineering has decreased 18% since 1991, while interest in many other disciplines has grown.
  • Despite many university programs, several key groups remain under-represented in engineering. Since 2000, national enrollment of women in the first year of engineering has dropped from 19% to 16%. Over the same period, enrollment of African American, Hispanic, and Native American first-year students has fallen from 17% to 16%.
  • Globalization is having a dramatic impact on engineering jobs as well as on where engineering students are being educated. Only 5% of U.S. students are graduating in engineering, compared to 13% in the European Union and 17% in Asia.
  • In 1985, the U.S. and China graduated the same number of students with their first degree in engineering, at approximately 85,000. Now at 75,000 per year, the graduation rate of engineers in the U.S. is up from the mid-1990's low of 65,000, but far below the over 200,000 per year (and growing) currently seen in both China and India .

It's not only the demographics that are calling out for change. Current estimates place the half-life of engineering knowledge—the time interval in which half of what an engineer knows becomes obsolete—at between 2.5 and 7.5 years, with an average estimate of 5 years. Engineering curricula are faced with the challenge of developing students who are learners for life. And the newest technology areas—biotechnology, nanotechnology, materials and photonics, information and communications technology, systems engineering, and logistics—require bridging disciplines in ways that challenge traditional discipline-centered curricula.

The message is clear: the time is now to revolutionize the engineering curriculum, so that we are attracting and retaining top talent and producing globally competent and competitive engineers.

Addressing the Issue

In the fall of '04, Purdue Engineering's Curriculum Reform Task Force set out to create a blueprint that will guide our college's curriculum design and reform to ensure that we will be preeminent in educating the next generation of engineers and engineering leaders.

The task force includes representatives from each of Purdue Engineering's 11 schools; representatives from the Colleges of Science, Technology, and Liberal Arts; and alumni and industry leaders.

Phase I of the curriculum reform initiative began in November '04 and will end April '06. This phase will identify (a) the college-wide attributes that will characterize Purdue Engineering graduates over the next 20 years, and (b) the key attributes of an engineering curriculum that prepares our students for 21st–century careers.

Beginning in '06, Phase II will implement changes to Purdue Engineering's curriculum—but not before much discussion with faculty, students, alumni, and leaders within industry and higher education.

To date, the task force has been heavily involved in discussing the drivers and directions for curriculum reform within Purdue Engineering. Focus groups are identifying key areas for changes such as: increased emphasis on adaptive learning and problem solving; increased opportunities for practicum through vehicles such as EPICS, co-op, research, and competitions; creation of opportunities for interdisciplinary study and international experiences; and pruning the curriculum to a leaner set of general and disciplinary foundations.

These focus groups are also working to explore what will distinguish Purdue Engineering graduates in future professional settings and from other engineers.

The work underway is not limited to the task force alone. Presentations and discussions about curriculum reform have taken place in each of our school's faculty committees. An estimated 50-70% of the engineering faculty have participated in these discussions.

The Future Engineer

In late August '05, Purdue invited key speakers from higher education and industry to discuss the direction of engineering education in the United States and to discuss the attributes of the future engineer.

National Academy of Engineering President Bill Wulf began the day-long discussion with a stunning message: "We're boring them to death!"

Speaking in front of a standing-room-only crowd, Dr. Wulf emphasized the need to focus on what an engineer will be doing 20 years from now and then determine the education needed to prepare that engineer for the future.

He suggested, along the lines of the NAE Engineer of 2020 report, that we'll have a global economy and a growing need for interdisciplinary, systems-based engineering. Engineers will better represent the world's population, and be involved in public policy at greater levels as technology is integrated into infrastructure and individuals' lives.

Stephen Director, provost at Drexel University, also participated in the August workshop. His message, too, was clear: "The world has changed…Globalization will dramatically impact what engineers do. A lot of routine engineering we've been teaching is likely to be subject to outsourcing."

Workshop participants agreed that students are learning differently today, and there's a need to deliver material and to structure courses much differently. This includes an increased focus on design and research experience.

Industry leaders speaking at the workshop emphasized the need for engineers who are able to not only lead teams, but to work on teams with non-engineers. They're looking for engineers who can communicate ideas and concepts to people unfamiliar with the topics.

Cathleen Barton, U.S. Education Manager at Intel, challenged educators to educate U.S. engineers to be the most productive and creative in the world, and to be prepared for broader roles and responsibilities.

The day ended with participants widely agreeing that there's much work to do and we'd better roll up our sleeves and get busy.

Purdue Engineering's Progress

Engineering education at Purdue made headlines in 2004 with the launch of the nation's first Department of Engineering Education, headed by Kamyar Haghighi. This department oversees the First-Year Engineering program for about 1,600 freshmen and will grant the nation's first graduate degrees in engineering education.

It's also building a base for continued engineering education research.

The hope is for this research to answer key questions: what is fundamental engineering knowledge and what are the best ways for students to acquire it; what leads to critical thinking, open-ended problem solving, innovation, and creativity; how do we attract more talented and diverse students; and how do we make learning more interactive and the ultimate measure of Purdue's educational success?

The goal of these ongoing efforts is to prepare Purdue engineers for tomorrow's job market and for our engineers to have a set of professional skills that distinguishes them from other engineers.

Purdue Engineering wants to create life-long learners who are globally effective and understand their potential to impact the world and improve quality of life for all. We want our students to be broad thinkers and able to compete on the global playing field.

Taking our curriculum and turning it around, or inside out, will not be an easy task. But, we can't afford not to undergo needed change. The future of engineering education, the future of our students, and the future of our nation and world depend on our ability to adapt and grow—and Purdue Engineering is taking on the challenge.

* For information about Purdue's Curriculum Reform Initiative, contact Leah Jamieson, Associate Dean for Undergraduate Education and co-chair of the Curriculum Reform Task Force (lhj@purdue.edu, 765-494-4966).

Attributes of Purdue's Future Engineer: Continued Importance

  • Technical leadership of faculty
  • Knowledge of engineering fundamentals, science, and math
  • Open-ended design and problem-solving skills
  • Computer and internet skills; learn and integrate new tools
  • Ability to build real projects
  • Engineering judgment
  • Communication skills
  • Professional ethics
  • Strong Work ethic
  • Ability to identify/Formulate problems
  • Understanding of context of ideas and technologies

Attributes of Purdue's Future Engineer: Projected Increase in Importance

  • Multidisciplinary in faculty, students, and curriculum
  • Distance education; learning in virtual space; lifelong learners
  • Effectiveness on teams as leaders
  • Recognizing, accepting, and managing change
  • Dynamism, agility, resilience, and flexibility
  • Ability to innovate
  • Broad thinkers in and out of the discipline

Attributes of Purdue's Future Engineer: Projected Decrease in Importance

  • Textbook authoring
  • Completion of degree in 4 years
  • Graduate as “soldiers” in the workforce

Research Update

The Summer Undergraduate Research Fellowship program (SURF) is designed to provide an opportunity for undergraduate students to do research in laboratories under the guidance of a faculty member and a graduate student mentor.

The SURF program was initiated in 2003 using a portion of an unrestricted gift from Purdue alumnus Patrick Wang. Purdue Engineering launched the program to meet the increasing needs of academia and industry by providing a dedicated laboratory experience to strengthen integrated, research-related, hands-on learning for participating students. The first two years of the program were dedicated to creating an awareness of the educational benefits for students. In 2005, with funding from Intel and NSF, the SURF program rapidly expanded to 162 students including 42 female students and 33 minority students. Nineteen students from institutions other than Purdue enriched the program.


Up Close

A Conversation with Ronna Robertson, B.S., Chemical Engineering, 1992

Ronna F. Robertson is currently serving as the 43rd president of the Society of Women Engineers (SWE), a national organization committed to helping its members aspire, advance, and achieve. In her one-year term as president, her responsibilities and duties include representing SWE to industry and education as well as the public. She also presides over all meetings of the SWE board of directors and its members.

In her professional position as technology supervisor for DuPont Engineering Research and Technology, Robertson manages the group responsible for all rotating equipment at company plants worldwide. She reflects on the benefits of her Purdue education and involvement in SWE on campus and beyond.

How long have you been involved with SWE? What prompted you to join?

  • When I entered the School of Chemical Engineering at Purdue, I immediately joined SWE, primarily because I was eager to make connections with other women studying engineering. After making that decision 18 years ago, I have found SWE, like Purdue, set high expectations, encouraged me both in education and business pursuits, energized me to reach out to others, and strive to excel at everything I do.
  • The Purdue SWE Student Section established a “buddy system” that linked each new engineering student with an upperclass woman in engineering. By happenstance, my buddy was the president of the SWE Student Section. She provided not only advice and counsel on my course work, but also promptly put me to work in the campus SWE office—giving me priceless opportunities to grow and learn.
  • Having the Purdue Student Section president as my mentor and advisor was truly fortunate. Through her counsel, I learned the values of SWE just as my education was starting. She instilled in me the values and benefits SWE offers. SWE provided guidance and advice that demonstrated to all us student members the experience and benefits of working together collaboratively. We also quickly recognized that giving back enriches the giver.

Tell us what SWE has done for you personally and professionally?

  • At Purdue, members of the SWE Student Section welcomed me into a new environment and broadened my horizons by expanding my understanding of academic and corporate expectations. SWE focused on building the confidence of new members, providing the recommendations that truly helped me over the hurdles of that first year away from home. The group provided encouragement and advice in academic, social, and career planning areas.
  • For me, SWE support and counsel was particularly valuable. Nearly every aspect of campus life was new—from selecting the appropriate courses to managing time effectively to roommate relationships. However, in addition to making the transition from high school to college, I was also transitioning from my childhood in a small town to life at a large, sophisticated university.
  • Although I had decided that I wanted to become an engineer when I was a very young child, my high school teachers and advisors did not support my choice. Once I arrived at Purdue, I discovered that my background was fairly naïve compared with that of most of my classmates. For example, I had applied only to Purdue, with no options for a safety school in case I wasn't accepted. It surprised me that most of my classmates had completed the application process for as many as a half dozen universities.
  • My leadership experience in SWE has grown from my involvement in the Society and contributed to my success throughout my career in business. Before assuming the presidency on July 1, 2005, I had served on the SWE Board of Directors as president-elect, vice president of education, and region E director.
  • It is not an overstatement to say that SWE has made substantial contributions to my career success. Through the SWE Industrial Advisory Board, I met representatives from companies that offered appealing career opportunities and opened the door to my first job.

How has your Purdue education made an impact in your professional life?

  • Purdue taught me to solve problems using steps that have proved to be successful time and again whether the issue is developing a process for the recovery of motion picture film base, increasing production capacity for manufacturing facilities, or reducing turnaround time for major facility overhauls. This knowledge transfer capability has benefited my career from day one in my first job and continues to be a major advantage in my career.
  • The engineering program at Purdue created the foundation for my professional and personal achievements. The strengths of in-depth education opened doors far beyond my expectations. With my chemical engineering knowledge and skills, I have applied my analytical and problem-solving abilities to tasks in mechanical engineering, which has been the area in which I have worked most of my career.
  • At Purdue, I learned not only how to be an engineer but also how to work collaboratively with diverse groups and how to face the constant change in the marketplace with confidence and competence.

What goals do you have for SWE?

  • Our recently adopted strategic plan outlines SWE goals and objectives and sets a timeline as well as metrics for measuring progress. One of our immediate objectives is to expand into the international arena. In his runaway best seller, The World Is Flat, author Tom Friedman states that globalization touches all individuals and organizations today. Because the companies we work for are global, it only makes sense for SWE to partner with other organizations with similar goals regardless of their locations.
  • As co-chair of Engineers Week with Northrop Grumman, SWE is planning a collaborative outreach to teachers through our Connecting Educators to Engineering initiative to be introduced in February. This program for middle school educators will show them that women in engineering have rich and rewarding careers. Teachers influence girls' decisions about their interests and their future careers. However, many teachers have little or no experience with engineers or engineering. We need to share with them the ways engineering makes lives better, safer and more enjoyable for people everywhere.
  • We hope to spark the interest of girls in kindergarten and ignite their lifelong curiosity about how things work and how things are made.

How often do you come back to the Purdue campus?

  • It's my good fortune to visit Purdue at least twice a year. Typically, I'm on campus in the fall to recruit engineering students for DuPont. In the spring, I usually participate in the annual Purdue SWE Awards Banquet. That gives me the opportunity to support the outstanding young women engineering students who are receiving recognition and rewards for their contributions and successes.

What advice do you have for women engineers who are entering the workforce?

  • As you enter your first position as an engineering graduate, stay connected to your university and to SWE. Through both, you will find the ideas, experiences and networks that help you aspire, advance and achieve in your professional and personal life.
  • Reaching our highest potential as women on personal, career, and community levels requires focus, confidence, and energy. Our purpose at SWE is to take active steps that touch you and empower you personally—on the job and in your community. And through SWE, you can touch others—improving their lives with your knowledge, compassion, and skills.


National Engineering Survey

Purdue University, along with a number of leading universities, has agreed to participate in an important survey conducted by Harris Interactive—best known for The Harris Poll.

Your input will allow us to learn more about what is happening in the world of engineering and to learn where potential changes in the discipline might be necessary.

As a graduate of Purdue University, your participation is crucial to the success of this project. We are interested in everyone's experiences, even if have never actually worked as an engineer or are not working now. The findings will enable us to better understand the experiences of our alumni on important topics regarding engineering.

The survey should only take about 15 minutes to complete.

As a token of our appreciation of your time, Harris Interactive will be sending you a brief summary of some of the key findings from this research so you can see what others in the field think.

Please be assured that the data gathered will be confidential and will be reported in the aggregate only and your name will never be associated with your responses.

To participate, please proceed to: http://hpolsurveys.com/w23304g.htm

Contact Us

Send your alumni news and thoughts on what you’d like to see in this e-newsletter to the Engineering Alumni Association at EAA@ecn.purdue.edu.