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From the Head: 07/25/2016

A Courageous, Compassionate Community

Over the next three weeks I will share some departing thoughts on our School of Engineering Education. Since launching the ENE Memo on August 15, 2011, I have presented this weekly essay as a way to reflect on how we were travelling as a community and to encourage us to strive to be the best that we can be. The first of these final three essays is titled, A Courageous, Compassionate Community.

The very existence of our School of Engineering Education reflects bold decisions and daring; a visionary act of courage on the part of many people - academic leaders, administrators, faculty, staff and students. It is never easy to be the first; to step into the unknown; to make a calculated risk and imagine a different future.

Our founding faculty put their future careers on the line. There were no guarantees. Would junior faculty get tenure? Would mid-career faculty make full professor? The coming together of Freshman Engineering (founded in 1953) and the Interdisciplinary Engineering Program (founded in 1969) plus the creation of an innovative graduate program to form ENE also presented unique challenges for staff and students who joined this unfamiliar and emerging academic unit.

The creation of the Ideas to Innovation Learning Laboratory and the Artisan and Fabrication Laboratory (2005-07) was a collaboration of faculty and staff who demonstrated imagination and displayed courage and persistence against opposition as they pioneered a new approach to learning environments at Purdue. Our faculty and staff also displayed comparable courage to overcome resistance in proposing and successfully implementing the more student-centered first-year engineering courses (2006-9); replacing large lecture sections of over 400 students with active, collaborative learning in teams of four students and what became a flipped classroom experience. The subsequent development of the IMPACT program, new flexible class rooms around campus and now the Wimeth Active Learning Center at Purdue vindicated the courage shown by our community. There are numerous other examples over the years of this community demonstrating the courage to shape a better future.

In 2008, following an extensive consultative process, our community committed to a vision of a more inclusive socially connected and scholarly engineering education. By radically rethinking the boundaries of engineering and the purpose of engineering education we showed that we were also a compassionate community, both in terms of the types of futures we imagined for society through the work of engineers and how these might be realized. Our compassionate approach is expressed in the issues we care about, the teaching and organizational practices we adopt and aspire to and the matters we choose to investigate through our research.

In earlier essays I highlighted several authors who explore ways to foster courage and compassion in who we are and how we work in community to create meaning and purpose. It is worth revisiting the wisdom of Brene Brown, Daring Greatly and Bernie Roth, the Achievement Habit.

The resolve to act boldly, the courage to challenge accepted practice and the resilience to persist against countervailing forces that this community has amply demonstrated throughout its brief history will be just as critical for our success going forward. The landscape of engineering education research and innovation is changing nationally and globally. New academic units and graduate programs are emerging, creating both competition and enhanced opportunities for collaboration. Questions remain about the long term certainty of traditional sources of research funding. Nevertheless, the future is full of promise for those prepared to shape it.

By following a compassionate path in transforming engineering education, we choose, in the words of President Kennedy, to do these things “not because they are easy, but because they are hard; because that goal will serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills, because that challenge is one that we are willing to accept, one we are unwilling to postpone, and one we intend to win”.

... David