An engineering call to creativity and imagination

Author: Tom Malott (BSME 1962, HDR 2002)
Since graduating as a Purdue ME in 1962, I have witnessed the world "flatten" from both economic and cultural perspectives.

Tom and Sandra MalottOur nation now faces a far more challenging playing field than my generation did. Some even argue that America has lost its economic advantage. During the “good times,” (1945 through the 1970s) many leaders got “a little fat, dumb, and happy,” selling most anything they made. There was a euphoric feeling that Americans could do no wrong.

A wake-up call came in the 1970s with the first oil crisis. Consumers discovered that Japanese cars were not only economical, but also had quality plus innovative features. Global economic forces further increased through transportation, the Internet, television, and the American university system that attracts the best and brightest students from around the world. This helps build a more prosperous world, but the impact on the U.S. economy has been life-changing for many.

For the U.S. to regain its growth, we have to return to “Yankee ingenuity” or, in other words, win at innovating. Money flows to what customers perceive as value but even more so to “I gotta have one.” Apple’s iPhone is a great example. It has many features designed with “gotta have” esthetics.  Even though it sells for twice as much as other smart phones, customers around the world stand in line to buy new releases. This is innovation!

Apple changed the game on its competitors. The only way for our country to regain its wealth is through innovation to society. Universities must graduate engineers ready to enter the workforce skilled in developing innovative solutions that change the global playing field.

Purdue has earned a reputation for graduating engineers who contribute greatly to economic growth through leadership in design, development, research, business management, education, the Armed Forces, and the space program. Our school fosters the innovative spirit. Beyond these design process principles, students learn creativity, teamwork, multidisciplinary engineering, prototype fabrication, and communication skills.

Globalization means that the competition for Purdue ME includes international universities. Because of this, we need to become more engaged with our school and its faculty by helping stimulate ideas and programs that will keep Purdue ME recognized globally as a premier institution. If we are not willing to step up to the plate to face these growing global challenges, we are at grave risk of allowing U.S. engineering to lose its leadership position to other countries. If this happens, it would be the proverbial “stake in the heart” of our future economic growth.

For these reasons my wife Sandra and I have funded two endowments for Mechanical Engineering. The first, a global initiative, gives students a true international engineering and cultural experience. This led to the
establishment of the Global Engineering Alliance for Research and Education (GEARE). Through GEARE and other associated programs, the Purdue ME students’ participation rate in international programs is four times that of other U.S. engineering schools, and is growing at a rate seven times faster. My wife and I could not be happier with the success the faculty has brought to this program.

However, learning to function in a global economy alone will not drive economic dominance. Inventive improvisation has led to most of the advances we have seen, created opportunities for personal advancement, and spurred American prosperity.

We feel so strongly about the need for our students to have innovative skills that our second endowment is aimed at fostering innovation through ME’s design courses by having the teams’ products judged for originality and inventiveness (a market), and by providing financial rewards to those teams with the most innovative concepts (economic reward).

After reading the article (next page) focusing on the most recent Innovative Awards Competition, I think you will agree that the Purdue ME legacy is in good hands. I also ask you to help our school further improve our leadership position in this changing world, by passing on ideas to the faculty and by giving whatever financial support your circumstances allow.