Engineer of 2020 Initiative

To remain competitive in a financially uncertain and rapidly changing global economy, engineering companies and businesses need a workforce that is not only technically competent, but that is also broadly knowledgeable, adaptable, and nimble. While the ABET a-k criteria (PDF) have added to the breadth of most engineering curricula, they fail to emphasize key skills such as leadership, innovation, entrepreneurship, and managing change.

The need for the "renaissance engineer"

Our Engineer of 2020 initiative has served as a catalyst to encourage our faculty to think about the critical skills and abilities our graduates are going to need in this new century. The initiative began in 2004 after the release of the NAE publication "The Engineer of 2020: Visions of Engineering in the New Century."

Our previous ABET review had already established that companies are seeking an increasingly broader set of skills in graduates – what we have termed renaissance engineers. These are technically proficient engineering graduates whose education extends into many other areas – both technical and non-technical.

Setting the target

How do you adapt an engineering program to meet the changing needs of 21st century graduates? Our first step was to engage our faculty and other constituents (alumni, employers, students, etc.) in an extended discussion about the target attributes we need to develop in our students. After two years of discussions and at times heated debate, Purdue's Engineer of 2020 Target Attributes were approved by our faculty.

The 20 target attributes are listed below under the headings of abilities, knowledge areas, and qualities.

Vision: Purdue Engineers will be prepared for leadership roles in responding to the global technological, economic, and societal challenges of the 21st century.
Strategy: We will provide educational experiences that develop students' knowledge areas, abilities, and qualities to enable them to identify needs and construct effective solutions in an economically, socially, and culturally relevant manner.
  • leadership
  • teamwork
  • communication
  • decision-making
  • recognize & manage change
  • work effectively in diverse & multicultural environments
  • work effectively in the global engineering profession
  • synthesize engineering, business, and societal perspectives
Knowledge Areas
  • science & math
  • engineering fundamentals
  • analytical skills
  • open-ended design & problem solving skills
  • multidisciplinarity within and beyond engineering
  • integration of analytical, problem solving, and design skills
  • innovative
  • strong work ethic
  • ethically responsible in a global, social, intellectual, and technological context
  • adaptable in a changing environment
  • entrepreneurial and intrapreneurial
  • curious and persistent continuous learners
The Three Pillars of the Purdue Engineering Undergraduate Education

Implementing strategies for change

As the needs of industry change, we need to adapt our curricula to encourage these attributes in our graduates so they'll be positioned for success in today's economy. Our strategies for fostering change are four-fold:

Engineer of 2020 workshop
We will organize and sponsor an annual Engineer of 2020 workshop focused on three key attributes, using material and international experts to guide our discussion. The chosen attributes will be rotated on an annual basis.

Engineer of 2020 seed grant program
We will coordinate, evaluate, and administer an annual Engineer of 2020 seed grant program. Proposals will be evaluated on a competitive basis based on the potential importance and relevancy to the related target attributes.

Travel funds to strategic workshops and conferences
We will provide funding for faculty and/or staff on a select basis to attend strategic conferences and workshops relevant to the target attributes. Awardees will be expected to provide a summary report of lessons learned.

Sharing of best practices
We will facilitate the sharing of best practices among the schools in the College and promote cross-disciplinary curriculum innovation related to the target attributes.


Most of our faculty agree that these 20 target attributes are important. The next step is to reach a consensus that it's urgently necessary to make the change happen now.