How do we change the mindset that engineers can also save lives?
It's going to take a while. There are some great efforts around to try to change the image of engineering. Right now, people think of engineering in terms of Dilbert as where they associate science with the Nobel Prize. How many people know who won the Draper Prize? There is a branding problem. While we're working on that branding, we also need to address the problem of how we prepare engineers. If we get high-school students excited about engineering and then in their first calculus class, the professor says "look to your left, look to your right. Two of the three of you won’t graduate," that's false advertising. That practice still exists on most college campuses.
What's your impression of the "maker" movement? Do you think things like Raspberry Pi are opening up a new generation of engineers?
The maker movement is very exciting. It has the potential for some real positive change in engineering education. The maker community culture is very empowering. There's a lot of opportunity in engineering education if we embrace that culture. It gives people a feeling of "I can do it." It's all about intrinsic motivation and a growth mindset, giving people the feeling that "if I keep doing this, I can get better at it."
How do you integrate the maker culture into engineering education?
We can start by questioning some of the premises we have from our own educational background. Engineering educators often make the assumption of "they can't do that yet, they need more background." That is, you need to have enough of a math, science, and engineering background before you can design and realize something in the world. That's clearly not the case in the maker community. People are building things without having the background. In some cases, they're making some really bad design decisions but they're learning an enormous amount and raising their self-esteem. Anyone who has designed a product knows that the reason you build a prototype to learn and make a better design on the next iteration.
The maker ethos is not a totally radical idea, it's being done all over. It's important to get students to work as engineers in their first year of college as opposed to working as students in science and math for three years, then working as an engineer in a senior design class. I think that if students work as engineers designing things right away, they'll be a lot more engaged in their education.
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