Engineering the Nation's Future

Engineering the Nation's Future

Universities' Best Practices for Preparing Engineering and Architecture Students

U.S. government and business leaders-from the National Academy of Sciences to the National Association of Manufacturers-have been sounding the alarm for greater innovation, as well as the education of the next generation of professionals who will help ensure the nation's prosperity, security and competitiveness.

They're not alone. Around the world, there is reason for concern, as many issues affecting human welfare and quality of life grow more pressing, and solutions require the expertise of designers and engineers. For example:

U.S. infrastructure earned an overall grade of D from the American Society of Civil Engineers.

Asia's oil consumption will approach that of the United States-the world's largest consumer-by the end of 2020.

By the United Nations Population Fund's estimate, within months, nearly half the world's population will live in urban centers.

For U.S. post-secondary institutions, the desperate need for the next generation of professionals who can address these problems has an added dimension, as colleges and universities grapple with student retention in engineering programs. U.S. graduation rates for engineering students declined by 23 percent between 1985 and 2000, and today, Europe and Asia graduate three to five times as many engineers as the United States.

Fortunately, real-world conditions in key design and engineering disciplines-such as manufacturing and building and construction-offer key insights and suggest promising opportunities to prepare our students for jobs in the United States and abroad. Some of the nation's universities and colleges already have instituted programs that capitalize on these insights. This paper will explore their experiences and early results.

There's no question that engineering and architecture graduates will find that plenty of U.S. jobs await them. For example, in the utilities sector, UtiliPoint reports that firms it surveyed expect 20 percent of their workforce to retire between 2007 and 2008, rising to 60 percent of the workforce over the next five years. And the National Association of Manufacturers (NAM) notes that finding qualified workers is small- and medium-size manufacturers' greatest concern-second only to health care costs.

But job definitions are evolving quickly, thanks to several global, macroeconomic forces that Autodesk has observed as a long-time technology supplier to the manufacturing, architecture, engineering and construction (AEC) and civil engineering industries. Specifically, the next generation of professionals entering these fields will encounter emerging geographic and economic markets; a boom in infrastructure; and projects that must factor in the rising cost of energy. These are the conditions that today's students will need to be prepared to address.

Jobs for engineering and architecture students are evolving in the context of physical and economic change worldwide. For example, a growing middle class in Brazil, Russia, India and China-referred to as BRIC nations-is also a growing market for goods and services. In its annual report on the global economy, the World Bank predicted that the middle classes would increase to 16.1 percent of the world's population, or 1.2 billion people, by 2030. Even before then, U.S. consultancy McKinsey predicts China's disposable income will amount to more than $1.6 billion by 2025.

This economic growth is a factor in the creation of new geographic markets. In China, SAIC, a state-owned carmaker that has joint ventures with General Motors and Volkswagen, surprised the automotive world with its speedy debut of the Roewe 750, a sedan for the mid to high end of the Chinese market. In fact, to fulfill demand for goods in new or established markets, China now boasts some 400 design schools, and South Korea and Taiwan gave Europe and the United States some stiff competition in this year's International Design Excellence Awards.

Sanjay Dhande, director of the Indian Institute of Technology in Kanpur, India (IIT-Kanpur) observes that market forces are closing a gap that presently exists between Indian students' learning and the practical application of the knowledge they acquire. Dhande believes that India's booming economy is driving greater interest in aesthetic and functional design challenges, and so academic instruction will shift to more design and project-oriented work.

Along with a rising middle class, there is a massive influx of people into the world's major cities. A United Nations Population Fund report released in June 2007 indicates that global population shift from rural areas to urban centers will put nearly one half of the world's 3.3 billion people in cities by next year.

That migration will put an incredible strain on aging utilities, streets and highways, and air and sea ports, creating tremendous pressure to repair civil infrastructure or build new roads and pipelines quickly. Emerging economies will need new energy, water and sewage systems to support growing demand. Even airports will need to accommodate new, larger aircraft like the Boeing 330, which carries 555 passengers or more and requires longer runways and more room to maneuver. And public and private entities need to be able to act quickly when infrastructure is damaged by natural disasters.

The next generation of engineers and architects will need to address unprecedented demand for goods and infrastructure-with new constraints. From continued global population growth to depletion of fossil fuel reserves, conventional energy resources are in greater demand and scarcer than ever. The cost of dwindling resources and the expense of developing new ones keep the cost of energy high-and rising higher.

That's not all. Consumers and policymakers are even making choices based on energy required for production and delivery of goods, in addition to their operation. For example, Washington State's King County Metropolitan Transit announced last April that it would switch from imported to homegrown biodiesel, to further reduce carbon dioxide emissions and support the local economy. Design and engineering professionals face a new energy challenge: sustainability in every aspect of product lifecycle, building or infrastructure development, operation, retirement, or disposal.

Companies are responding to these dramatic transitions in the global marketplace, urban infrastructure, and energy supply with a newly equal focus on form and function. Macroeconomic conditions require design-based differentiation in the global marketplace, and goods' and buildings' function must address energy and environmental conditions. Consequently, design and engineering professionals are beginning to work in ways that may depart from the conventions they studied in college.

In the manufacturing sector, companies are breaking with tradition to tackle these challenges. A recent study by research firm Aberdeen Group found that more top-performing companies took specific measures to focus on form and function. These manufacturers were more likely to simulate the performance of their design ideas in a digital model that integrated the product's appearance, its mechanical and electrical function, and even the constraints of manufacturing conditions, in order to optimize looks and operation before building a physical model.

This approach, called digital prototyping, is a departure from conventional product design, and engineers at companies like Marin Bikes are using it to ride circles around typical production. The California-based bicycle manufacturer has incorporated the concept of digital prototyping into its business, simulating 40 precision-engineered frame components' performance as the rest of the bicycle design changes. Most of its products now require just two physical prototypes instead of a half-dozen, cutting down on time and materials spent to bring products to market. Trimming waste is a long-held principle of excellence in manufacturing.

For employers like Bradford White, students who are familiar with solid modeling-an aspect of digital prototyping-arrive with a foundation of understanding that will serve them well when it comes to designing the commercial and residential water heating systems that the company makes. Jeremy Waller, advanced quality systems manager at Bradford White, says that the company wants its engineers to be able to embrace the scientific method and study the impact of changing a single element in a design.

Waller explains, "If students understand solid modeling, it's not a huge step to understand how to set up a finite element analysis." The scientific method underpins the company's systematic development of new products and components, while preserving a robust "master" design. It's especially important when the products Bradford White manufacturers must reflect both customer needs and evolving safety and energy efficiency standards and regulations.

In the building and construction industry, now is the time embrace digital prototyping, according to Bret Tushaus, vice president, Eppstein Uhen: Architects (eu:a). That has ramifications for educators, as well. "Schools, traditionally, have had less of a focus on the practical side of the business," he says. "Until recently, this approach did not pose as significant of a challenge as it now does, in an industry that is experiencing a significant evolution."

One of Wisconsin's largest architectural firms, eu:a has embraced building information modeling (BIM), an approach to building design and construction that combines aesthetics and function-structural performance, heating and cooling, and so forth-in a single digital model. Teams use BIM to assess materials and designs' performance under a range of environmental conditions, and explore ways to harness renewable resources such as daylight and rainwater.

Tushaus believes that BIM is an effective response to the rising cost of energy and resources and to the practicalities of succeeding in a competitive environment, helping firms trim waste and improve productivity, quality, and relationships with contractors and clients. That practical sensibility is something eu:a-and Tushaus believes, other firms-would welcome in new recruits.

That practical sensibility is prized in the civil engineering sector, as well. With customers that are tackling the rising cost of energy head-on, companies like Brinderson Engineers and Constructors have a vested interest in hiring graduates with a holistic understanding of their work, as well. The full-service engineering, construction, and maintenance company serves its clients in energy-related industries as a single-source solution for all engineering and construction needs. Brinderson personnel need to be able to solve problems with a holistic understanding of a plant or facility, from its structure to its machinery, ventilation systems, operation, and maintenance.

Jesse Gaytan is responsible for computer-aided design (CAD) as CAD manager at Brinderson. He is also an instructor at the Professional Development Center of Glendale Community College. While his students have some work experience under their belts, Gaytan says they need experience taking a more holistic approach to solving problems.

As companies grapple with macroeconomic forces and trends in their respective industries, they are seeking employees who've had a more holistic experience of their field of study. There are clear ramifications for post-secondary education: Conventional instruction may not provide the kinds of experiences that students need, so universities around the country are aligning instruction with workplace demand. They are bringing real-world engineering requirements, experiences and tools into the classroom to prepare students for professional practice, with a view toward defining problems more broadly and solving them in a more holistic fashion.

For example, Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University (Virginia Tech) aims to help its students become the best engineers they can be, whether in a government agency, a consulting firm, or somewhere else, according to Randy Dymond, associate professor in the university's Via Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering. The school is ranked in the top 15 by U.S. News and World Report, and professors like Dymond strive to provide students with experience focused on solving design problems, rather than drafting.

"In my experience, the industry is looking for engineers who are competent in design, not just calculations," says Dymond. "Design problems are open-ended; they require students to look at multiple options. Some answers may be more acceptable than others, based on factors ranging from regulations to client wishes. That's why our program focuses on design."

Sophomores learn the basics of working with CAD software and how to interpret civil engineering drawings such as site plans, cross sections, and profiles. That foundation is followed by "Civil and Environmental Engineering Measurements," a required, four-credit course in which students gather field survey data and use software to create 3D surface models.

In their senior year, students may elect to take "Land Development Design," in which they work closely with engineering firms to address such issues as site grading, storm water management, and erosion and sediment control-the kinds of situations that students might encounter in developing infrastructure to accommodate urban growth. The firms provide students with data for real projects that may be residential, mixed use, commercial, or clusters, in addition to information about zoning, applicable municipal codes, and so forth.

Students engage in these projects at different phases of development, providing them with exposure to different processes and techniques. They produce feasibility studies and maps to scale; develop conceptual and preliminary designs for grading and the like, and then they complete a final project layout, with site and grading plans and project profiles.

Dymond observes that the companies that participate in the Land Development Design course are eager to help give students a head-start on their careers, as well as to build a well-educated pool of candidates. For the fall 2007 semester, 10 student design groups are working with 10 mentor companies. Firms that have already participated in the course are advising newcomers to manage their own expectations and understand the students' needs and expectations. At the same time, the coursework exposes students to project what they want in their careers and prepare for future professional success.

The engineering companies participating in the course are pleased with students' acquaintance with real-world conditions, and firms hire students directly from this senior elective class. Virginia Tech's recent civil engineering job fairs have attracted "sold out" crowds and Dymond believes students are seeing many more offers as well as higher starting salaries, as a result of their education in and experience with using engineering skills to solve design problems.

The Humanitarian Engineering minor offered by the Colorado School of Mines is breaking new ground with respect to the future of engineering. It's one of just a few programs worldwide-and the only undergraduate minor-created to address the issues that arise in the construction of infrastructure in developing parts of the world.

The program was launched in 2003 by an interdisciplinary team of faculty including David Mu?oz, associate professor, Division of Engineering at the Colorado School of Mines (CSM), in response to "The Engineer of 2020," a National Academy of Engineering (NAE) Committee on Engineering Education (CEE) initiative that calls for engineers of the future to see themselves more broadly as global citizens, leaders in business, and ethically grounded in their work.

The CSM Humanitarian Engineering (HE) program intends to teach students "design under constraints to directly improve the well-being of underserved populations." In the HE program, students' aptitude for using CAD software and engineering calculations evolves into experience solving design problems that span cultural and societal issues, such as design and construction of a water system for a village in Honduras.

This current senior project has won international awards and acclaim. Participating students acquire hands-on experience with the very forces that are shaping the future of civil engineering, and gain an understanding of the lifecycle of an infrastructure project, from planning to collaboration with non-governmental organizations (NGOs) on transportation of donated materials.

Mu?oz explains, "There's a void in the engineering profession when it comes to humanitarian issues associated with building water systems, new roads and so forth in certain parts of the world. The importance of social and environmental justice, human rights, sustainable development in design-these are issues that are unavoidable and that require a new code of ethics for engineers to ensure that their work is sensitive to the needs of the local community."

In the short time since the program was launched, nearly 200 students have completed senior design projects designated as humanitarian engineering, with more than 25 students enrolled in the minor-one half of whom are women. Mu?oz reports that prospective employers are intrigued when students bring up this experience in job interviews.

From construction technology to business, architecture, and engineering, the Construction Management program at Brigham Young University (BYU) is designed to expose students to multiple disciplines that factor into the management of construction projects. Ultimately, it may prepare students for solving problems under circumstances that are changing due to project conditions or macroeconomic forces, or both.

In his classes on architectural process, Kevin Burr, associate professor, gives students experience with real-world scenarios complete with details and variables such as the building owner's profile. The classes include a lab section that introduces building information modeling. Burr finds that BIM brings together aspects of a building's development in a way that makes abstract process more tangible. As a result, students experience design and construction from a more holistic perspective. For example, when they produce a series of building exterior concepts using a variety of materials, they model and evaluate not only the aesthetic appearance, but also the performance of the materials, to determine their suitability for the project.

Early reports from students following graduation or a stint in the professional world suggest they benefit from the experience of considering multiple aspects of a project. One Master's candidate found that clients appreciated his ability to communicate how the entire structural building process would progress, in stages. This ability to consider aesthetics, function, and process at the same time helps BYU's future construction managers, architects, and engineers understand how to manage the cost, schedule, scope, and risks associated with design and construction. It is experience that is beneficial for addressing a wide range of real-world issues, from human need to dwindling resources.

Students in the Pennsylvania State University department of Architecture are encouraged to incorporate an ethic, theoretic and aesthetic statement into their fifth-year design projects. Associate Professor of Architecture Ute Poerschke observes that while sustainability is a pronounced theme, students also respond to current events, redeveloping contaminated areas, revitalizing city centers, designing disaster shelters and other projects that address global changes in natural and urban environments.

Poerschke's course on technical systems integration is closely connected to the design studio and addresses lighting, acoustics, and energy-conscious planning of the built and external environment. In conjunction with her course, an elective introduction to BIM reinforces the concepts that Poerschke's class imparts.

"Students begin to get a sense of how to use all the additional information in the building information model to understand how their designs function," says Poerschke. For example, daylighting analysis shows them how their building will shadow the surroundings or how the light will enter their building given its design and location."

What Poerschke especially wants her future architects to understand is the functional context for their work, and how they can give that aspect of a building aesthetic, ethic and conceptual relevance. "I want my students to learn how an architect can look at technical systems, not in the engineer's way of solving a more or less isolated problem, but rather, by adding an architect's holistic perspective to the engineering profession."

The workshop is a popular part of Poerschke's instruction. Now she is working with Associate Professor John Messner, a colleague in the Architectural Engineering department, to develop a class that will bring students of both disciplines together. In doing so, she anticipates that they will gain a broader understanding of what they can do with BIM, as well as an appreciation for the kind of collaboration that's necessary in the real world.

Sanjay Dhande, the director of IIT-Kanpur, credits students' acquisition of "visual intelligence" to their exposure to real-world problems and tools that lower the barriers to success. From Dhande's perspective, traditional, computation-intensive approaches to engineering demand manual sketching and 2D visualization skills that are difficult to acquire and that discourage students from entering the field.

Furthermore, traditional engineering problem solving doesn't address issues that are difficult to visualize. Dhande cites two such examples: potential interference between the steering mechanism and the wheels of a truck, and designing tooling for production of screws whose helicoidal surface had to be extruded from plastic. Dhande worked with students to address both of these problems using visualization technology, and their approach to these common challenges has become standard for manufacturing in India.

The director of IIT-Kanpur believes that moving forward, India's booming economy will influence product engineering and drive a more design-focused approach. Students' education therefore will need to emphasize real-world problems and tools that support visual intelligence-not simply an understanding of the computation required, but a holistic perspective of the problem to be solved.

Dhande has found that this approach makes engineering more accessible to would-be professionals. What's more, Dhande expects that "in the future, the lines will blur between design, engineering and manufacturing" disciplines. And in turn, he explains that students will need to learn differently. "Instead of plug-and-check, play-and-learn is more important," if students are to acquire the ability to think about both form and function in product engineering.

In addition to the major manufacturing sectors such as automotive and industrial equipment, the director of IIT-Kanpur sees potential for other sectors to benefit, such as India's handicraft arts. Dhande believes that artisan manufacturers could improve productivity and gain the power to explore new ideas and evolve traditions, paving the way for exciting new developments in product aesthetics and function. This innovation could both respond to and fuel demand in India's growing economy, and Dhande is pursuing the possibility of a center of excellence focused on the opportunity.

At Pennsylvania College of Technology (Penn College), J.D. Mather has driven a progressive curriculum based on his personal experience and understanding of manufacturing. An assistant professor at the School of Industrial and Engineering Technologies, Mather is a former machinist who can appreciate the difference between a model and a digital prototype, and he presents his students with tools and assignments that blur the lines between drafting and engineering. He has a nearly 100 percent placement rate for his students at small and large firms including a well-known power tool manufacturer.

While his goal is to equip students for the real world, he can't ignore the fact that his students genuinely enjoy their work. "Students are proud of nice-looking drawings, but they loathe changing them. It's different with simulation; they'll keep working well past an assignment's requirements just because they're inspired to perfect their work, and it pays off." One student of Mather's entered a rapid prototype in a contest and won $10,000.

These and other universities' programs share in common several elements that help students acquire the kind of experience that employers seek, whether a firm is manufacturing a product that faces competition from an overseas vendor, or participating in a multifirm architecture, engineering, and construction team to raise a world-class, zero-carbon-footprint skyscraper, or seismically retrofitting a bridge to withstand the next big earthquake.

Certainly, these institutions' instructors bring their personal experience to the classroom. But they are also using tools and techniques that even help students specify what kind of engineering career they want to pursue. It's a departure from traditional engineering instruction at Virginia Tech, but Dymond teaches design concepts with software used in professional firms, and students use the software on real projects while being mentored by civil engineering firms in the area.

"This approach gives the students design experience using industry-standard tools," he says.

Virginia Tech also is one of a number of universities breaking down the walls between the academy and the employer. The University of Wisconsin at Milwaukee is another; it's joining forces with Eppstein Uhen: Architects (eu:a) to offer its first studio course in building information modeling (BIM). The goal of the course is to build awareness of BIM and acquaint students with the practical side of architecture. Says Bret Tushaus, "Traditionally, schools' focus has been design, and rightfully so. But BIM brings such a convergence of the practical and design aspects of our industry that we wanted to invest in university instruction.

"We'd like students to come into our office aware of BIM and ready to take advantage of it," he explains. "If they don't know anything about how the industry works, they're no better than drafters."

Tushaus also points out that BIM provides students and eu:a employees with an opportunity to become better architects, because BIM requires practitioners to think more rigorously about how things go together. "It's a connection to the principle of integrated practice: understanding how to design a building and how it gets put together, so that you design structures that are more 'buildable' from the outset."

A wide range of industry associations, software vendors and their resellers also support universities' efforts to familiarize students with the kind of integrated approach that future employers value. Many of these operate authorized training centers that offer discipline-specific, locally based training to meet the needs of educators who in turn will instruct their students. Software vendors also may offer academic solution consultants who will assess a university's needs and help develop a custom implementation and advise how best to take advantage of software for optimal learning.

There's no question that the nature of work is changing and the imperative upon U.S. colleges to prepare students for the future has never been more pressing. The America Creating Opportunities to Meaningfully Promote Excellence in Technology, Education, and Science (COMPETES) Act ultimately may leave high-school students better prepared for post-secondary studies in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) subjects. But the new legislation won't extend to their success upon graduation from college.

In order to cultivate the nation's next generation of engineers, architects and innovators, universities face two major hurdles: retaining students who enroll in their programs, and preparing them to succeed in the real world. From early reports, universities that align instruction with real-world needs are finding their graduates are well-prepared for success as professionals. At Penn College, J.D. Mather's students nearly always have jobs on graduation, and their transition to the workforce is swift. Mather recalls an employer that had hired one of his students revised its recruiting criteria for a second post; the company decided that the post could be filled by a seasoned candidate-or a Penn College student straight out of the program.

Kevin Miller, assistant professor at Brigham Young University, reports similar demand for BYU architecture students. "We can't graduate enough students," he says; demand is so high in the building industry for BYU students with knowledge of building information modeling. For example, BYU student Cameron Sessions was approached by prospective employers after they had seen his students' competition entries, and one Master's student parlayed his acquaintance with BIM into a job with Layton Construction, the largest construction firm in Utah.

It's reward enough for instructors to be confident that their students are getting the exposure to experiences that will serve them well in their professional careers. Universities benefit, as well: They gain a reputation for graduates who succeed, and that can help attract the attention of prospective students, not to mention employers and donors.

American Society of Civil Engineers, "Report Card for America's Infrastructure," American Society of Civil Engineers (2005).

Ivo J. H. Bozon, Warren J. Campbell, and Mats Lindstrand, "Global Trends in Energy," The McKinsey Quarterly (2007:1).

American Society for Engineering Education, "ASEE Announces Newly Improved K-12

Outreach Program Database," American Society for Engineering Education (April, 2006).

UtiliPoint, "UET: Aging Workforce and Aging Asset Trends 2007-2012," UtiliPoint (April 16, 2007).

National Association of Manufacturers, "Rising Incomes Cushion Economy: The 10th Annual Labor Day Report," National Association of Manufacturers (August 28, 2007).

Alan Beattie, "Rapidly Swelling Middle Class Key to World Bank's Global Optimism," Financial Times (December 13, 2006).

LEX Column, "Asia's Middle Classes," Financial Times (June 25, 2007).

Sam Hardy, "Roewe Reveals Reborn Rover 45," Auto Express News (April 25, 2007).

Bruce Nussbaum, "Best Award-Winning Design Schools around the World," Businessweek.com (July 11, 2007).

Aberdeen Group, "The Digital Product Development Benchmark Report" (March 2007

<em> American Society of Civil Engineers, "Report Card for America's Infrastructure," American Society of Civil Engineers (2005).

Ivo J. H. Bozon, Warren J. Campbell, and Mats Lindstrand, "Global Trends in Energy," The McKinsey Quarterly (2007:1).

American Society for Engineering Education, "ASEE Announces Newly Improved K-12 Outreach Program Database," American Society for Engineering Education (April, 2006).

UtiliPoint, "UET: Aging Workforce and Aging Asset Trends 2007-2012," UtiliPoint (April 16, 2007).

National Association of Manufacturers, "Rising Incomes Cushion Economy: The 10th Annual Labor Day Report," National Association of Manufacturers (August 28, 2007).

Alan Beattie, "Rapidly Swelling Middle Class Key to World Bank's Global Optimism," Financial Times (December 13, 2006).

LEX Column, "Asia's Middle Classes," Financial Times (June 25, 2007).

Sam Hardy, "Roewe Reveals Reborn Rover 45," Auto Express News (April 25, 2007).

Bruce Nussbaum, "Best Award-Winning Design Schools around the World," Businessweek.com (July 11, 2007).

Aberdeen Group, "The Digital Product Development Benchmark Report" (March 2007).</em>

<em>Paul Mailhot is Senior Director of Autodesk's Worldwide Education Program.</em>


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