CEE New Millennium Colloquium
March 20-21, 2000
Wong Auditorium, Tang Center, MIT Building E51
Perceptions, Perspectives and Partnerships: Engineering in the 21st Century
Chairman and Chief Executive, ITT Industries
In the Yellow pages of Britain, there is this listing: "Boring see Civil Engineers."
Though the searchers of these Yellow Pages may be looking for specialists to bore into earth or concrete for structural tests, many outside our profession find truth in this unintended humor.
A truth that is less amusing is the fact that there are 1.2 million engineering-related jobs going begging in the US; another is that the engineers who do take jobs are only partially prepared for this remarkable new century.
There are still more unsettling truths about our profession and our time. We live at a remarkable hinge-moment when the very nature of making things has changed -- changed in ways that have not changed since steam powered an engine. Yet, most young people neither understand our profession nor share its excitement. They would indeed agree with the Yellow Page listing.
We engineers are usually considered boring technocrats or geeks far down the prestige totem pole. A Harris Poll measuring the prestige of professions found that doctors received the highest public perception: 61%. Engineers were way down at 34%, not too far ahead of Congressmen at 25% and lawyers at 23%!
If the young, or the general populace for that matter, think of engineering at all, it is well down the list of professions to aspire to. We are instead relegated to jokes. Actually, it is important to laugh at ourselves and to learn what truth this humor includes.
Why does all of this matter and what does it all mean? That of course is the purpose of our discussion today. For our business and industry and society to survive in the next century, we need many engineers, many talented engineers. To reach those goals, we need a new understanding of engineering itself and new thoughts on the education of engineers for the workplace of the 21st century. We need more of the attitude expressed in the 18th century by the engineer Matthew Boulton in Boswell's Life of Johnson: "I sell here, Sir, what all the world desires to have power."
I. Perceptions of Engineering
Let's first look more closely at some perceptions of engineering. Too often engineering is viewed as "technical" and somehow separate from our "culture." I speak of culture both as the core of what constitutes a society and as the art reflecting that society.
Who has not reveled in the lines of the song, Route 66:
"Well if you ever plan to motor west
Try taking my way on the highway that's the best
Get your kicks on Route 66."
Bobby Troup, Route 66
We sing of the road, but few understand its making. How many classrooms include descriptions of the remarkable engineering feats of the Eisenhower Interstate System? How many teachers understand the accomplishments of crossing the Mississippi with steel and cable, of traversing the Mojave Desert, of boring through and crossing over the Rockies?
How many teachers understand the romance and excitement of the steel and cable in the Golden Gate Bridge, of that elegant behemoth literally swinging in air?
Franklin Roosevelt said "There can be little doubt that in many ways the story of bridge building is the story of civilization. By it we can readily measure an important part of a people's progress."
I could not agree more with Roosevelt. Yet to most elementary and high-school teachers, those keepers of that place where the first door to engineering should be opening, there is little time and less understanding for such concepts.
There seems to be an arbitrary separation between the arts and engineering. I daresay every elementary and high school student by the time he or she thinks of a career has been exposed (albeit reluctantly) to the majesty of the Rose Window of Chartres and Notre Dame. But I am just as sure that few to none have had any exposure to the mathematical and structural marvels of the soaring arches and buttresses in that same cathedral. How many students have been challenged to conceive of the pulley and support system that must have been required to build those arches?
Every elementary and high school student at some point sees a Picasso and a Calder. But he or she hears only of traditional aesthetics. He hears little to naught of the engineering needed to design and construct the Chicago Picasso, never mind the fact that Calder was trained as an engineer -- a term which I do not consider antithetical to that of artist. Look at any great Calder if you seriously think there is a real separation between art and engineering.
Every primary and secondary student has seen the paintings of the Sistine Chapel. How many have been challenged to truly understand how St. Peter's supports its magnificent dome, never mind how it was built?
Every student learns of the discovery of bacteria in water and the pestilence it caused. However, few learn how engineers followed this discovery with vast networks of conduits, reservoirs, and filters to deliver pure water to nation after nation around the world. Few consider how many lives these engineers saved. Few understand the role of engineers and engineering in creating and sustaining civilizations.
An engineer, Chris Dickinson, put part of the dilemma quite well. "Sewers don't make front-page news. Roads and utilities are taken for granted. It is important to start with educating the youth and raising awareness about what it takes to create a city."
It is important that students have a new understanding of culture and art which includes engineering, whether it be in looking at the viaducts of ancient Rome, the basilica of St. Peter's, or the skyline of Manhattan with all the engines, chips, wires, and machines which create a dynamo that not only supports life, but is life.
Remember what Franklin Roosevelt said about bridges as a story of a civilization. Who can not be amazed at these images of bridges, these traversers of time, water, space, and finally our imaginations. They are marvels of engineering and art, and yet our youth, because of arbitrary distinctions between art and engineering and because of omissions of curricula, never understand the role of engineering in life.
II. Perspectives: ITT Industries and Engineered for Life
Too often those who choose engineering have been directed to think of it as a job with rigid segmentations of specialties and roles, rather than a career of diverse opportunities. I can best explain these problems by telling you what I seek at ITT from newly hired engineers.
Our company tagline is "Engineered for life." For us that means a global perspective, an environmental commitment that goes far beyond a narrow interpretation of current law, and a series of products and projects leading to the future. We create products which not only sustain life, but which enhance its quality. We utilize robust engineering methods that help us create durable, reliable products used in some of the world's most critical tasks. We look to projects that not only maintain environmental integrity, but improve it. We therefore need engineers who are multi-faceted and prepared for the complex goals that "engineered for life" implies in a global economy.
Let's look at a brief example that encompasses our product, needs, and beliefs. As you recall, I said that in my mind engineering is not far removed from art. Look at this image of our new concept for pumps, the self-cleaning N-Impeller. It has great beauty as well as functionality. The design is elegant, yet its self-cleaning ability is functionally revolutionary. The pump is aesthetically pleasing and significantly improves the day-to-day process of living.
Designs like our N- Impeller enable ITT to achieve remarkable efficiencies in industry while assisting the environment and providing opportunities to economies worldwide. This pump makes it possible, for example, to decrease the water necessary for paper making (a very water-intensive process). It is cutting water use by a factor of 2_ and reducing power requirements for pumping by 60%. Similar success has been reached in waste and water treatment operations. What fledgling or established economy can not benefit from such improvements? How can the global environment not be improved?
To create products like this, we need a lot of good engineers who have been set on fire by the possibilities of their profession, who in their education have been taught, not to remember, but to think. I would like to share one of our stories with you. It's about a group of our engineers in Colorado Springs who were recently recognized with our highest award, named for the legendary Harold S. Geneen. Their team effort symbolizes one of the things all engineers seekexciting work.
We need engineers like the spectacularly successful Jack Welch of GE, Ph.D. in chemical engineering. Welch in his 18 years at GE turned the company into the ninth-biggest and second most profitable company in the world. During his tenure, GE sales rose 3.7 times ($27 billion to $100 billion) and profits rose 5.7 times ($1.6 billion to $9.2 billion). How did Welch accomplish this? By being a good engineer with vast ancillary skills ranging from Business 101 and Communication 101 to global sophistication. Welch describes his success as "moving intellectual capital taking ideas and moving them around faster and faster and faster." He further says that in today's world, the thriving company must go through three stages:
I share his philosophy and look for engineers who are broadly based and who value broad-based skills and world opportunities. I want someone who believes not only in re-engineering the company, but also in regularly re-engineering himself. To believe otherwise is to remain stuck in the past, doomed to repeat the errors of the past. And, oh yes, to be boring.
I also look for engineers like the computer and electrical engineers who surround Jim Clark in Silicon Valley. Jim Clark who is well known for his role in Netscape is actually much more significant as the inventor of the "Geometry Engine" chip.
In the 1970s Clark believed that computers could make things look the way they really are, something no one else considered, appreciated, or understood. Consequently in 1979 he created the chip on which all computer-aided design of cars, aircraft, and machinery is now based. He thought way out of the box, and made the CAD we now take for granted a reality.
Even more important, he changed the rules for all of us in engineering. He redefined our role in business to that of movers and innovators who go directly to investors or corporate heads or even decide to become corporate heads ourselves. He formally defined what had been happening but was not fully understood: Engineers are no longer the back-room, boring implementers involved in this kind of creative process:
Engineers are now seen as actors in the process. They are innovators, initiators, negotiators, mediators, implementers, co-investors, and ultimately beneficiaries.
Michael Lewis in his book about Jim Clark describes the characteristics and new role for Clark and other engineers at this remarkable hinge moment of time: "He was built to work on the frontier of economic life when the frontier was once again up for grabs. He was designed for rapid social and technological change. He was the starter of new things."
We at ITT Industries of course seek those who know that there is a new new thing out there. And we seek those engineers who are diverse in skills and intellect and ready to join us in seeking and snaring the future.
III. Partnerships: Getting There
How to get there? It has to start in elementary school with a cultural change in education. Elementary school is not too early to introduce kids to the excitement of making things and how things work.
Pulling a string to make the disk of a plastic helicopter fly can be an introduction to Leonardo and to the excitement of conceiving and making. The work of high school teachers will then be easier. It will not be the struggle to get attention and explain relevance, but instead a continuation of an exciting journey.
Let me show you how ITT Industries, working with the American Association of Engineering Societies, is helping spread the word about the need for bright young engineers
Some high schools are already well on the way in the process of making engineering pursuits more attractive. For example, Bound Brook High School in NJ has "Project Lead the Way," an ambitious project to train more students in engineering. Richard Blasi, executive director says, "If you're a student who has an aptitude or interest in going to a four-year liberal arts college, you're going to be very well prepared for that. High schools are not structured to give kids the kind of engineering career exposure that they need." -- This school's Project Lead the Way seeks to provide that exposure. We need more of these.
This project, by the way, got off the ground because of corporate involvement in an early project, a robot-building competition. Ethicon, the corporate participant says through a spokesperson: "The more the education and business communities can work together to shape the work force, the better off we'll be because students will know what the work force is like." -- I could not agree more.
Changes must also occur on campus, and the campuses leading the way in innovation must not be only the MITs. MIT of course has admirable programs to bring students into engineering and to help them understand the realities and excitement of engineering. I, myself, was beneficiary of these programs as a student when I participated in the co-op program and had rich industry experience as an intern. My life was changed forever. However, other schools such as regional and state institutions must model and improve upon the programs of MIT and its sister schools.
This is happening. For example, Oregon Institute of Technology is one of the most successful public colleges in Oregon in placing its engineering students. One reason is the simple fact that laboratories outnumber classrooms. When students leave, they have calibrated a hydrolab, mapped an ecosystem's flora and fauna with a global positioning system, and created digital maps and databases of a geographic information system.
For true success, programs must
1. cross curricula,
2. cross culture, and
3. cross years.
Crossing curricula is clearly essential. Engineering skills are no longer enough. To cross curricula we must have programs like Polytechnic University in Brooklyn. There they are working to join leadership skills with technical expertise. Polytechnic has developed a program "Manufacturing Across the Curriculum" aimed at team projects that cross various engineering disciplines.
George Mason University School of Information Technology offers financial incentives to ensure that students are involved and to recognize that business and design are integral to one another. Students in the class "Technical Entrepreneurship" strive to win the team award for the best project: $5000.
Illinois Institute of Technology emphasizes the need to cross curricula and develop a broad-based skill set and reference resource. At Illinois Tech, all incoming undergraduates are required to complete two semesters in the "Inter-professional Projects Program" where 5-15 students from engineering, business, law, architecture, and design find a solution to a "real world" problem.
Cultures are being crossed in various other ways. Virginia Polytechnic Institute offers a course "Engineering Culture" to get engineers more in touch with various viewpoints, including international ones. This program is clearly in the spirit of Roosevelt's perception of engineering as a window on both a people and a time and in the spirit of Jack Welch's understanding of a global economy that is more than a catch phrase.
To cross cultures, Brooklyn Polytechnic is most fortunate in having Bill Gates' scholarship fund for minorities in engineering, and Melinda Gates' Millennium Scholars program that encourages the entry of women into engineering. Both programs are a means of crossing both curricula and cultures. The future of engineering depends on these multi-viewpoints as much as it depends on multi-talents and skills.
By the way, Smith College will be graduating its first BS in engineering student from its own program in 2004. That is great for all of us! We all benefit.
Crossing curricula and crossing cultures are not difficult to understand. But what do I mean by crossing years?
By crossing years, I mean that we must get engineering to the students who want it earlier and better in their college careers. We must let freshmen and sophomores who are interested in engineering get to it faster. There should be no delays in letting them get their hands dirty in their specialty. Northwestern University, for example, uses "Engineering First" to introduce first-year students to working in teams to solve engineering problems.
The early exposure students have to the base skill sets necessary to be good engineers must be of consistently good quality. The wise programs put their super-star professors in charge of introductory math and science courses. This is not a spot for new hires or graduate students. Those contemplating entering our profession need the good, fast start in intellectual excellence and excitement. In their first experience in a rigorous discipline in a totally new and intimidating environment, the young potential engineer needs only the best.
Colleges and universities serve no one when they economize by having graduate students teaching freshman and sophomore courses. Perhaps only the hardiest survive this process, this Darwinian engineering; I know many talents are lost in the frustration, intimidation, and, yes, often mediocrity.
In upper level courses, tenure should be carefully defined as a means of ensuring academic freedom without becoming a type of academic welfare. Protect the ideas, protect the outspoken and the out-thinking, but do not allow this noble concept to shelter the tired and even the lazy. We must have the absolute best teaching our future.
As Henry Adams said, "A teacher affects eternity; he never knows where his influence stops." His words are sound advice for all of us who should be thinking of ourselves as teachers helping our specialty and those who must follow us. ITT, like all other major companies, is built on past and current engineering successes and depends on its future from future engineers.
It is a remarkably exciting time to be an engineer. We must ensure that our youth realize this and have the means and incentives to join our profession. We must all, whether in business or Academe, be teachers, curriculum developers, mentors, public relations experts, and international visionaries.
Let's look to the Far East for a moment for a closing image and thought. As a result of government policy, public prestige, remuneration, and educational policy, a remarkable event occurs annually in India. Every year all across the nation hundreds of thousands of Indian youths sit for two day qualifying exams to gain the right to 2000 spots in the most competitive universities for the most prestigious career: engineering. Though I do not suggest we emulate India's relentless winnowing process, I surely do suggest we seek the means to create that enthusiasm and that interest for this most remarkable of specialties.
I would like to close by showing you a television commercial we have used that demonstrates the ultimate result of persistent and imaginative environmental engineering. We think it is cause for celebration.
Thank you very much. I welcome your questions.
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