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MIT's Technology and Policy Program celebrated 30 years of educating scientists and engineers about policy earlier this month with a symposium that featured remarks by Jessica Stern, author of "Terror in the Name of God: Why Religious Militants Kill."
A 1988 alumna of the program, Stern suggested that the fact that many terrorist leaders appear to be technologically sophisticated points out a weakness in engineering education.
"Many engineers do not receive the humanistic training that helps them deal with the ambiguity of difficult, complex questions. We need to get engineers to think about equations that don't balance and how to be comfortable with them," said Stern, a senior fellow at Harvard University's Kennedy School of Government.
Stern was part of an alumni panel featured during a half-day symposium titled "Leadership for 2050: Technology, Policy and Education," held June 8 to celebrate the 30th anniversary of the Technology and Policy Program (TPP).
Created in 1976 under founding director Richard de Neufville, professor of engineering systems and civil and environmental engineering, TPP educates engineers and scientists to be leaders at the interface of technology and policy. More than 900 alumni hold master's and doctoral degrees from the program.
"TPP is making significant contributions in areas such as climate change, energy and security. This event is a wonderful opportunity to celebrate the entire TPP community, look back at our past and plan for the future," said TPP Director Dava Newman, TPP '89 and professor of aeronautics and astronautics and engineering systems.
Stern said that TPP was a special educational experience for her as an engineer. "The assignments often made me feel extremely uncomfortable, like the time I was told to come up with the dollar value of a human life," she said. "As an educator, I now believe that making students feel uncomfortable is often the best way to teach them."
Stern's fellow panelists were TPP alumni Nicholas Mabey and Bryan Moser.
Mabey, TPP '93 and founder and director of E3G, a not-for-profit organization that specializes in helping coalitions create a more sustainable world, talked about the fundamental changes needed to address the energy crisis. "Without reformed institutions to drive the transition to sustainable development, we can rely only on politicians. This is not optimal," he said.
Moser, TPP '89 and president and CEO of Global Project Design, reflected on the major changes in business over the past 100 years. He noted that standardization and process control became the norm, and complexity, uncertainty and adaptive behavior were avoided.
"Now, due to the need for more complex products, often produced by and for global teams, and impacted by rapidly evolving technologies, there is an emerging world view that complexity, uncertainty and adaptive behavior are fundamental to business success," he said. "Coordinating these elements with the traditional methods is needed."
De Neufville joined Institute Professors Sheila Widnall and Joel Moses and Carnegie Mellon University's Granger Morgan on the afternoon's second panel to discuss education for leadership in engineering.
Moses pointed out MIT's role as a leader in the evolution of engineering education over the past century -- noting most recently the creation of the Engineering Systems Division, of which TPP is a part.
TPP's 30th anniversary was celebrated over the course of the spring semester. In addition to the June 8 symposium, there was a lecture series on current and future Internet policy issues, and a June 9 gala dinner featuring TPP alumnus and NASA astronaut Michael Massimino as the keynote speaker.