Engineering educational methods and processes and even the aims and ideals are today being questioned as never before. For what are we trying to prepare men? How best may we do the job? Why the methods we use? Why the subjects which appear in college curriculums? Why should we try to develop entrance criteria differing from mere graduation from high school? Why limit the college course to four years, when medicine and law each has six years? "Why?" is a challenge to all of our existing plant.
The only real reason one may have for annoyance with the question lies in the fact that it may represent a destructive criticism, rather than a constructive investigation. We must, therefore, couple with it another word, in order to express adequately our present frame of mind. If we demand "Why?", we should immediately go further and ask; "Why not?" Instead of simply challenging existing things, we should assume the burden of upbuilding by replacement or by new construction.
The Society for the Promotion of Engineering Education has been the center of this study for many years. During the past four years it has undertaken and correlated many local studies at institutions all over the country, and even abroad. Its findings are voluminous and illuminating. Its proposals for cautious experiment are creative and wise.
The basis of its conclusions and recommendations is that the general course should not go beyond the four-year limit now set, and should make no attempt to train men to be specialists or all-'round engineers. At least the first year of all engineering groups of study at any college should be alike. The last year may show wide differentiation. All engineering curriculums should include mathematics, chemistry, physics, English composition, speech and literature, general economics, economics of engineering, law of contracts, drawing and graphics, mechanics, hydraulics, heat-power engineering with laboratory, and electrical engineering with laboratory.
Efforts should be made to acquaint high school students with the meaning and the demands of engineering, so that they may better make a choice as to whether or not to enter this field. Entrance of fresh-men to college may well depend upon better-than-passing marks in mathematics, science and English.
Training and aptitude tests should be developed and used for vocational guidance.
The first two years of the engineering groups of study should have a more definite purpose toward aiding in their life work men who must drop out mid-course.
Upper-classwork should become more and more self-directed by the student. The ideal condition would be obtained if he should gradually progress throughout the four years to a point of full personal responsibility and independence of thought.
Post-graduate courses should be made available for residence work, and for extension work also.
The teaching staff should be most carefully selected, and trained, not only with reference to technical education, but also having in mind their ability to inspire students and to adopt and use good teaching methods.
It will be sensed that the responsibilities we are recognizing as belonging to the engineer in practice are far beyond those of his early predecessor. The social significance of good engineering is so vast that a mere technician is not competent to perform the engineer's duties. "The public has ample confidence in his ability to deal with material problems," but if he is to take the leadership offered to him in the great engineering tasks awaiting initiation and development, he must be able to judge values from more than the technical viewpoint.
What will be the effect upon society of some great engineering project, such as the establishment of aerial transport service ? How will it influence streams of trade? Who now knows what place radio transmission is to take in our everyday lives? Who can see far enough into the great possibilities of such modern developments as these even to hazard a guess? And yet, someone must bring these new servants of mankind into an orderly performance of their proper duties. Someone with clear vision, a power for resolving problems into their elements, a thorough comprehension, a masterful coordination, and a surpassing constructive ability, must engineer these processes of development and organization, in order that they may be done rightly.
And there are many other such tasks now being attacked, or awaiting the onslaught of a competent leader. Our great transportation problems, the transmission of intelligence, the universality of power supply, all, are of this type. Why should not the engineer aspire to their solution? Who else should aspire as well trained as he for the work?
But, of course, all engineers cannot hope to become so important as these words imply. Nevertheless, their lesser, numerous every-day duties and accomplishments are worthy of their most zealous efforts. Their tasks cover the whole range from small to great. Their doings invade every walk of life. And by their countless deeds they are transforming this murky, insanitary, staggering old planet of the dark ages into a place worth inhabiting.
May their tribe increase, may their courage grow, and
may their vision be undimmed!