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Engineers from all corners of the globe gathered in Washington, D.C. for the American Society for Engineering Education (ASEE) Industry 4.0 Workforce Summit, held in April. The summit mainly touched on challenges within engineering curriculums, and how diversity within the field could be strengthened.
George Mason University provided premiere academic sponsorship for the summit, which featured a keynote address from President Gregory Washington and panel discussion from Dean of the College of Engineering and Computing Ken Ball.
According to Washington, folks had to shift to online education practically overnight with the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic. Combined with job loss, climate changes, and overall uncertainty it’s been a dramatic time for many people. It’s all a part of the engineering grand challenges, he says.
“These level one challenges that we are currently dealing with are the ones that are hitting us as a country dramatically right now,” says Washington. “We’re dealing with unprecedented change.”
Washington expressed that the important questions to ask are whether engineering curriculums are preparing students for current reality and giving them the tools that they need to have for what’s coming now.
“Currently 47 percent of jobs in the U.S. are at risk due to automation,” says Washington. “More than half of the top ten in demand jobs currently, did not exist in 2008. We’re going to have new fields of endeavor over the next five years that we’re not prepared for today. That’s what I think about when I think about 4.0.”
Ball emphasized it’s important to find innovative ways around any resistance to changes within curriculums. One is for college faculty to have the opportunity to spend time within industry working spaces, and bring those experiences to the classroom.
“When industries provide opportunities for faculty to even spend a month in a work industry, or a summer, it makes a huge change in the way they approach teaching and working with students,” says Ball. “I think any way we can deepen that interaction would have a good impact.”
Talent recruitment was also discussed at the summit, particularly when it comes to opportunities for younger people starting out.
“We need more competitive individuals in the pipeline, and we need to get them in cheaper,” says Washington. “One way to do that is through transfer programs at community colleges. Mason has 80 academic programs where you can start off at a community college and not lose any time.”
“We need culturally relevant K-12 outreach. I’m not going to (be able to) engage that person in a framework that they’re not connected with or accustomed to. I need to engage them where they are. If they like rap music, there’s STEM in rap music. If you’re going into Flint, go in there with Flint water. People get really interested when you’re talking about their water. There’s a lot of ways to make this culturally relevant, and we have to.”
Attendees from bigger companies were encouraged overall to think on expanding, or incorporating, STEM internship programs.
ASEE, headquartered in Washington, D.C., is a nonprofit organization of individuals and institutions committed to furthering education in engineering and engineering technology. The summit goal was to reach a consensus on improvements to engineer curricula, work-based experiences, policies, and practices.