|Action||Comprehensive Revision of the Licensure Regulations for School Personnel|
|Comment Period||Ends 11/6/2015|
Engineers should teach engineering courses
I am professor of mechanical engineering at the University of Michigan where I taught engineering design courses for over 28 years and consulted with numerous companies across multiple industry sectors. I am also the founder and President of a small engineering firm and served in the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (2009-012) as the Assistant Director for Advanced Manufacturing where I championed the establishment of National Manufacturing Innovation Institutes.
I have given much thought to eroding engineering skills particularly in the US over the past 20 years. It is the engineering prowess that helped us win World War II and put the man on the moon. Most of what we perceive as “rocket science” is actually “rocket engineering”. Science, mathematics, engineering and technology are distinctly different. It is unfortunate that our bumper sticker “STEM” lumps everything into one, and, while doing so, we virtually ignore the ‘E” in our K-12 curriculum. Science attempts to explain the natural world through experimentation and analysis, whereas engineering creates new technologies, products and process through creativity and synthesis. Technicians repair and maintain engineered products such as automobiles, HVAC, machinery etc. It is the engineers who create new products and processes. Engineering education teaches the principles of design, mechanics of materials, thermodynamics, structural dynamics, fluid mechanics, circuit analysis, design for manufacturing, solid state electronics etc. A person with an engineering degree should teach engineering. While, via this comment, I strongly support the idea of an engineering endorsement and particularly pathways 1,2,3, and 5 of the proposed endorsement regulation, I find pathway 4 to be too weak. You wouldn't want your barber to do brain surgery although barbers do spend significant time working near brains. Being in an engineering environment for X years is not a remedy for not having an engineering degree. A talented machinist could be in an engineering environment for 20+ years but that does not qualify him to teach engineering any more than it qualifies him to teach medicine or surgery. We all love skilled hands-on technicians because they know how to fix things. But, a technician is not an engineer. Knowing how to fix a car is not the same as understanding the thermodynamics of an IC engine and torque-speed characteristics of an electric motor to conceive a novel hybrid engine – if that’s the type of innovations we need in the future then we should produce more creative engineers now and hire highly qualified teachers (engineers) who can produce them. Hiring technicians or science teachers is not the answer unless the goal is to simply check the box of teaching “engineering”.
Engineering is the only discipline that is responsible for creating everything around you that is artificial – automobiles, smart phones, Internet, aircraft, buildings, bridges etc. It is the engineers who apply the fundamental engineering principles, practices and philosophy to design products like iPhones, electric cars, prosthetic legs and jet engines. It requires fundamental understanding of engineering subjects I listed above and it requires creativity. Yet, we do not teach engineering in K-12. Most, if not all, young children are inherently creative. Somehow, slowly but surely our school system beats creativity out of them by the time they graduate high school. Creativity fuels the 1 percent “inspiration” of Edison’s formula for “genius” and engineering fuels the formula’s 99 percent perspiration to bring new products and process that meet societal needs. It is therefore important that we teach engineering in K-12 and it is critically important that we teach it well –starting with teachers who are highly qualified to teach engineering. I applaud your consideration of teaching engineering subjects in K-12 but please do not dilute it by settling for teachers without an engineering degree. Engineering courses should inspire students to apply what they learn to create new products. The courses should be infused with open-ended design-build-test projects. Without engineering analysis to inform and guide the design process it will reduce to a tinkering activity. Without a highly qualified teacher to teach engineering, we will simply check the STEM box but we will not be teaching real engineering