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Dean Paul S. Peercy

Engineering education is beginning to undergo a tremendous transformation. Tomorrow's engineers must be conversant in technical fields outside their major discipline. Without this knowledge, effective communication will be extraordinarily difficult in the multidisciplinary teams that will develop next-generation products and services. Successful engineers will need a flexible perspective, from seeing a big picture with the interrelationships of the many technical and social issues relevant to a problem, to the much more focused perspective of addressing a technical issue which is an element of the big picture.

Experience in teamwork will also be an increasingly important component of engineering education. This reverses a trend of many years, during which engineering "disintegrated" into specific disciplines during the 19th and 20th centuries. The 21st century will instead be a time of integration, as the various sub-disciplines of the sciences and engineering converge. Researchers have found that multidisciplinary approaches are essential to effectively address the major problems we encounter today. Many of these problems include elements of chemistry, materials, biology, traditional engineering disciplines, sensor technology, and data management and interpretation. Focusing on only one of these areas leads to a narrow and incomplete understanding of problems, and limits potential solutions. Maintaining this compartmentalized view is something we cannot afford in our competitive world.

With these important connections between the various technical disciplines, it is no longer adequate to teach students mathematics and science, followed by a discipline-specific engineering education. They also need a crossdisciplinary "engineering toolkit" to provide them a breadth of knowledge for effective interaction with engineers from other sub-disciplines. The purpose is to help them understand how disciplines outside their major can help address system-level issues.

Another consideration in educating the engineer of tomorrow is the rapid increase in globalization. Companies must design products for the global marketplace because success in an interconnected, global economy requires knowledge and appreciation of different cultures. Engineers frequently participate in multicultural teams to design products suitable for people in different countries, different ethnic groups, and different cultures. Corporate recruiters not only seek a diverse employee mix, but also engineers from the majority population who have experience interacting within a diverse team.

Here at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, our faculty are engaged in responding to this need for change in our undergraduate curriculum. It's a daunting challenge — massive, comprehensive curriculum change is difficult and slow, and resources are scarce in tight budget times. We also do not want to extend the time to degree or decrease the quality of our technical program areas. However, in the face of these difficulties we also realize that we must start this process in earnest.

We are beginning by developing a college-wide plan for an interdisciplinary experience that is consistent with the above assumptions. We are looking into creating an inter-engineering "department" to serve as a home for some of the interdisciplinary courses. On top of the math and science foundation, we want to build a structure that allows students to create their customizable interdisciplinary toolkit. Students might choose a breadth option or "minor" from a set of options that could include materials and manufacturing, environmental and societal implications of engineering, biology and biotechnology, global engineering, business in engineering, micro/nanoscience and technology, engineering communications, and information technologies.

The number of engineering students studying abroad has increased every year for the past eight years. However, industry finds that many of our new graduates are reluctant to take foreign assignments, even though those assignments often present vital growth opportunities for employees. In recent discussions with the College of Engineering Industrial Advisory Board, we were encouraged to develop a broad range of opportunities for our students to gain international experience. We are planning to construct a certificate in international engineering, which undergraduates could take in addition to their BS degree program. This certificate would provide a credential for students validating their interest and experience in the international engineering community. We hope to have this certificate program available in fall 2005.

We have many partners in our efforts who must be thanked. Besides the faculty who are working to implement these changes, we have the support and encouragement of the college and departmental external advisory boards. And we have many alumni and friends of the college who have helped to support our education, research and public service missions. They are the margin of excellence that helps enable us to embrace and drive change in the engineering field. I thank all of our partners for their contributions and look forward to what we will accomplish together.


Paul S. Peercy, Dean
Tel: 608/262-3482
Fax: 608/262-6400
2610 Engineering Hall
1415 Engineering Drive
Madison, WI 53706


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Copyright 2004 The Board of Regents of the University of Wisconsin System
Date last modified: Thursday, 17-Feb-2005 14:09:29 CST
Date created: 17-Feb-2005