Provost Director gives ASEE Plenary Lecture

Stephen W. Director, provost and senior vice pres­i­dent for aca­d­emic affairs, gave the plenary lecture on how to prepare our engineering graduates for the future at the Northeast Section American Society for Engineering Education Conference.

Source: News @ Northeastern

Engi­neering cur­ricula in higher edu­ca­tion today is out of bal­ance with what is needed to pre­pare grad­u­ates for the work­force, according to Stephen W. Director, provost and senior vice pres­i­dent for aca­d­emic affairs at North­eastern Uni­ver­sity. This bal­ance, he said, can be restored by incor­po­rating expe­ri­en­tial learning—namely co-op—which empha­sizes pro­fes­sional devel­op­ment and pro­vides stu­dents with prac­tical expe­ri­ence they can then apply to their aca­d­e­mics back in the classroom.

We have to rec­og­nize that there are skills engi­neering grad­u­ates need to know before they enter the work­force that can’t be taught in the tra­di­tional engi­neering class­room par­a­digm,” said Director, who kicked off the North­east Sec­tion Amer­ican Society for Engi­neering Edu­ca­tion Con­fer­ence, which was held at North­eastern, by deliv­ering the ple­nary lec­ture Friday morning. These skills, he added, can only be obtained through real-​​world work expe­ri­ence that not only pro­vides authentic con­text, con­straints, and con­se­quences, but is also an inte­gral part of the engi­neering curriculum.

The theme of the conference—which is “Pro­fes­sional For­ma­tion of Engineers—aligns with the National Sci­ence Foun­da­tion ini­tia­tive of the same name that seeks to create and sup­port an inno­v­a­tive and inclu­sive engi­neering pro­fes­sion for the 21st cen­tury. North­eastern was the ideal host for this year’s event given the university’s focus on coop­er­a­tive edu­ca­tion and expe­ri­en­tial learning, which align with this theme.

Director is a member of the National Academy of Engi­neering and a fellow of both the Insti­tute of Elec­trical and Elec­tronics Engi­neers and the Amer­ican Society of Engi­neering Edu­ca­tion. He is a pio­neer in the field of elec­tronic design automa­tion and has a long record of com­mit­ment to—and inno­va­tion in—engineering education.

What employers think
Director noted that despite noble efforts over the past 20 years, employers today say engi­neering graduates—as well as those in other fields—have strong knowl­edge of their dis­ci­plines but lack the pro­fes­sional and intel­lec­tual skills required to suc­cess­fully enter the work­force. He pointed to a 2013 survey of hiring man­agers pub­lished in Inside Higher Ed, which found that only 39 per­cent of respon­dents felt that the recent col­lege grad­u­ates they inter­viewed were pre­pared for a job in their field of study.

Mean­while, 82 per­cent of hiring man­agers sur­veyed thought the recent col­lege grad­u­ates they hire should have com­pleted a formal intern­ship before graduation.

The North­eastern dif­fer­en­tiator
Through Northeastern’s century-​​old expe­ri­en­tial edu­ca­tion model—particularly its sig­na­ture co-​​op program—students gain real-​​world work expe­ri­ence across the globe on all seven con­ti­nents. There were 9,823 co-​​op place­ments in 2013–14, and North­eastern counts nearly 3,000 co-​​op employers world­wide. This dif­fer­en­tiator is evi­dent: 92 per­cent of grad­u­ates from 2006 through 2013 were employed full time or enrolled in grad­uate school within nine months of grad­u­a­tion, and 85 per­cent who were employed full time were doing work related to their major.

We have clear evi­dence that expe­ri­en­tial edu­ca­tion based on co-​​op exposes stu­dents to the real-​​world work envi­ron­ment and results in better pre­pared stu­dents who enter the work­force,” Director said.

Director noted that stu­dents and employers alike hail Northeastern’s co-​​op pro­gram. “I’ve never seen the level of con­fi­dence that stu­dents who are engaged in co-​​op have in their own abil­i­ties when they com­plete a co-​​op, nor the level of employer interest in co-​​op grad­u­ates as I’ve seen here,” he said, adding that fac­ulty say stu­dents return from co-​​op ready to chal­lenge tra­di­tional thinking and pro­vide real-​​world exam­ples of their work.

The Four Dimen­sions
Director out­lined the “four dimen­sions” that factor into restoring the bal­ance in engi­neering edu­ca­tion to help better pre­pare stu­dents for the workforce:

What we need to teach: requires a bal­ance between intel­lec­tual skills and dis­ci­pli­nary con­tent
What we expect stu­dents to learn: requires a bal­ance between pro­fes­sional devel­op­ment and intel­lec­tual devel­op­ment
What they actu­ally learn: requires a bal­ance between what we teach and how stu­dents learn
How we teach: requires a bal­ance between ped­a­gogy and technology

Sim­u­lating co-​​op
Director acknowl­edged that not all uni­ver­si­ties and col­leges have the infra­struc­ture to pro­vide co-​​op pro­grams. As an alter­na­tive, he said those insti­tu­tions should con­sider imple­menting a sim­u­lated real-​​world co-​​op expe­ri­ence as part of their stu­dents’ edu­ca­tion. He said this sim­u­lated pro­gram must have three com­po­nents:
• It must build on the strength of cap­stone design courses, of which col­lege stu­dents should not take more than one
• It must intro­duce a real-​​world client, if pos­sible
• And it must be embedded with the strengths of co-​​op, which include real-​​world con­straints, project para­me­ters, and job expec­ta­tions; lessons on how the skills learned inte­grate into course­work; and learning objec­tives, super­visor eval­u­a­tions, and robust self-​​reflection.

The sim­u­lated real-​​world expe­ri­ence could be an effec­tive alter­na­tive, if it inte­grates cer­tain aspects of the suc­cessful co-​​op pro­gram,” he said.

Related Faculty: Stephen W. Director