"Engineers solve problems."
After all these years of drive-by exposure to Critical Theory, Post Modernism, and the Poor Man's Post Modernism (aka Constructivism) that passes for Theory in certain education school departments, I found it wonderfully refreshing to hear this line ring through of the Dean of Engineering's speech at the freshman orientation my oldest son and I attended several weeks ago.
Engineers solve problems, hard problems, while all too many of their armchair counterparts in the humanities problematize (their term; not mine) simple pseudo-problems.
As college students wise up to the job market, and perhaps also to Post Modernism's ravaging of core knowledge in the humanities, more and more are choosing the problem solving route. Every other kid I know wants to be an engineer or computer scientist.
I view this as a great development, and I say this as someone whose major was in the humanities, and who has great respect for what the humanities can potentially offer even today's debt-burdened, job-prospect-impaired student. The big picture of how humanity got where it is now; a foundation for current events; insights (both cognitive and literary) into the human mind; enhancement of empathy with all types of people (real and fictional; local and at great remove); opportunities to engage with major ethical puzzlers--to name just a few things. And all of this in the typical humanities' course setting: small group discussions, where one learns to engage in a civil fashion with multiple view points and to fine tune and communicate back one's own. (Yes, for all my loathing of K12 group work, the college humanities seminar is something completely different, where all these good things actually do happen).
But given today's options, engineering is the best choice for many undergraduates--as more and more people are realizing.
Many, however, still tar engineering, and engineers, as (among other things) lacking in creativity. Doesn't engineering amount to simple rule-following and analytical reasoning: the rather straightforward application of math, physics, and chemistry to the world as we know it, as opposed to broadening this knowledge with novel discoveries and concepts?
Every so often, even in the popular press, an article comes along that debunks this. This Monday a wonderful example appeared in the Philadelphia Inquirer--one worth remembering the next time someone invokes the engineering stereotype. Here's the opener:
When a wet dog shakes himself dry, he does something amazing. He hits just the right rhythm to maximize the drying effect with minimal effort.
The seemingly casual jiggle imparts enough centrifugal force to expel 70 percent of the water in his coat in a fraction of a second.
This fact comes courtesy of experiments by David Hu, a professor of mechanical engineering and biology at Georgia Tech. He and his students found that the highly tuned drying ability is shared by 30 other furry mammals.
Hu thinks engineers can learn from some of the remarkable features that evolution has built into living things. He envisions harnessing this ability for devices that can dry or clean themselves, something like a Mars rover programmed to jiggle the dust off its solar panels.Hu's inspiration? "a toy poodle named Jerry, who was a gift to his current fiancee from her former boyfriend."
How's that for a problematization of the engineering stereotype?