May 2014

Current Views

By Barry Sullivan, Program Director, ECEDHA

All the World’s a Stage for Engineers, Too

Time Magazine came out with their 2014 list of the 100 Most Influential People a couple weeks ago, something they have been doing annually since 1999.  Flipping through the magazine, I was happy to see engineers like Tony Fadell of Nest (BS in computer engineering from the University of Michigan) and Jeff Bezos of Amazon (BS in electrical engineering and computer science from Princeton University) included for doing what engineers do, using their technical knowledge to create valuable products and services.  Of course, the list included many more athletes, entertainers, and politicians than engineers.

It seems more common for people with engineering degrees to achieve fame for doing something else.  Last year, DesignNews presented two lists of famous people with backgrounds in engineering, first identifying eighteen notables, then twenty-two more a couple weeks later.  Here again, the fields of recognized accomplishments skew heavily toward athletics, entertainment, and politics.

In light of all this, it was heartening to read the Wall Street Journal story about an actor-turned-engineer, which I included among the “ECE in the News” articles selected for this issue.  The article relates how a former actor and acting instructor supplemented his MFA degree with programming courses to become a web developer.  No, it’s not a tale of disappointment and resignation following dreams of an acting career gone sour.  Rather, it tells of an artist finding satisfaction and creative fulfillment in technology.

There’s a connection between Seton Brown, the subject of the Wall Street Journal article, and the curriculum innovation theme of this issue of the ECE Source.  Mr. Brown began his transition from actor to web developer with some online programming courses.  While the articles on flipped classrooms and blended learning in this issue focus on four-year degree programs, non-traditional students and life-long learners can benefit from the innovative application of online education tools as well.

I had the opportunity to sit down with Tom Lee of Quanser at the ECEDHA Annual Conference and ECExpo a few weeks ago.  We covered a variety of topics related to technology and education, including massive open online courses (MOOCs).  In answer to my question about the impact of MOOCs on engineering education, Tom observed that, as online technologies create new modes of presentation, educators might find a medium better suited to them than lecture halls and textbooks, uncovering previously hidden talents.

As I reflect on the implications of engineering education made accessible to the masses via electronic media, a tantalizing picture materializes in my imagination.  Given the undeniable allure of the subject matter, I envision the inevitable emergence of the rock star engineering professor.  It’s only a matter of time before we see this category represented among the 100 Most Influential People. 

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