The relentless and exponential advances of technology we are experiencing are inspiring fundamental questions regarding engineering (and other) education in brick-and-mortar universities.
They challenge two long-held assumptions: that knowledge and skills can only be provided in a traditional university setting; and that such education, offered within a time frame of about four to five years, is sufficient for our graduates to excel and thrive long after graduation. The first assumption is progressively challenged by digital technologies, which often bring disruptive outcomes. The second points to the disconnect between two different characteristic times, with the time of technological change being increasingly compressed compared to the standard academic time required for graduation.
We think that these forces of change will reshape engineering education through new, forward-looking programs that expose our students not only to advanced knowledge and skills, but also to mindsets of growth, which contain the agility and adaptability necessary to bridge these disconnects and to thrive.
Now, I use the term “growth” generally, and certainly not rigorously. What I mean is to impart the need, even the urgency, for all of us in engineering education to rethink our programs, both inside and outside the classroom, so that our graduates are equipped not only with the latest knowledge and skills, but also with the mindsets that will help them succeed long after graduation in our fast-changing world. Importantly, such mindsets can only grow in ecosystems cultivated in brick-and-mortar environments.
With this in mind, we at USC Viterbi espouse the following five mindsets:
1. Hug the exponential: Engineers are privileged today, as they are instrumental in setting the pace of technological growth. Our graduates must be the masters of this development. It is our responsibility to educate them with the best available engineering knowledge and skills to hug the exponential.
2. Engineering + X: Engineering (or more generally, technology) is at the center of advances in practically every discipline (read “X”). This interdisciplinarity defines where many new ideas will be incubated. Such a mindset spells out not just what we do, but also who we are and what we look like. It changes the conversation about engineering. At USC Viterbi, it helps attract a diverse group of students, as well; for example, women comprised 45 percent of our 2018 entering class.
3. Innovation in the broadest sense: Many of our graduates will develop new markets, create new jobs and reinvent themselves. Principles and practices of innovation and entrepreneurship — and the ability to reinvent oneself — will be crucial ingredients for thriving in a constantly changing world.
4. The cultural mind: Technology has increasingly profound effects on cultures. It shapes new cultural norms. Understanding cultures broadly defined: globally and locally, historically and in the future, politically and in terms of policy, is another essential ingredient to flourishing.
5. Heroic engineering: Eliminating poverty, vanquishing illness, ensuring a sustainable planet and securing a bright future for humanity are all Grand Challenges. The NAE Grand Challenges are even more apt to our engineering students. These goals are increasingly within reach because of technology. But technology can also lead to unintended consequences. This means that we must be fluent in the importance of technology ethics, where one needs to worry not only about what is smart and legal but also what is ethical.
Some of the above mindsets address technology proper. But many focus on the intersection with society, behavior and the human spirit. They are inspired by the NAE Grand Challenges Scholars Program, co-founded by USC Viterbi, Duke Engineering and Olin College in 2009, and now spreading nationally and worldwide.
In this magazine, you will enjoy learning how many of these themes permeate the USC Viterbi School of Engineering. We hope that they will inspire and exalt, just like they have inspired many of our friends and supporters over the years — who, with a variety of means, through advice, friendship, support and financial contributions, have helped and are helping advance our mission and vision for our students to grow and thrive in today’s exponential changing world.
The Exponential pace of technology brings constant disruption. This requires agility and adaptability – and new mindsets