Wednesday, April 16, 2008

RPI and The Shift

Just a quick post about this story regarding Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute:
The practice of engineering is now a global enterprise, but engineering education in the United States is still very much a domestic product. Few U.S. engineering students spend any significant time abroad during college, even though their eventual careers may require them to collaborate with international clients or co-workers, or even to work in other countries.

Those two dissonant facts have prompted Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, in Troy, N.Y., to begin requiring all of its undergraduate engineering students to spend some time overseas.


  1. Engineering education has a long way to go in this country. Engineering students are by-in-large dedicated, smart, thorough students that are put through a regiment of required classes that involve little imagination, little time or opportunity to branch out and see the world or form connections to other disciplines of study. In a global and changing world with increasing need for people to make connections and look at things in a whole new light we need our new engineers to be educated in complex ways not the old and familiar. The Olin College of Engineering is the only one that I have seen that is making the dedicated effort needed to make significant change.

  2. Karl,

    Interesting that you posted this today - I've just been tweeting about my parents, who married after WWII ended. Dad attended RPI on the GI Bill and spent most of his career as an engineer (metallurgist) with General Electric in Schenectady.

    Both of my parents served overseas during the War. Mom never really wanted to travel again, but Dad became a globetrotter, traveling repeatedly to the UK, France, Italy, Sweden and Japan. If his career had lasted longer, I'm sure he would have visited China, also.

    Although he was educated in the U.S., Dad was cosmopolitan in outlook and would be quite comfortable in today's flat world.


  3. Karl,
    Thanks for this post.
    Interesting that students at RPI are not required to learn a second language. I recently attended a world language forum that included business and regional economic growth officials. Small business was represented by a level one automotive supplier. He said that he does not hire anybody (blue or white collar) that does not know a second, third or fourth language. The regional economic growth representative told us that the whole dialogue with the Chinese changed when he told them that an entire county in his state was committed to teaching Mandarin Chinese in their schools. It wasn't as much about learning the language per se, as English is required of all students in China, but more a recognition that we value their culture enough to learn their language.

  4. @jacquio - It sounds like you know quite a lot about engineering education - I'd love to hear more (although it's a little depressing if what you said is accurate).

    @diane - thanks for sharing that story. I can't help but think that something like the GI bill - with that scope and scale - would be impossible in today's climate. I know there are proposals that purport to be like a GI bill, but I don't think they come close to matching the ambitious goals and implementation of the original.

    @lori - I was surprised as well that RPI didn't require a second language, but I wonder how many students take one anyway? And I agree, often it's not really learning the language that's important, but the history and the culture of the countries where it's spoken.

  5. 2 things:

    what do you call someone who speaks 3 languages?
    2 languages?
    1 language?

    I recommend everyone listen to this MIT world podcast.
    Geeks and Chiefs

    Of course there's the world is flat.

    and 3.0