A Whole New Engineer (The Book) is Coming

This week I spent time at Olin College in Needham, MA with my co-author, Mark Somerville, and collaborating writer, Catherine Whitney as we worked toward a first full draft manuscript for a new book,  A Whole New Engineer: A Surprising Emotional Journey.  We’ve been working on the book for almost a year and a half, and crafting the stories together with the logic of the WNE message has been challenging, engaging, all in all a lovely learning experience.

Books, papers, & reports galore have been written about engineering education reform, but this book is different from others in a number of respects.  First, we intentionally aimed the book to appeal to non-engineers and non-educators as well as engineers and educators.  With a planet approaching 7 billion inhabitants and sustainability increasingly a question, it’s everyones business whether we are attracting, graduating, and retaining enough great engineers to sustain a collective life that depends on technology.

Moreover, one of the surprising things about the Big Beacon movement has been the number of people who have come forward with a kind of retroactive engineer envy/regret: “I wish I had been an engineer, especially if the engineer of the future is going to be like the whole new engineer described in the manifesto” (here).  Because of these factors, the book is designed to appeal a general audience, to students (and their parents), educators (STEM, STEAM, engineering, and otherwise), engineers and would-have-been engineers, and employers of engineers.

Second, the book is not a statistical report, a philosophical argument, an equation-filled tome, or a make-everybody-happy committee report.  It is a book written from a unique set of collaborative experiences; it is narrative driven and largely full of stories, stories about student engagement, stories about starting a new engineering school, stories about culture change at a large state university that didn’t want to change, and stories about what’s missing in many of the efforts to reform engineering education.

And the stories lead to conclusions that were surprising to its authors.  Mark and I didn’t set out to write a book with a punchline about the importance of emotion in the reform in engineering education, but as we continued to put the narrative picture together, we were increasingly drawn to the conclusion that emotion is the unsung hero of all successful engineering education reform and the missing ingredient in efforts that fail.  The usual focus of reform efforts and books urging reform is the rational redesign of content, curriculum, or pedagogy, but A Whole New Engineer suggests that we have been looking for reform in all the wrong places, that the reform of engineering education is about a fundamental shift in culture, a fundamental augmentation of the professor as an expert or an “I know” to a coach or an “I trust,” and the unleashing of student engagement.  Although this conclusion was unexpected, it is good news in  that it leads to a practical set of steps that are inexpensive, scalable, and involve order of magnitudes of improvement with small changes to current practices in our schools. This sounds, in some sense, too good to be true, but we have been haven’t been looking for emotion and student unleashing as solutions to educational difficulty, largely because the underlying assumptions of our culture (a) emphasize the faculty member as the primary actor in class, and (b) minimize the role of emotion in everything we do.  We hope that this book gives us all permission to talk about and acknowledge the role of student unleashing and emotion in effective engineering education transformation.

Of course, the shifts required aren’t easy, but one of the cool things is that we live at a time when many of the fundamental tools required, ideas and practices, both, are at our fingertips. We live in a time with a cornucopia of great knowledge about such things as intrinsic motivation, mindfulness, executive coaching, change management, and the book weaves a narrative of how this understanding and these practices can inform a whole new engineering education and educational rewire process, now.

The book is scheduled to come out early in 2014 and the release of the book will be accompanied by scheduling a global conversation and tour about engineering, engineering education, what’s needed, and how to get it.  There are opportunities to be a part of this conversation/tour, to sponsor it financially and intellectually, and also to bring an event to your city, to your school, to your organization, or online.  If exploring these possibilities is of interest to you, write to me (deg@bigbeacon.org) and let’s start talking about how to make it happen.