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Twitter Chat: Questioning what Engineering Students Don’t (or Won’t) Do

I’ve spent the last several years of my engineering career thinking very carefully about what engineers can and can’t do. So far my conclusions are that engineers can have tremendous impact in areas that you might not expect – ending poverty, fighting injustice, creating jobs, saving lives. The engineering profession’s scope is well beyond the boundaries of the purely technical.  So why do many of our educational institutions persist in thinking that engineering students are (or should be) only technical in their thinking?

Recently I happened upon this article about mistaken ideas about engineering students called Engineering Students Don’t Do X  by Big Beacon founder Dave Goldberg, which originally appeared on the Huffington Post website.   I was struck by the parallels to my own observations which have blown away my own mental ‘box’ around engineering work, revealing it to be a rich mix of analysis and imagination, of left- and right-brained functions, science and art.  In recounting his work with engineering students all over the world, he disproved the following statements, made by colleagues at the host organizations he was visiting:  “Engineering students don’t answer questions,” “Engineering students aren’t reflective,” and “Engineering students aren’t articulate in spoken language.”

Engineering students don’t do emotion, or want to be great

The prevailing thinking was that engineering students were unable or unwilling to take emotional risks, to aspire to be great, or to embrace courage into their work and become leaders.  However, with discussion and gentle prompting, their conversations with Dr. Goldberg revealed that they were very interested in all of the above.  Those assumptions had not been true at all!

This week’s #BigBeacon twitter chat will centre on perceptions of limitation that we carry – knowingly or unknowingly- about a certain group of people and their potential.  What are the most commonly-held ideas about what engineering students do and don’t do that you have encountered?  What about practicing engineers?  What happens when we underestimate people, or misjudge their values, motivations and abilities?  How could engineering education change to recognize what engineering students CAN and are willing to do?  What’s the one thing that could get us started on this path now?   What is possible in an engineering education system with no limitations in its read of student potential?

Join us on May 21st 2014 at 8 pm EDT, on hashtag #BigBeacon.  We hope you’ll come and contribute your thoughts to this very important and enjoyable conversation about transforming engineering education!

A Canadian professional engineer with a background in manufacturing and mining, Erica is passionate about creating a better future through Six Sigma, Lean/Kaizen Events, mentorship, coaching, sustainability, educational reform and talking to kids about engineering.

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