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Engineering Students Can Do X

One of the many blessings in my life has been my ability to travel and help transform engineering education around the world. These experiences have given me some insight into today’s engineering students and have helped me see that no matter where we live, we’re not so different after all.

While cultures vary greatly from place to place, I’ve found that at the individual level engineering students are more similar than dissimilar. My colleagues elsewhere don’t necessarily see it that way, however. Prior to engaging students overseas, I’m often surprised when a colleague pulls me aside and says quietly, as if telling me a secret, “Dave, you need to understand something. You’re not in the United States anymore. You’re in __________ (fill in the blank), and students here don’t do X,” where “X” is the particular thing that these students supposedly don’t do or aren’t capable of doing. For example, I have been told various times and in various locations that engineering students aren’t curious, don’t answer questions, don’t ask questions, can’t talk about emotions, aren’t creative, and so on and so forth across a litany of supposed inadequacies and incapacities.

As an outsider in all these situations I was sensitive to my role, yet a part of me was always curious to observe students for myself to see if they really don’t do X. I have been privileged and blessed to be able to listen to engineering sons and daughters around the world in a way that is quite compelling, and I want to share what I’ve heard from some of the brightest young engineering students in the world. My hope is that by sharing my observations I can help us all seriously think about educational reform and transformation. The remainder of this article tells three stories of what I found to be true of engineering students worldwide.

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