Tag Archives: courage

Episode 54 — Brain on a Stick

brainstickBiochemical engineer Kai Zhuang walks us through the evolving relationships between technology and humanity, especially as it relates to engineering education, in this episode of The Engineering Commons podcast.

  • Jeff and Adam discuss the high salaries being offered to software engineers in Silicon Valley.
  • Adam notes that the U.S. Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) placed a value of $2.6 million on the economic loss suffered by society due to a traffic fatality in 1994. The current estimates (2013) are considerably higher, in the range of $9.1 million.
  • Our guest for this episode is Kai Zhuang, a biochemical and operations engineer who has an interest in engineering education.
  • Kai’s application to the University of Toronto’s National Scholarship Program was a little more avant garde than most, consisting of creative art pieces.
  • Biomedical engineering is a fairly new engineering discipline that is only now beginning to work out its own sub-fields and areas of emphasis.
  • Kai was frustrated with the rigid curriculum structure he encountered as an undergraduate engineering student.
  • In response to his frustrations, Kai produced a video about transforming engineering education.
  • Prior guest Dave Goldberg has described engineering education as being a math-science death march.
  • Kai mentions a presentation by Harvard physics professor Eric Mazur, titled Assessment: The Silent Killer of Learning.
  • The Force Concept Inventory (FCI) has been used by Eric Mazur to evaluate the effectiveness of physics instruction.
  • Our guest describes a Big Bang Theory episode in which physicists joke about a spherical chicken in a vacuum.
  • Our modern word engineer derives from the Latin ingenium, meaning a clever invention.
  • Jeff relates Montessori education methods to Kai’s suggestions for a more exploratory engineering curriculum.
  • The post-WWII Grinter report (1955) caused engineering to be treated more as a “science” in the United States.
  • Jeff compares producing interchangeable engineers to using the Play-Doh extruder toy.
  • Kai describes the difficulty of solving problems that involve complex systems.
  • A MOOC is a “massive open online course.”
  • The ongoing shift of engineering instructors from expert to coach has been examined by Dave Goldberg, founder of Big Beacon.
  • When looking for innovative approaches to engineering education, Kai was advised by filmmaker Ryan Varga to investigate York University in Toronto, and Olin College in Boston, Massachusetts.
  • This podcast is now a media affiliate with Big Beacon.
  • Kudos to PhD Comics creator Jorge Cham for the notion of brain on a stick.
  • A recent quote from software developer Dave Winer concerns the inevitability of serious problems resulting from our increasing dependence on a “fragile and insecure” internet system.
  • Kai is disappointed that systems thinking is almost completely missing from the engineering curriculum.
  • Our guest notes that most fears are “past pain extrapolated incorrectly into the future.”
  • Brené Brown has spoken eloquently about wholeheartedness and the power of vulnerability.
  • You can reach Kai via email at kai [dot] hua {dot} zhuang ++AT++ gmail [dot] com.

Thanks to Andrew Mason for his photograph titled “Inside.” Podcast theme music by Paul Stevenson.

Episode 37 — Emergent Expectations

Tesla_circa_1890Guest David E. Goldberg talks with us about shifting expectations for engineers, and reveals the crucial skills needed by tomorrow’s engineering professionals.

  • Listening and questioning are important skills for today’s engineer, but these subjects are rarely addressed in the engineering curriculum.
  • Our guest is David E. Goldberg, who is the Jerry S. Dobrovolny Distinguished Professor Emeritus at University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign (UIUC), and the CEO of ThreeJoy Associates.
  • Dave obtained an amateur radio license as a teenager, allowing him to communicate around the world via a Model 15 teletype machine.
  • A day spent shadowing a city engineer led Dave to enroll in civil engineering.
  • Despite his background in civil engineering, our guest wrote one of the leading references about genetic algorithms. His interest in artificial intelligence was sparked by the book, Gödel, Escher, Bach: An Eternal Golden Braid.
  • In 2010, Dr. Goldberg resigned his tenure at UICU, and undertook training as a leadership coach at Georgetown University.
  • Dave’s efforts with engineering reform started with iFoundry at UIUC. This project was influenced by the National Academy of Engineering report, The Engineer of 2020. Another influential report was Engineering for a Changing World, authored by James J. Duderstadt of the University of Michigan.
  • Making changes to the engineering curriculum is difficult, as it induces a log-rolling problem among the faculty.
  • In the late 1800’s, leading electrical engineers enjoyed a “rock star” status. This included luminaries such as Thomas Edison, George Westinghouse, and Nikola Tesla.
  • It has been argued that technology and innovation are dominated by market-driven value judgments, rather than technical knowledge. This leads to engineering being a socially captive profession.
  • The rise and fall of engineers as business leaders may have resulted as a conflict between bureaucratic loyalty and professional independence, as outlined in The Revolt of the Engineers, a book by Edwin Layton.
  • Dave discusses the myth that science won World War II. Manufacturing engineers helped US factories and shipyards crank out planes, ships, and other war materiel, equaling the contributions of physicists.
  • After the war, “physics envy” caused changes in the engineering curriculum, as advised by the Grinter Report, issued in 1955.
  • While the pre-WWII engineering curriculum covered math and science at a fundamental level, the number of “hands-on” classes (drafting, shop, design, etc.) were far more prevalent than they are today.
  • Looking forward, innovation seems to be a crucial skill for engineers, as suggested by the following books:
  • When it comes to deciding whether software engineers are really “engineers,” Michael Davis of Illinois Institute of Technology (IIT) points to the lack of a accredited engineering degree as a reason for disqualifying programmers from claiming “engineering” status. Our guest makes no such distinction.
  • Engineers need to move from being category “enhancers” to being category “creators.” Dr. Goldberg claims the primary difference between these functions is emotional, and not technical.
  • Whereas engineers of the past needed to be obedient in enhancing marketplace offerings, tomorrow’s engineers must be courageous in “unleashing” their creative talents to invent novel products and services.
  • Dave believes that engineering faculty must shift from an attitude of “I know” to “I trust” to successfully foster valiant young engineers.
  • In his consulting work with ThreeJoy Associates, our guest works to transform the organizational, cultural, and emotional norms of institutions committed to engineering education.
  • Big Beacon is a “social movement of the willing” formed to share best practices in reforming educational institutions. The project’s Twitter handle is @BigBeacon, and it has a Facebook page, as well.
  • Slated for release in early 2014, Dave and co-author Mark Somerville are working on a new book, titled “A Whole New Engineer: A Surprising Emotional Journey.”
  • Programs such as First Robotics and Project Lead the Way are having success in encouraging students to pursue engineering degrees.
  • Unfortunately, students entering the engineering program are subjected to an math-science death march. Alternative rites of passage may be available for aspiring engineers.
  • Coaching and collaborative skills may be useful for engineers who have completed a traditional engineering education. Google offers its employees a course on mindfullness.
  • Dave can be reached by email as “deg” at “threejoy.com.” His Twitter handle is @deg511. He can be found on Facebook as deg511.

Thanks to Wikipedia Commons for the photograph of Nikola Tesla. Podcast theme music provided by Paul Stevenson