The Best Engineers Are No Longer Good Enough 


The sustainable transition requires engineering skills and technological development on an unprecedented scale. Therefore, three universities and programs– the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s New Engineering Education Transformation (MIT-NEET) program, the Harvard School of Engineering and Applied Sciences (SEAS) and Aalborg University (AAU) – are jointly convening a conference focusing on transforming engineering education in Boston at the end of June.
By David Graff, Dean’s Office, ENGINEERING, Aalborg University. Translated by LeeAnn Iovanni, AAU Communication
When MIT’s New Engineering Education Transformation (MIT-NEET) program, Harvard SEAS and AAU hold a conference over three days from June 21 to 23 under the heading ‘Transforming Engineering Education’, it is to grapple with the greatest challenges of our time. “By transforming engineering education, we equip students with the skills to solve complex problems, embrace interdisciplinary collaboration, and create sustainable solutions that will shape a better tomorrow,” says Eric Mazur, Balkanski Professor of Physics and Applied Physics at Harvard University and co-chair of the conference.
Anette Kolmos, Professor at AAU who is also co-chair of the conference elaborates:“The engineers of the future will provide the technology for the full-scale transformation of our energy system, develop non-fossil fuels, contribute to the management of plastic pollution and design circular production systems that do not burden the Earth's resources beyond the planetary boundaries.” 
No second chanceTraining engineers with sufficient specialized knowledge for technological areas such as these is necessary. But it is at least as important that they can look beyond their field to cooperate with engineers from other disciplines, lawmakers and companies that can ensure upscaling and market uptake.
“If you dig too deep into different specializations with blinders on, it is directly harmful. Of course, university-educated engineers must have in-depth expertise, but they must first and foremost be able to apply mathematics and other basic disciplines, think in systems and argue professionally rather than burying their heads in specialized knowledge. This is what the green transition and I as CEO need,” says Henrik Lund Stærmose, CEO, Neogrid Technologies ApS.
When engineering programmes are being developed, priority must therefore be given to collaboration, understanding the issues, and complete solutions, Henrik Lund Stærmose believes. Søren Hagemann Christensen, Regional Director of the consulting engineering firm NIRAS, agrees. There is no way around it, according to him:  
“We are on the edge of the next big technological quantum leap, and this time we must not be blinded by the possibilities so that we once again face an enormous reckoning as we did with technologies based on fossil fuels. And here engineers are central,” he says and continues:“What are the consequences when, for example, we build chemical factories for Power-2-X or when we establish new photovoltaic systems? They may be able to supply good, green energy, but what does it do to nature if we plaster Denmark with such facilities? And what are we getting ourselves into concerning the production conditions in the countries that possess the rare minerals and other raw materials to be used in these facilities? We need to think things through so that we avoid creating new problems for ourselves and the planet. We probably won't get a second chance.” 
Problem-based teaching is keyPoul Toft Frederiksen, Programme Director at the Poul Due Jensen Foundation, points out that the problem-based approach that typifies the degree programmes at Aalborg University, is central to the solution: “The problems are becoming more and more complex, and everything we do affects something else – consumers, the climate, biodiversity. So, understanding the entire picture is crucial, and problem-based teaching trains engineers to be able to do that. Even the very skilled Danish engineers need to strengthen their ability to think beyond their discipline if they are to stand a chance in the increased complexity we face,” he believes.
Facts about the conference ‘Transforming Engineering Education’The conference ‘Transforming Engineering Education’ June 21 to 23 in Boston is the ninth in a series of international research symposia based on the learning approach PBL (Problem-Based Learning) exploring how the engineering programmes of the future can be optimized. The Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s cross-departmental interdisciplinary MIT-NEET program and the Harvard School of Engineering and Applied Sciences provide the framework and the logistics for the Boston conference, while Aalborg University is a co-organizer with responsibility for reviewing papers and publications for the conference.
The university collaboration is a big plus, says co-chair Edward Crawley, Ford Professor of Engineering, Professor of Aeronautics and Astronautics and Senior Advisor, NEET, MIT:
“Universities around the world provide an important function for society – they stimulate economic and social development, and work to protect the environment. Much of this contribution comes from students, and particularly engineering students, who leave the university with the knowledge and skills to build a positive collective future. This meeting shares best practices in preparing students to make these important contributions in the future.”
See the conference website: about the conference series at Aalborg University: Videos with conference speakers (scroll down):