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Dr. Bordogna's Remarks


"Distinguished Symposium on the New Engineer"

Dr. Joseph Bordogna
Deputy Director
Chief Operating Officer
Edmund Pratt, Jr. School of Engineering

December 3, 1999

I am delighted to be here and to be included in such a distinguished panel of speakers. The National Science Foundation extends congratulations to Kristina Johnson as its new Dean of Engineering. Duke has made a wonderful appointment to follow on the wonderful tenure of Earl Dowell.

If you can make sense of the complex, you will have a career in the 21st Century.

If you are adept, also, at integrating all knowledge to some purpose, you will likely enjoy an engineering career in the 21st Century.

The term the "new engineer" is a metaphor for the new era which we have created with the microprocessor, the laser, fiber optics, satellite technologies, and other marvels of our world. I used to design television circuitry as an engineer at RCA early in my career; yet, though I "know this sutff," I still marvel at what God has wrought when I look at today's high definition television, or HTDV as it is referred to in today's growing acronym lexicon of complex technological terminology.

Our language and conversation are filled with the new terms and with vastly different meanings for old terms. Before the advent of electronic computers, a virus was the flu, and memory was something you lost as you grew old.

Just as times and terms have changed, the needs and requirements for all professions and careers have changed. The environment and the sociology of work have also changed.

There is an increasing connection between academic education and economic growth. Partnerships between industry and academe are becoming common operational arrangements. And, information technologies have become the new infrastructure of science, engineering, and the function of economies.

The "big picture' is a very different painting today. Our goal should be to educate engineers for the knowledge-economy, not for a "museum era economy." That does not mean the end of manufacturing, it means that we are recognizing the end of manufacturing, as we knew it. The making and moving of goods still underlie the meaning of economy, as they have throughout history. Today's rapidly changing technologies put them in a different context. As the teachings of economist, Joseph Sohumpeter, have revealed, "...a normally healthy economy (is) not one in equilibrium, but one that (is) constantly being disrupted by technological innovation." (The Economist, 1999)

The trajectory of science, engineering, and technology over the last half century has consistently moved toward greater complexity. This escalating complexity is powering us to a greater focus on intellectual integration. Understanding the characteristics of the whole demands more than knowledge only of the parts.

We need to train the "new engineers" to think strategically and holistically. We need to educate them beyond their technical expertise and prepare them for what is to come, not what is. The best technical training must be combined with an understanding of how that expertise fits into the larger societal environment, into our overriding national goals, and, indeed, into the goals of other nations.

This is the driving force, for example, behind investments that the National Science Foundation makes in people, ideas, and tools across all engineering and science.

We must teach engineers to read the larger context in which they will work--the sector, the society, and even the time in history, the moment in civilization. This will provide a path for imagining the future.

Peter Drucker put it best. He says: "I never predict. I just look out the window and see what is visible, but not yet seen."

In the past, we have provided engineers with a first-rate technical education. But it was an education mostly about pieces and not their interconnections.

At our universities, we have the opportunity and responsibility to help students learn how to "see" the larger context of society and from it extrapolate good insight.

History is important. To understand and imagine the nature of the future, the "new engineer" will need to study the past. History offers us a window on the constancy of human nature over centuries, a description of social change, and examples of mistakes that altered the course of events. Lastly, it tells us how the environment or culture of a time or place can make it ripe for dramatic change.

Innovation is both the root and the goal of engineering. Creativity and risk-taking are inherent to any form of innovation: the process of using knowledge to travel paths that are new and different. Sometimes we comprehend these paths better from examples outside our own discipline or experience.

As one example, creativity and risk-taking drive art and artists. Art is in the business of always breaking the rules. Impressionism, cubism, jazz, rock music--every field of artistic endeavor teaches the process of creative envisioning and risk taking. For an engineering career, innovation is the 21st Century focus, rather than productivity only. The latter sustained an engineering career through most of the 20th Century... but, no longer.

And importantly, engineers need to be communicators. The capacity to influence through written and spoken words may sound old fashioned; in a knowledge-economy, advocation is critical.

To prepare the New Engineer, the curriculum needs to be designed in a new way. The objective will be to teach the ways in which individuals can propel disciplines, industries, and societies in whole new directions... keeping in mind that with each new design, an engineer manifests her or his intent for society's future. Following this path, 21st Century is likely to regard the New Engineer as Astute Maker, Trusted Innovator, Harm Avoider, Change Agent, Knowledge Handler, Enterprise Enabler, Technology Steward, and Master Integrator.



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