Education for the Technology Ecosystem

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Read the full story by Karen Endicott, originally published in the summer 2012 issue of Dartmouth Engineer.

Thayer School of Engineering Dean Joseph J. Helble was among the engineering leaders invited to the White House in February to discuss the call from the President’s Council on Jobs and Competitiveness for the nation to produce 10,000 more engineers a year over the next decade. Dartmouth Engineer asked him about the challenge and Thayer School’s role in meeting it.

Joseph Helble

Joseph J. Helble, dean of the Thayer School of Engineering, discusses the need for more graduates, across disciplines, to have an engineering background in order to help tackle the world’s problems. (photo by John Sherman/Thayer School of Engineering at Dartmouth)

What is your perspective on the national call for 10,000 more engineering graduates a year?

Deans of engineering schools were invited to a discussion at the White House about finding ways to boost science, technology, engineering, and mathematics literacy and increase the number of engineers we graduate in the United States annually over the next 10 years. My expectation is that we’ll reach that goal of 10,000 additional engineering graduates this year, based on projections from recent freshman and sophomore enrollment data.

I think the real goal should be higher. As long as there are challenges in areas such as clean renewable energy, carbon capture and sequestration, transportation, low-cost network communication, and every problem you can imagine in healthcare, we should be graduating people who have an engineering background who can tackle these problems. It doesn’t mean that all of them have to be practicing engineers. We need attorneys who can understand engineering quantitative and analytical thinking. We need more physicians who are trained as engineers and can take an appropriate quantitative approach to healthcare. We need venture capitalists and bankers with backgrounds in engineering. We need people working in all aspects of the technology ecosystem to address the pervasive problems that are going to be with us for a century.

What is Thayer’s role in the 10,000 engineers challenge?

I think we at the Thayer School would be teaching students to recognize human need and use their skills to develop solutions, to improve the human condition, regardless of any national call for more engineers. There are pervasive problems that are crying out for new, less expensive, simpler technology solutions. On a numbers basis, even if the Thayer School were to grow dramatically, we would not be in a position to produce more than a handful of the 10,000 additional engineers a year, but I see our role as continuing to provide opportunities to motivated and creative students who take the broad view. Our role is to help them learn to use their learning and skill to tackle some of these very challenging problems in innovative, creative, and entrepreneurial ways. That’s our impact.