Looking at the Future of (Engineering) Education

Recently, I had the opportunity to participate in an interview about something very near and dear to my heart: the simple yet loaded question of what an education, and engineering education in particular, might look like in the future, and where the discipline as a whole is headed.

I am very vocal about my beliefs that education will — and should — look vastly different in the near future, and the same holds true for my own beloved discipline. In more than 40 years as an engineer, I have seen incredible things: new advancements in technology, new methodologies for learning, new achievements and feats of ingenuity and engineering that could not have been imagined when I was first obtaining my degree. And these advancements in technology, ingenuity, and engineering are directed to increasingly complex, and many times global, problems fraught with uncertainties, lacking a simple solution and requiring a multitude of disciplines to understand them and solve them. That is why our emphasis on interdisciplinarity makes us and our students quite exemplary — and still we need to get better at it.

At Georgia Tech, we are working hard to make sure that the next generation of learners, and those beyond, get a new approach to learning that is going to teach them not what to think, but how to think and work well with others, how to keep up with the changing pace of rapidly growing technology-driven industries, and flexible options to come back and learn more in order to pursue what they want most from their lives and careers.

The student of today is very, very bright. Certainly brighter than we were at their age. And, they have a drive and a hunger that we haven’t seen before. They want to do things that matter. They want to learn by doing. They want hands-on projects and problem-driven education. And finally, they want to be their own bosses and create their own businesses. This is both a challenge and an opportunity. They are hungry for the excitement of putting their ideas to work under their control. This kind of drive has already started to impact the way we do education, and it will continue to do so in the future.

What we would like to do at Georgia Tech is educate an individual who is creative, innovative, and that is responsibly taking risks, and is then willing to learn from all sorts of things. They should be willing to go anywhere, make associations necessary to connect things together, and say, “Yes, I can solve this problem by looking at that problem.” So we cannot just provide content-based education now, or in the future. We must educate individuals on how to use content from different sources.

To me, the future is not only more complicated than the present, but it’s also more exciting. It provides more tools. The problems of the future and the present are going to require an engineer who is not hung up on a particular discipline but is eager to learn from whatever and whomever have the solutions.

Rafael L. Bras

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