Equipping Graduates to Build a Sustainable World

A few weeks ago, I had the opportunity to deliver the keynote at the World Engineering Education Forum (WEEF) in Chennai, India. As a longtime member of the International Federation of Engineering Education Societies (IFEES), I was honored to open the conference. IFEES hosts the world’s engineering education societies in a different country each year, where we have an opportunity to discuss critical issues facing engineering education around the world.

Events like WEEF, which bring together an international network of educators, are crucial to finding solutions to the many global challenges we face — helping to build a world that is safer and more comfortable for all to live. Not only do organizations such as ABET benefit greatly from the event, but local institutions of higher education are heavily involved in their development and execution, resulting in an opportunity to “tell their story” while engaging the larger international community.

With the theme Disruptive Engineering Education for Sustainable Development, I was excited to discuss higher education’s fundamental role in supporting sustainable development with a global audience. As educators, we have an opportunity to impact and influence students — and an obligation to help them understand how engineering and the other STEM disciplines can help solve the many problems facing our planet. Environmental, economic, public health and inequality issues are all problems that transcend national boundaries.

STEM graduates will play a big role in developing solutions to these complex, global challenges. But to prepare them to do so, we must equip them with the essential skills, knowledge, educational experiences, and values to build a sustainable future. We must inform and educate our students to understand the necessity of sustainable development. This is the seminal challenge facing their generation.

Much of the World Engineering Convention (WEC) 2019, which I attended immediately after WEEF, was centered on this topic. Co-hosted by Engineers Australia and the World Federation of Engineering Organizations (WFEO), the overarching theme of the convention was Engineering a Sustainable World: The Next 100 Years. A great deal of the discussion focused around the urgency of developing a workforce that is equipped to solve the many problems facing our planet.

As engineering educators and STEM professionals, it is our responsibility to make sure our students are equipped to handle these challenges. In fact, I recently joined a task force dedicated to this topic. The group, comprised of members from three international engineering organizations — IFEES, WFEO and the IEA (International Engineering Alliance) — is tasked with reviewing the 2013 IEA Graduate Attributes and Professional Competencies (GAPC) to ensure they reflect contemporary employer needs. Notably, GAPCs must equip future engineering professionals to incorporate practices that advance the UN Sustainable Development Goals. In creating a list of essential competencies for future engineering graduates, it became increasingly apparent that the next professional cohort of engineering graduates must be prepared to solve large complex problems.

As CEO and Executive Director of ABET, I see the critical role that my organization — and bodies like IFEES, WFEO and the IEA — have in ensuring those entering our profession are prepared to address these many global challenges. At ABET, our focus is on the accreditation of associate, bachelor’s and master’s degree programs in the disciplines of applied and natural science, computing, engineering and engineering technology. By incorporating sustainability and ethics into our criteria, we ensure that graduates of ABET-accredited programs are not only aware of our global challenges, but are able to think critically and innovate in order to solve them. Future STEM professionals must be able to apply their technical expertise to design solutions while considering public health and safety, as well as global, cultural, social, environmental, and economic factors.

Most of the problems facing our planet will require engineering solutions. It is our responsibility to ensure our students are prepared to solve these problems, as well as the ever-changing challenges we may face in the future. Events such as WEEF and WEC are essential to building excellence in engineering education through a global network of institutions and organizations, who can work together to create a better future for all.

Executive Director & CEO of ABET, the global accreditor of college and university programs in the STEM disciplines.