Great Minds, Greater Impact

During our Symposium in April, the Great Minds, Greater Impact panel met to discuss current and future global challenges our STEM students face.

A few weeks ago, a group of 700 business, education and community leaders gathered in Baltimore to participate in Governor Larry Hogan’s inaugural Business Summit. The event was designed to highlight the industries driving the state’s economy, and in part, the role that innovation in higher education will need to play in building our workforce.

Since January 2015, Maryland has added nearly 100,000 jobs and has successfully recruited major new investments from companies such as Amazon, Under Armour, Marriott, McCormick, Morgan Stanley and Northrup Grumman. The jobs are based here, but the collective positions will have far reaching impact across our globe.

As leader of a Maryland-based organization with global reach, I see the influx of energy and economic opportunity that these corporations have brought to Maryland, and I applaud it. Maryland is unquestionably “open for business” and it’s clear these organizations are willing to play a vital part in bettering our communities and the lives of the people living in them.

But isn’t there another dimension to consider in this? Isn’t there a calculated risk these companies are making? Like you, I see the obvious benefits of those 100,000 jobs, but I also see the domestic and global consumers of the products and services that will be produced by them. I see those consumers wanting solutions faster, with the best and latest technology, which are designed and delivered in ways that respect the human experience with those products and services. And those consumers are perhaps more likely than ever to be from cultures that span the globe far from the Maryland cities where the solutions were conceptualized. So will those 100,000 people be ready for those jobs? Will they be equipped to deliver solutions for their companies and the consumers that demand all of that?

I think they can be, and I am certain that the key to that readiness rests in education — comprehensive, high quality, integrated education. Education that hones necessary technological skills without discounting the critical role of the liberal arts. It’s a sentiment articulated well by the late Steve Jobs in March, 2011. Following the launch of the iPad2 and in response to a question about the key to Apple’s success Jobs replied,

“It’s in Apple’s DNA that technology alone is not enough — it’s technology married with liberal arts, married with the humanities, that yields us the results that make our heart sing…”

At ABET, we accredit college and university programs in the STEM disciplines at the associate, bachelor and master degree levels. And through this accreditation, students, employers and states like Maryland can be confident that these vital programs meet the quality standards that produce graduates prepared to enter a global workforce.

The domestic and global challenges we face are not simply technological, engineering or science challenges. They are human challenges first, and their solutions require the humanities disciplines acting in concert with the technical areas that are at the core of ABET.

Meeting these human challenges will require innovative approaches in education that transcend disciplines and integrate them. It’s why we’re encouraged to see creative solutions like the one announced earlier this month between Cornerstone University and Grand Valley State University (GVSU). Together, they will offer a degree that pairs Cornerstone’s design and innovation strengths with GVSU’s ABET-accredited engineering expertise and large-scale laboratory infrastructure. What will emerge are engineers who can see the broader issues that society faces and who can apply a multidisciplinary approach to solving them.

And as people committed to educating this vital next generation of problem solvers, we must challenge norms, traditions and the status quo of what worked in education in the past. We simply don’t have time to waste. Ideas like exposing students earlier to real-world challenges will be increasingly important as society prepares to confront the demanding population and infrastructure challenges of the next several decades.

Northwestern’s McCormick School of Engineering and Applied Sciences embodies this earlier is better approach with its Design Thinking and Communications (DTC) course. Through the course freshman students are challenged to design and effectively communicate solutions to common challenges faced by people confronted by a range of disabilities. The students are limited only by time, their creativity and a $100 budget. Giving these students early, hands-on training will help them emerge from their coursework and degree programs with a deeper appreciation of the real-world uses and implications of the solutions we will need them to produce.

Or take Olin College, a 20-year-old private engineering college located in Massachusetts, with a highly innovative approach to learning and engineering education. With a project-based curriculum, no academic departments, small classes, $100,000 merit scholarships and a 50 percent female enrollment, Olin aims to create models for educating engineers and work together with other educators and institutions to catalyze and accelerate progress.

As the pace of global change seems only to be accelerating and we careen toward a future rich with opportunities and challenges, we must be thoughtful about how we will get there from here. What will get us there — to a future where great challenges are met with even greater triumph — is comprehensive and integrated education. It will be this type of education that will be the difference-maker at home and in the lives of those across the globe.

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

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