The Next Great Generation of Problem Solvers is Already Here

Michael Milligan
3 min readFeb 9, 2023

If you missed the 10th International Conference on Transformations in Engineering Education (ICTIEE-2023), you missed out on a special event! Indo Universal Collaboration for Engineering Education (IUCEE) was formed in 2008 by academic and industrial experts in India and the U.S. “to improve the quality and global relevance of engineering education in India.” ICTIEE is just one IUCEE program created to connect industry and academia to achieve their mission.

I have been attending — and presenting at — ICTIEE since its inception ten years ago. Since I usually speak about the importance of sustainability in education, I was delighted to see this year’s theme, “Transforming Engineering Education for Sustainable Development,” as it was the first time sustainability was identified as the major theme for this conference.

ICTIEE focused on sustainability this year for the first time.

My fellow keynote speakers were impressive, with their focus on solar energy and other tactics for sustainable development. What impressed me the most, however, was the IUCEE Annual Student Forum (IASF), which was held alongside ICTIEE. At the IASF, students from across India gathered to build models for sustainable awareness. The students formed teams led by United Nations Climate Ambassadors to work on one of five United Nations Sustainable Development Goals. During the three-day forum, students analyzed the challenges, developed solutions and then presented proposals for helping to achieve their team’s SDG.

I was impressed by the students’ potential solutions to the challenges they were presented. Their ideas were unique and authentic. Their excitement was refreshing. It gave me hope for the future to see the genuine, original designs these young adults came up with in only three days.

Student Connection

IASF was a great reminder that college students are the next generation of great problem solvers, and connecting with students is essential to achieving the SDGs. At a time of climate emergency, it is essential that we embrace the contributions — and enthusiasm — of college students. If we don’t encourage this next generation of problem solvers, we are missing out on talent and opportunities to achieving the SDGs.

The students participating in IASF had unique ideas and inspiring enthusiasm.

This is evident in the priorities that Gen Z tends to hold as adults. 32% of Gen Z adults participated in activities aimed at addressing climate change in 2020, more than any other generation. In fact, the percentage of those participating in the fight against climate change has risen with each generation. So, it’s clear today’s student are engaged.

Where Do We Go from Here?

Each generation has abilities based on their experiences — both different from those who came before them and those who will come after. We frequently talk about diversity in terms of gender, race or culture but not as often when it comes to age. This needs to change. Current and future college students have grown up in a world in a climate emergency, giving them a different perspective on the world than their parents or grandparents. It’s this kind of diverse thought we need for creative solutions to our sustainability challenges.

Younger generations should be included in sustainable discussions or we will be leaving potential solutions on the table.

We can do this by listening to their needs, whether through analyzing data or talking directly with students. We know that Gen Z tends to be passionate about sustainability and that we are coming to the point of no return in terms of climate change. From what I saw at IASF, if we don’t include them in sustainable discussions, we are leaving potential solutions on the table while our world continues to deteriorate.

College students may be inexperienced, but they have amazing desire to contribute to solutions for global problems if we provide them with opportunities to develop their ideas. After seeing the results during IASF, I’m inspired to connect with students more often. I think that if more of us connected with this upcoming group of STEM professionals, we could be one step closer to achieving the SDGs.

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Michael Milligan

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