Stuck in 1955

Educating Engineers for the Century to Come

In 1955, Ford introduced the Fairlane—a massive, rounded sedan splashed with chrome and terminating in two rocket-inspired tailfins. It weighed more than one and a half tons and averaged less than 10 miles per gallon of (leaded) gasoline.

The product of a vastly different time, the Fairlane predates the US interstate system and certainly didn’t anticipate the global competition that would make cars smaller and more efficient. Its designers had no premonition of climate change, and the car’s safety features now seem laughable. No carmaker today would produce a vehicle like the Fairlane.

So why is engineering education stuck in a time when the Fairlane was all the rage? Engineering curriculums are still rooted in a 1955 report that emphasized theory over practical, hands-on work. This situation calls for sweeping change, argue Sheryl SorbyNorman L. Fortenberry, and Gary Bertoline. They assess the problems with the current system, including “racial and social disparities, elitism in academia, and the pervasive practice of locking students in or out of engineering pathways as early as elementary school.” And they outline a revolutionary approach to engineering education that can “address the needs of today’s digital, diverse, global, and rapidly changing society.”

Read about the revolution in engineering education.