UTEP College of Engineering Dean Richard Schoephoerster is among a handful of engineering deans leading a national push to increase the number of engineers in the nation, and do it by changing the way engineers look and think.
The change in looks will come by increasing the number of Hispanics, blacks, and women engineers.
The change in thinking will come by changing curriculums to teach engineering students more people and business skills to go with their technical skills.
"What's driving this right now, is we're at sort of a crisis point in terms of the engineering workforce right now," Schoephoerster said. "I was at a meeting (recently) that included the overall vice president for human resources for Boeing, that
has 30,000-plus engineers around the world. He said a third of his engineering workforce is going to retire in the next five years. He is desperate for engineers."
The United States also has to keep up with China and India, which are producing large numbers of engineers, he said.
The solution is for engineering colleges to do what UTEP has done for decades -- match the demographics of their communities, which means bringing more Hispanics and blacks into the colleges, he said. The UTEP college also has a goal to increase the number of women in the school, he said.
Another key part of the solution is to make engineering curriculums more interesting and more tied to how engineers' technical skills can help improve the world, he said. In essence, to produce more well-rounded engineers.
James Spohrer, director of the IBM University Programs Worldwide, based in California, said in an email that the ideas being pushed by Schoephoerster and other engineering deans to broaden engineering education should "help improve the quantity, quality, and diversity of engineers."
"In many areas of engineering, especially the newest, hottest areas, there are not enough engineers of the type industry needs," Spohrer said.
He agreed with the UTEP dean that engineers for the future need more of a blend of business, communications, and organizational skills to go along with their technical skills. Those combined skills are needed by IBM and other companies to build a smarter and better planet, he said.
Schoephoerster, 49, came to UTEP in July 2007 after a 17-year stint at Florida International University in Miami, the nation's top producer of Hispanic engineers. He was founding chair of its Biomedical Engineering Department, a program he's also starting at UTEP.
He's one of four engineering college deans who last month went to Washington, D.C., to brief several members of Congress, federal agency officials, and others about a plan to increase the number of Hispanics, blacks, and American Indians getting engineering degrees in the United States from 12.4 percent in 2010 to 20 percent by 2025, and to transform engineering education.
The plan, with a list of 10 recommendations to increase the flow of engineering graduates, comes from a report produced out of a National Science Foundation-sponsored workshop in March. (The report is available online, http://eic3.eng.fiu.edu/nsf)
"The deans are trying to create a platform to change the demographic face of engineering because that's the only way demand (for engineers) can be met in this country," said UTEP President Diana Natalicio. "UTEP is in a perfect leadership position because it is one of the top producers of Hispanic engineers in the nation."
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