If it feels like people have been sounding off on electrical engineering education for years, then perhaps here’s some evidence from over a century ago to confirm this. Charles P. Steinmetz, one of the giants of the field, wrote a scathing critique of engineering education in a 1908 paper titled “Electrical Engineering Education”.
Below are some of the choice snippets from the paper (in no particular order), some of which are as relevant now as they were over a hundred years ago:
“When the student enters college he is not receptive to an intelligent understanding, for after a four years’ dose in the high school of the same vicious method of memorizing a large mass of half and even less understood matters, the student finds it far easier to memorize the contents of his textbooks than to use his intelligence to understand the subject matter. After graduation, years of practice do for the better class of students what the college should have done-teach them to understand things.”
“Fortunately, the better technical colleges realize that the first requirement of an electrical engineer is a thorough general education, and begin to realize that for this purpose it is not sufficient; to require general subjects for college entrance and relegate their study to the high school: for even if the average high school were what it should be and not what it actually is, much of the general knowledge required by an educated man cannot be taught in the high school, since during the high-school years the intelligence of the boy is not sufficiently ripened for its grasp, and a review in the college is necessary.”
“The glaring fault of the college curriculum is that quantity and not quality seems to be the object sought: the amount of instruction crowded into a four years’ course is far beyond that which even the better kind of student can possibly digest. Memorizing details largely takes the place of understanding principles, with the result that a year after graduation much of the matter which had been taught has passed out of the memory of the student, and even examinations given to the senior class on subjects taught during the freshman and sophomore years, reveal conditions which are startling and rather condemnatory to the present methods of teaching.”
“The great defect of the engineering college is the insufficient remuneration of the teaching staff: the salaries paid are far below those which the same class of men command in industrial work, and as a result the college cannot compete with the industry for its men, but most of the very best men are out of reach for the colleges.”
This is a guest post by James Gregory of Cancer Monthly discussing the asbestos-related cancer mesothelioma.
Often when you hear about mesothelioma and asbestos-related diseases, it’s a lawyer on a television commercial asking you to call his 800 number. Seldom do you hear about how and where people contract this deadly disease, or how it affects you personally.
Electricians were exposed to asbestos from both the products they used and the drilling and cutting they performed on structures. Working with asbestos insulated wires, electrical panels, insulation films, and arc chutes was a hidden hazard in the 60s and 70s, and running wires through asbestos-ridden, pre-1980 buildings is still a risk today. Drilling or cutting through old joint compound, dry wall, insulation, flooring and ceiling/roofing tiles can potentially release invisible asbestos fibers into the air and into your lungs.
Since asbestos is now regulated, this risk is steadily decreasing, so younger workers are less likely to be affected. However, many older and retired electricians are in still danger from prior exposure, and sadly, many are suffering now from asbestosis, pleural plaques and effusion, and malignancies like mesothelioma.
Paul Kraus knows this all too well. He was exposed to asbestos dust through industrial trade work in the 1960s. In 1997, 30 years later, while in the hospital for routine hernia surgery, he was diagnosed with mesothelioma and given less than 12 months to live.
Today, 16 years later, Paul Kraus is very much alive and is now reported as the longest living mesothelioma survivor in the world. In his book, he details how he worked with doctors to develop a treatment plan to overcome this asbestos-caused disease. If you or someone you know is in a similar situation, you can see how he did it by ordering a free copy of his book at www.survivingmesothelioma.com.
A recent IEEE news article suggests a reduction in the number of electrical engineers in the US workforce:
“Electrical engineering jobs went down by 40 000 in the first quarter of the year, with the unemployment rate rising to 6.5 percent. In 2010 and 2011, the unemployment rate for electrical engineers held at 3.4%. In 2012, there were 335,000 electrical engineers in the workforce, said the IEEE-USA. That figure now stands at 295,000.”
Electrical engineering is a big discipline encompassing fields from computer systems to microelectronics to telecommunications to HV engineers. Whether or not there is an unemployment issue for power engineers is difficult to ascertain from statistics pertaining to the whole discipline of electrical engineering.
From this IEEE Roundup article (December 2012):
“[T]o smarten up the grid, utility companies need power engineers—lots of them—and soon. That’s because during the next decade, about half of the estimated 7000 engineers in the field in the United States are expected to retire.”
The solutions offered by the article all amount to throwing more money at encouraging students to take up power engineering, e.g.
“One of the possible solutions is the IEEE Power & Energy Society’s Scholarship Plus Initiative is a multimillion-dollar three-year program that encourages EE undergrads to pursue careers in power engineering by awarding them scholarships and providing career experiences as undergraduates.”
“[T]he Portland General Electric Foundation awarded a $50 000 grant to Portland State University to help prepare engineering students for careers in the power industry. “
“Patricia Hoffman, assistant secretary of the U.S. Department of Energy at the Office of Electricity Delivery and Energy Reliability reported that the department used $100 million from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act—the economic stimulus plan enacted in 2009—to retarget programs toward smart-grid education. The department granted 54 awards to rebuild various university power and energy programs and fund research projects.”
The Unwritten Laws of Engineering are a series of three articles (parts one, two and three) written in 1944 by W. J. King and published in Mechanical Engineering magazine. Don’t let the “mechanical” part fool you because the advice is applicable to all engineers.
In Search of a New Generation of Power Systems Engineers
Over the next decade, it is estimated that over half of the power systems engineering workforce is eligible to retire. At the same time as knowledge and experience leave the industry, there is renewed investment and political will to upgrade ageing infrastructure and transform the grid to integrate renewable and distributed sources of generation.
This blog looks at how we as a profession are going to fill this gap between growing demand and shrinking supply of specialist power engineering skills, with particular focus on the education and training of a new generation of power systems engineers.
Open Electrical is a free power systems engineering resource for industry practitioners, academics and students.
- Steinmetz on Electrical Engineering Education in 1908
- Surviving Mesothelioma
- Dismal Unemployment Numbers for Electrical Engineers
- Filling the Power Engineering Skills Gap
- The Unwritten Laws of Engineering
- Recruiting Challenges in the Power Sector
- In a Warming Job Market, the Hottest Sector is Power
- Smart Grid and the Next Generation
- European Universities not “turning out enough engineers”
- Reinventing the Way We Teach Engineers
- Improving Mathematics Education
- HBS Case Study Approach to Engineering Education
- Comparing Engineering in India and Australia
- Can Engineering Schools be Fixed? Part 3
- Can Engineering Schools be Fixed? Part 2