Bridging the Gaps between Engineering Education and Practice
This chapter examines the disjunctures between engineering education and practice to identify ways to better connect the two. Qualitative interviews with engineering students and new engineers are used to compare the knowledge and skills that engineers learn in school and those that they learn on the job. Our findings demonstrate that, while engineering practice requires the integration of several kinds of knowledge and skills, engineering education focuses mainly on the technical side. Engineers learn most professional and organizational knowledge and skills only after entering the workforce. Even when they are exposed to professional skills such as teamwork and communication in school, they may not see true representations of what these skills look like on the job or consider the work as “real engineering”. The results suggest deficiencies in the current model of engineering education that constrain its ability to produce effective graduates. Implications for engineering education, professional practice, and educational research are discussed.
This research was supported by two National Science Foundation (NSF) grants 0227558 and 1022644, as well as a Stanford Graduate Fellowship from Stanford University. Any opinions, findings, conclusions, and recommendations expressed in this publication are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect those of the NSF or Stanford University. The authors wish to thank Michelle Grau and Michelle Warner for their assistance with data analysis, the editors for their helpful comments on earlier drafts of this chapter, and the engineers who participated in our research.