Bridging the Gaps between Engineering Education and Practice

Samantha R. Brunhaver, Russell F. Korte, Stephen R. Barley, Sheri D. Sheppard

Chapter in NBER book U.S. Engineering in a Global Economy (2018), Richard B. Freeman and Hal Salzman, editors (p. 129 - 163)
Conference held September 26-27, 2011
Published in April 2018 by University of Chicago Press
© 2018 by the National Bureau of Economic Research

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.

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