The American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) has been a leader in “raising the bar” for the education of civil engineers. In 2001, ASCE established the Task Committee on Academic Prerequisites for Professional Practice. During a decade of work on raising the requirements for a professional engineer, this committee accomplished a lot, and in 2008 it published the Body Of Knowledge Second edition (BOK-2). This establishes the education requirement of a master’s degree in engineering, or equivalent, to qualify to be a licensed professional engineer. The BOK-2 addresses the necessary non-technical topics, but it lacked emphasis or depth of knowledge in the non-technical, professional areas of the education phase; which is necessary to prepare the graduate engineer to function as a master builder and meet the requirements for ASCE’s Vision 2025. The 5th year of the BOK-2 is dedicated to technical knowledge topics; making it similar to a current advanced technical engineering degree.
Many engineers believe the “raise the bar” effort for engineering education should include significantly more professional preparation especially in leadership, management, business, communication and public policy. During the preparation of the ASCE BOK reports, some of the committee members with industry backgrounds tried to get more professionalism into the 5th year of the CE curriculum. They proposed that the 5th year should be a professional engineering degree instead of more technical knowledge. However, they were not successful in obtaining this level of professionalism in the BOK reports.
The following are a few comments and suggestions on how the concerns of those who want more professional aspects in the education process can be addressed while still addressing the concerns of those who want the primary emphasis to be on the technical aspects. This debate has been going on for quite some time and it doesn’t appear like a resolution of the differences is forthcoming.
The consensus of the majority of the people involved in preparation of the BOK-2 apparently believes the emphasis should be on more technical preparation. Those in industry want more professional preparation in the 5th year which includes leadership, communication, business, public policy, management and team building; which is a professional engineering master’s degree. The non-technical professional component of engineering is more important than the technical component for the success of an engineer as a leader and master builder.
Therefore I propose the following:
- There is little to be gained by extending this debate as to which approach should be followed. This raising the bar for engineering education will be a work in progress for a period of time. The main thing is to start, and modification to the process can be made as necessary to continue accomplishing the objectives. We should proceed with both the technical and professional approaches simultaneously. There is room in the system for both the technical and professional approach.
- There are certain advantages associated with both approaches. For the technical approach it would be easier for the universities to present this approach as most of the faculties’ credentials are technical, and it would be similar to what presently occurs. For the professional approach it would prepare the graduates to be leaders and master builders as described in the ASCE Vision. This professional engineering approach would address the present unmet professional education needs of the industry. A recent report prepared for the ASCE October 2010 Board meeting included a survey result which stated that 74% of ASCE members support additional professional engineering education especially in leadership and communication.
- Universities than could choose to offer either the technical or professional 5th year of the BOK-2, or could offer both programs. Both would meet the education requirements for the new model licensing law.
- The professional engineering master’s option likely would be very popular with students. Many students know intuitively that they will need these professional skills to be successful.
- The criteria for ABET accreditation would need to be developed so both the technical and professional masters degree would meet the ABET accreditation requirements for the 5th year of education.
- The professional engineering masters’ degree would be a better option for engineers than a MBA. Many industry engineers are advising young engineers to get a MBA rather than an M Engineering for those who want to advance. The reason is that the concepts of leadership, communication, management, business and team building apply to all levels of engineering, not just to those who have a management designation.
- This professional engineering master’s degree option could be added to the BOK-2 as an amendment, at essentially no cost, without the necessity of having a BOK-3 committee with the associated committee costs.
Many engineers in industry want more non-technical professional and leadership knowledge and skills integrated into the engineering education raise the bar effort. The raise the bar effort should include a Professional Masters of Engineering option. The non-technical component of engineering is more important than the technical component for the success of an engineer as a Leader and Master Builder as discussed in the ASCE VISION.
If anyone agrees with the recommendation that we add a Professional Masters of Engineering option to the 5th year of the BOK-2 recommended 5 year education program, please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org or Tom Lenox at ASCE.
Mr. Lenox is in charge of the ASCE’s raise the bar effort.
Mr. Lenox’s address is:
Thomas A. Lenox, Ph.D., M.ASCE
Executive Vice President
Professional & Educational Strategic Initiatives
American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE)
Merlin Kirschenman is professor emeritus and former chair of the Construction Management and Construction Engineering Department at North Dakota State University. Before entering academia, he spent 20 years in industry as a construction engineer and manager, primarily in heavy construction such as oil refineries, chemical plants, large concrete arch dams, large earth dams, and other flood control projects. He joined NDSU to develop their construction engineering and construction management programs. The CME Department received its first ABET accreditation for the construction engineering program and its first ACCE accreditation for its construction management program, during his tenure. He currently is a consultant in construction engineering and management.