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The Engineer of 2020

In its groundbreaking 2004 report, The Engineer of 2020: Visions of Engineering in the New Century,* the National Academy of Engineering noted that, to enhance the nation’s economic productivity and improve the quality of life worldwide, engineering education in the United States must anticipate and adapt to the dramatic changes of engineering practice expected in the coming decades. Technologies developed by engineers have helped lengthen the human life span, enabled people to communicate nearly instantaneously anywhere on Earth, and created tremendous wealth and economic growth. The report projects that the next several decades will offer more opportunities for engineers, with exciting possibilities expected from nanotechnology, information technology, and bioengineering.

The report’s authors envisioned various scenarios, such as new breakthroughs in biotechnology, natural disasters triggered by climate change, and global conflicts driven by an imbalance in resources among nations, which could affect the world in 2020 in dramatic ways. By then, they concluded, engineers must be prepared to accommodate new social, economic, legal, and political constraints when planning projects.

In a companion report, Educating the Engineering of 2020: Adapting Engineering Education to the New Century,* the National Academy of Engineering recommended that engineering programs endorse research into engineering education as a valued and rewarded activity for engineering faculty and develop new standards for faculty qualifications; teach students how to be lifelong learners; introduce interdisciplinary learning and explore the use of engineering case studies of successes and failures as learning tools; negotiate agreements with two-year colleges for transfer of engineering credits to four-year institutions; encourage domestic students to earn advanced degrees; and foster greater public technological literacy and understanding of engineering, and help to improve science/math/engineering/technology (SMET) education throughout the K-12 levels.

Industry, educators and researchers must work together to adopt a new vision for the future that ensures engineers are broadly and continually educated, become leaders in the public and private sectors, and represent all segments of society-and that they are capable of acquiring new knowledge quickly, adapting and engaging emerging problems, and informing public policy.

*National Academies Press