U.S. National Science Foundation Supports International Collaboration to Improve Engineering Education

Special Report by iNEER Correspondent

15 May 2000, Arlington, VA, U.S.A.

Are engineering students learning the skills they’ll need to meet 21st-century needs? This August, a delegation of 30 engineering professors from U.S. universities will travel to Taipei, Taiwan to address these questions at this year’s International Conference on Engineering Education: ICEE-2000.

The ICEE series began in 1994 as an international forum to improve the quality of engineering training and education, and the National Science Foundation (NSF) in the U.S. has supported participation by U.S. delegations since ICEE-1997. The program advances engineering education by means of collaborative partnerships between engineering schools and industry, government and professional organizations worldwide. Since the first conference, also in Taipei, the cities of Chicago and Carbondale, IL; Rio de Janeiro in Brazil; and Ostrava and Prague in the Czech Republic have hosted ICEE meetings, each built around a specific theme. C.H. Wei, Technical Program Chair of ICEE-2000, says that this year’s keynote speaker will be C.L. Tien, past chancellor of the University of California at Berkeley and member of the National Science Board. The conference theme is ‘Strengthening Alliances via Networking and Globalization.’

"What drives the progress of engineering education in different nations is manpower needs for economic development; so the focus of education development depends on the stage of economic growth which clearly differs in various regions," says Win Aung, a senior member of the staff at NSF and a member of the ICEE International Steering Committee. "In the face of increasing global economic pressures in those days, the U.S. recognized the need to upgrade engineering education early in the 1980s so this country is further ahead in the ongoing worldwide efforts to improve the quality of the education experience for engineering students. Taiwan began changing the emphases in its engineering curricula – in part by using classroom techniques from U.S. adapted through collaborative activities -- in the late 1980s in parallel with a transition from a traditional economy to high technology. Technology transfer, along with research and education partnerships with the U.S. were key to Taiwan’s success in leapfrogging ahead in electronics. Other countries’ interest in ICEE is motivated by the same rationale. For a country like Brazil, where economic growth has been accompanied by sporadic economic turmoil, the leapfrogging need is even more acute."

"The international exchange fostered by ICEE gives U.S. engineers access to fresh ideas, leverages new funding overseas, and partnerships to test and evaluate U.S.-developed education modules. "Potentially, this could help solve a problem in this country where many successful approaches remain under-utilized because they lack the final step in new education development – that of evaluation and assessment," Aung says.

The 4- to 5-day ICEE conferences feature plenary, panel and poster sessions, exhibits by local industries and universities, and workshops on innovations in engineering curricula, especially cross-regional collaboration, and distance learning. Each ICEE emphasizes advancing knowledge through collaboration, partnership and networking. "The conference gives students an opportunity to meet with professors from overseas," Aung says. "Also, local companies can meet with other participants from industry, and make new contacts."

Since the first conference, attendance at ICEE events has grown from around 120 (1994) to nearly 500 anticipated this year, with participants including engineering students, professors, and representatives from government and industry. The organizers from this year’s ICEE have received over 320 abstracts—110 from U.S. authors. The NSF grant will support travel expenses for 30 of the 70 authors who have applied, and is administered by Vittal Rao, Rutledge-Emerson Distinguished Professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering at the University of Missouri in Rollo.

According to Rao, the 30 NSF-funded delegates will receive between $1,000 - $2,000 each as partial support for travel expenses to attend ICEE-2000.

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