UCSD Jacobs School of Engineering
University of California San Diego

Rethinking the Engineering Talent Pipeline

Over the summer, I met with some of California 's brightest high school students during our new month-long science and engineering education program called COSMOS.The talent, motivation, and enthusiasm of these young people was so extraordinary that I wish we could have accepted some of them directly into our Ph.D. programs. For many of these students who will soon go on to college, it was their first introduction to applied science and engineering disciplines, and their first taste of the creativity and innovation that characterizes engineering. This is exactly the kind of program U.S. engineering schools must offer in order to attract and keep the very best talent in the field.

With the rapid development of countries such as China and India , the engineering talent pipeline is rapidly changing. On my trip to China in August, I visited top-tier universities such as Tongji University and Chongqing University . I was struck by China 's commitment to improve and grow its engineering education programs. And while some estimates of the number of engineering graduates in China range from 200,000 to 500,000per year (compared to ~70,000 bachelor's degrees in the U.S. ), verbal estimates I received during my visit put this number in the not-too-distant future at a million or more.

As this influx of highly trained, yet comparatively lower-paid engineering talent into the global marketplace accelerates, it is possible that engineering as a career may become less attractive to U.S. students. This could prove disastrous to U.S. technology leadership, innovation, and economic competitiveness.

As a major research university, we are now challenged to take our engineering education programs to the next level in order to ensure the future talent pipeline. We must attract the brightest minds to engineering, starting with initiatives such as our COSMOS summer program, to expose the brightest high school students to the thrill of engineering.

We must continue to enhance the quality of our education at both the undergraduate and graduate level in order to produce U.S. engineering graduates who drive innovation by their creative thinking and leadership qualities. In addition to deep fundamentals in engineering, we need to teach our students how to integrate their work into the enterprise and society (systems engineering), and we must give them training in teamwork and sharpen their communication skills. Finally, we need to provide our students with a global perspective since many of their future engineering contributions will reach far beyond regional or national boundaries.

The issues surrounding engineering education and the talent pipeline in our new global economy are complex, and will be debated for some time. I invite you to continue the discussion with us at our Research Expo on February 23, when National Academy of Sciences President Ralph Cicerone will talk about two new Academy reports that are about to be issued on setting the right course for the U.S. to prosper and sustain its economic leadership.

Frieder Seible

Related Links
Journal: Globalization and Engineering The Bridge Volume 35, Number 3 - Fall 2005 National Academy of Engineering
Printer Friendly Version Email this Story
  << Back to Table of Contents