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Forum considers engineering reform

To provide a good engineering education, MIT must make some substantial changes in curricula, "including possibly extending the number of years of education," said Steven R. Lerman '72, professor of civil engineering, in an Independent Activities Period forum last Thursday.

Engineers' educational needs are now much greater than in the past, he said, for engineering concerns have broadened.

Student Pugwash and the Science, Technology and Society Program sponsored the discussion, entitled "What Makes a Good Engineering Education?"

"What it means to be an engineer has changed in the last thirty to forty years," Lerman said. For instance, transportation engineers in the past were concerned only with building roads, he explained. Now they must also examine the effects of construction on the environment and society.

Jack L. Kerrebrock, chairman of the Commission on Engineering Undergraduate Education and associate dean of the School of Engineering, said that "the consensus in the commission is that the major issue is the learning environment at MIT, not the content of the education."

The commission, formed last September, has developed a preliminary definition of goals for engineering education at MIT. These goals include providing students with understanding of the "economic, political, social, and environmental issues surrounding technical developments," according to Kerebrock.

The commission expects to produce apreliminary report with recommendations by May 1986. It is divided into three subgroups which are examining the Institute core, engineering curricula, and Institute environment.

"What we teach our students today is not very different from what I studied," said James A. Fay '47, professor of mechanical engineering. "What is different is the emphasis on humanities and social science."

Although there is a problem in how best to make use of time devoted to humanities and social sciences, Fay said, the math, science, and engineering curricula do not need substantial revision.

Leo Marx, chairman of the Committee on Integrated Studies, said the connection between engineering and humanities must be made in class. "[MIT] can't just have separate courses and expect that the connection will be made."

"It is important that engineers address issues of social responsibility in the context of engineering education," according to Kathryn Harrison G of MIT Student Pugwash. By incorporating environmental, ethical, social, and political issues into core courses and research programs, engineers could explore social issues outside of humanities and social science classes, she suggested.

Caroline A. Whitbeck '70, visiting associate professor in the School of Engineering, said "technology has produced new morality which caused a need for responsibility [among engineers]." Humanistic considerations, she said, should be brought into the engineering education itself to produce a responsible engineer.