A few months ago I accepted an invitation to serve on an international advisory board for a new program entitled Chile New Engineering 2030. This has turned out to be more work than I expected, but a most educational and rewarding experience. The purpose of the program is to encourage Chilean engineering schools to pay more attention to what Chile is calling the “third mission” in these schools (the first teaching, the second research). This includes, technology transfer, innovation, entrepreneurship, and encouraging the schools to better match Chilean economic needs. Also taking advantage of the new entrepreneurship network resulting from Start Up Chile, as well as new approaches to teaching and learning.
The rest of the world should take note. During the 1940’s and 50’s, engineering schools moved rapidly from the more pragmatic material of the 1930”s to much greater use of mathematics and science. In the U.S. this was partly due to the remarkable advances of technology during World War II, and partly due to the Cold War, which pitted the U. S. against the Soviet Union in such areas as nuclear explosives, missiles, navigation and detection schemes, and space exploration and exploitation. There were break-through developments in solid state electronics and then sophisticated electronic computers that added to the increased emphasis on the application of science and theoretical research, and increased funding to universities from government and business to help this along.
And it was convenient for engineering professors, since science and mathematics have a great deal of panache in academia, and engineers were able to take over much work that had previously been called applied science and applied mathematics. Since that time, research and graduate study in engineering has become ever more fond of theory, to the point where some work that has high intellectual cachet, may not show any application for a very long time —if ever.
Chilean universities, like those in many countries, have been following the directions of leading universities in countries such as the U.S., England, and Germany,. and rapidly increasing factors such as the percentage of faculty members with Ph,D. degrees, the number of Ph.D. degrees awarded per year, the number of papers published in refereed academic journals, and their position in global rankings. But do they really need M.I.T.’s and Caltechs?
The goal of this phase of Chile New Engineering 2030 was to choose two or three engineering schools who would be funded to increase their efforts in this “third mission” and serve as models for other schools. A total of some U.S.$50,000,000 was to be awarded, so the competition was fierce. Those of us on the advisory board, members of CORFO (the government agency responsible for the program), and a number of independent evaluators had read the proposals submitted. The week of March 3 was spent in Santiago listening to oral presentations of each proposal, asking questions of the presenters, and discussing the results. Those of us on the board were asked to choose the proposals that we thought best, but since we were an advisory board, I do not yet know the final result. But one conclusion that I reached yet again while reviewing the proposals, is that the U..S., may be a bit complacent in our pride of our engineering schools. We may be following a model that has been successful in the past, but not guaranteed to be as effective as products, customers, economies, and overseas competition continue to change in the future.
The other members of the advisory board are Dado Banatao. a member of the U.C. Berkeley Chancellor’s Executive Advisory Council, and Managing Partner of Tallwood Venture Capital, Teck Seng Low, CEO of the National Research Foundation of Singapore, Alvaro Fischer, Chairman of the board of Fundacion Chile, Norman Fortenberry, Executive Director, American society for Engineering Education, and Johan Malmqvist, Dean of Education, Chalmers University of Technology, and co-founder of the International CDIO Initiative. A good group. We are to meet once a year in Santiago to review the progress of the chosen schools, and I look forward to working with them again.
Oh, and the reason for my internet silence since March 3rd, is that I was more than busy the first week, and Marian and I followed it with some fine outback time in Chile and Peru, visiting friends and mountains. And as you no doubt know, everyone should take vacations from the internet.