the Technology Interface / Spring 97

Why Are You So Confused?


J. Tim Coppinger
Texas A&M University

Why are you so confused?

Everyone knows what Engineering Technology is. Well maybe not your mother or your neighbor or the human resource person at the plant or the CEO but every one that counts knows.

When we say Engineering Technology people tend to hear only the word "engineering" or the word "technology" but not both. Everyone knows about engineering. Never mind about the subtleties of the different disciplines and the applied or research flavor of the programs, everyone can describe engineering. It involves math and science and it is hard.

Also everyone can describe technology. We have high technology, low technology, food technology, information technology, industrial technology, office technology, and technology transfer. Everyone knows that all technology programs can be completed in two years or less.

Our government is not confused. The National Bureau of Labor Statistics has two classifications; technicians (graduates of two year programs) and engineers. They say that graduates of four year Engineering Technology programs often accept engineering positions.

Industry is not confused. They hire graduates to fill engineering or technician positions. Rarely does a company have an Engineering Technology position.

So how did you get confused?

In 1952 the American Society for Engineering Education formed a Committee on the Evaluation of Engineering Education. After three years of study the committee recommended that the engineering profession was too large for one curricula. They proposed two tracts. One tract was blend the traditional scientist and the engineer and was to lead to the degree of "Engineering Science". The more traditional tract was to be called "Applied Engineering". As with all good reports it was ignored.

In 1957 there was a great shock to the American technological ego. Russia orbited a satellite around the earth. All of the major engineering schools began to move their curricula toward the engineering scientist. The new names never caught on and the result was that the traditional engineering programs changed but the names did not. This left a very large void in the area that should be described as applied engineering. Engineering technology was born in the late 1960's to fill this vacancy. Industrial job titles have not kept pace. Many positions that have engineering job titles are best filled with engineering technicians or technologists.

Now things become more clear

We have two and four year technology and Engineering Technology programs that address industry's need for specially trained enployees. The Engineering Technology programs can be either two year or four year, they can be ABET accredited or not. If they are accredited they can be accredited under the general criteria or the program criteria. The Engineering Technology Department can be administratively housed in the College of Engineering, the College of Technology, the College of Arts and Sciences, or the College of Science and Technology or other administrative units.


Our educational system does a good job of supplying the needs of industry. It is often difficult to match the appropriate graduate to the correct job opportunity. Industrial representatives, human resource people, government officials, academicians, and professional society representatives need to get together and establish a new vocabulary.

Will this ever happen? No, but I am not confused.