the Technology Interface / Spring 1998

Industry Mentored Engineering and Engineering Technology Curricula


Leslie Lahndt
Department of Engineering Technology
University of North Texas, Denton, TX 76203


The University of North Texas Engineering Technology Department has developed a civil engineering technology curriculum involving teaching design concepts through technical applications on real problems, partnering with industry, and cooperative problem solution. This curricula is designed to give students the breadth of information and training in technical applications needed to be immediately productive in their first job assignment. Cooperative problem solution, and concurrent design and application instruction provide the depth required to take students past the first job assignment to a lifetime of learning and productivity. Partnering with industry has provided the curricula with guidance on future program direction, inform ation on the most important current technical applications used, mentoring for students, and real problems and projects for students to work on. Partnering with industry has given the program a cooperative "hands-on" approach to instruction. A s a result the program is expected to release into the marketplace a more effective and efficient civil engineering technologist.


In a recent survey by the National Society of Professional Engineers, more then 33% of the respondents said the current engineering baccalaureate programs do not produce engineers who can meet their company’s basic needs [4]. Creativity, the ability t o think, knowing how to solve problems, and the ability to be immediately productive in a new job assignment are some of the qualities that industry desires in an engineering, and engineering technology, graduate [17]. One solution to better prepare engi neering and engineering technology students is to expand the curriculum by adding a 5th year of additional course requirements [3]. The larger course load is undesirable to most students, and with credit hour restrictions coming down from some state gove rnments, another solution must be found. Another approach to this problem is to redesign the engineering curricula to incorporate a "hands-on" approach to instruction [20]. MIT provides an example of a "hands-on" experience incorpora ted into the engineering curriculum [6]. "Hands-on" design happens when students work on realistic, or preferable real-life, design problems with outcomes going beyond drawings and reports, to involve presentation of working prototypes.

Our framework that constitutes our current approach to engineering and engineering technology education is based on several questions: What is the engineering profession? What is engineering technology? What is the university role? W hat is engineering and engineering technology education? What is engineering work and what is engineering technology work? Our answers to these questions have become invalid. A curriculum capable for preparing students for the new world must incorporat e design and practical experience, as well as effective interaction with others [5]. The time has come to experiment with new curricula, and to strengthen the ties between industry and engineering/engineering technology academia.

What’s Happening in Engineering and Engineering Technology Education?

The practice of engineering and engineering technology is undergoing significant changes due to the progress of technology, and to the changes of business practice the world over [13]. Engineering and engineering technology education is under attack f rom industry, engineering societies, the federal government, and the schools themselves [3]. The complaint is that engineering and engineering technology curricula have not kept up with the changes and as a result, are turning out students ill prepared f or work in today’s technical work place. A recent survey done with the intent of gaining some insight on how to reform engineering education, found that the majority of new graduates felt that there was considerable knowledge required by their jobs that was not part of their undergraduate education [17]. The consensus was that curricula in general fell short of stressing creative thinking and problem solving skills, as well as other analytical and interpersonal skills. The result of these facts are tha t industry has inherited the considerable cost of additional training to give new hires the skills they need to be productive [4].

An effort to reform curricula to better meet the needs of industry has been attempted at some schools by adding requirements to the curricula [5]. This is a flawed attempt however, due to constraints placed on curricula from accreditation boards, stat e governments, university and college core requirements, and the students themselves. In order to achieve accreditation, a curriculum must have sufficient levels of theory, design, and appropriate labs. In order to cover all the material needed and stil l meet university requirements, engineering and engineering technology curricula have approached 140 to 150 credit hours in some cases. Pressure from students and state governments, as well as university councils have encouraged curricula to be approxima tely 128 credit hours. All this effort is to give the students more instruction, not more of what industry desires in the students. In this era of high technology there is considerable confusion as to the roles of engineers and technologists [2]. What is needed is a clear definition of what industry currently desires in engineering and engineering technology students. Once this is achieved, curricula must be reformed to give students the skills they will need to be successful, and provide the graduate s who will be productive in industry.

Engineering new hires are moving rapidly into positions requiring managerial skills, which is redefining the skill base for engineers, and leaving a void to be filled by another workforce. The skills desired the workforce to fill the void include prac tical, technical application oriented training with an understanding of design, as well as cooperative problem solving skills [17]. This is the initial step in defining a new type of engineering technologist for the 21st century; a highly trained technol ogist with knowledge of hardware, software, design, and cooperative problem solving skills, as well as self confidence and personal initiative [16] [4] [1].

In general, today’s most sought after employees are those with are technology and computer literate, and with excellent communication and cooperative workteam skills [9]. The Committee on Education and Human Resources of the Federal Coordinating Counc il on Science, Engineering, and Technology has stated, "Citizens of the future must be equipped to make informed decisions in this age of rapidly developing knowledge, changing technology, sophisticated information, and communications systems." Furthermore, the committee made a commitment to achieve this by supporting efforts to improve science, mathematics, engineering, and technology both in the classroom and the workplace [8]. In our development of the civil engineering technology curriculu m at the University of North Texas, we are committed to defining the skilled engineering technologist for the next century, and to reforming the engineering technology curricula appropriately to achieve the necessary improvements the classroom and subsequ ently in the workforce.

Defining the Engineering Technologist

There are many skills required in the engineering technologist today. Industry has identified several qualities desirable in new hires as being communication and interpersonal skills, analytical ability, self-confidence, personal initiative, willingne ss to change, and problem solving ability [15] [4]. In addition, to succeed in today’s cooperative work environment these individuals must have developed teamwork skills; establishing operation procedures, analyzing problems, selecting criteria for good solutions, generating alternatives, and evaluating solutions [1]. While some of these skills overlap, combined they create a large and varied skill base required in students. Engineering technology educators are faced with how to give the students the t raining they need within a reasonable number of credit hours. While curricula must provide sufficient breadth of material to give students the technical and design skills necessary to be immediately productive as graduates, sufficient depth must also be provided through training in cooperative problem solving, communication, and interpersonal skills to ensure long term success in students careers [19]. The task in reforming curricula is to offer training in all of the skills desired in graduates, and to do so within a limited number of credit hours, and with a high level of quality.

How Then Do We Reform Curricula?

Incorporating quality in engineering technology education is a key factor in the success of educating engineers and technologists for the new era [10] [11]. A quality emphasis in technical education is closely linked to participation from industry. A recent survey of professional engineers in the Engineering Times showed that there is less then a 2% participation of practicing professional engineers in engineering and engineering technology education. Options are needed which efficiently link engine ering and engineering technology practice with education and professional development [18]. Some of the ways in which participation of industry would increase the quality in education is by teaching classes, providing internships, providing summer employ ment for both students and faculty, being an education advocate, serving on an advisory committee, and partnering with an engineering technology school [12]. Research strongly supports the fact that the best engineering technology curricula have partnere d with industry. Industry academic partnerships enable a program to maintain dynamic curricula and to integrate real-world experiences into the classroom and laboratory [14]. Along with solid fundamental knowledge, "hands-on" experience has be en identified as a premier goal of engineering technology curricula [7] [20] [6]. Partnering with industry is a significant contributor to achieving a hands-on approach in engineering technology curricula. The industry partner provides actual problems a nd projects for the students to work on, as well as internships, and summer employment opportunities. The industry partner advisory board is also the vehicle for a curriculum to remain dynamic and current. For an example, industry has placed a high valu e on teamwork skills in graduates, but less then 25% of graduating engineers and engineering technologists are well prepared in this area [4]. Strengthening the bond between industry and academia is vital to the future of engineering technology, and refo rming curricula to achieve industry participation is essential.

The University of North Texas Civil Engineering Technology-Industry Partnership

The University of North Texas civil engineering curricula has developed out of a growing need for highly skilled engineering technologists in the civil engineering area. We developed the program using the existing construction engineering technology c urricula as a beginning backbone. The civil curriculum shares several courses with the other engineering technology disciplines such as mechanical, manufacturing, electrical, and nuclear. A shared curriculum allows easy transfer of the partnered hands-o n curricula developed for the civil engineering technology program to the other programs within engineering technology. This type of curricula will produce the highly skilled technologists required for the 21st century, and become a model for other schoo ls. It provides for both breadth and depth of information, achieved not by adding requirements, but through partnering with industry. Industry provides practical and real world problems and projects, and hand-on experience that greatly enhances the tech nical, theoretical, design and analytical education provided in the classroom. Working on projects cooperatively gives students communication, interpersonal, and teamwork skills necessary for today’s work environment. We are especially interested in inc orporating teaching design principles concurrent with technical applications used in industry. We are also establishing industry mentoring and support for students as a formal addition to the course curricula. The curriculum is dynamic, changing as neces sary to accommodate new industry practices and technology. The industry partner is the key to remaining a high quality, dynamic, and flexible curricula; staying on top of today’s needs in skilled and knowledgeable engineering technologists.

The following is an example of curriculum structure, industrial sponsoring, and students working cooperatively on producing practical solutions to real problems. One course sequence in the curriculum involves learning about materials for engineering ( MFET 2450), strength of materials (MEET 3240), static’s (MEET 3240), dynamics (MEET 2520), structures (CVET 4120), and reinforced concrete (CVET 4110). These topics are covered across six courses from the manufacturing, mechanical, and civil program conc entrations. These courses teach theory and design concepts, which build on each other throughout the sequence, and all have intensive laboratory exercises. To cover all the design concepts and laboratories in a meaningful way, students were broken into groups and given a project to construct in the laboratory which requires applying design theory. The projects used for CVET 4120 and 4110 were the American Concrete Institutes (ACI) student competitions. Three ACI competitions requiring extensive labora tory time and applied design are the concrete cube, the FRP reinforced beam, and the egg protection device. ACI industries in the area sponsored the students by supplying materials such as cement, aggregates, molds, mixers, fibers, and admixtures as well as laboratory space, time, and equipment to construct and test their creations and funds to take the best student team to the actual competition.

The outcomes of these projects were that the students gained invaluable cooperative experience and accomplished many more laboratories and design applications then a traditionally structured curriculum would have enabled. The students experience the f ull sequence of designing a product (cube, beam, or egg protection device), constructing it, and then testing it. The ACI industries are very motivated to sponsor these students for several reasons. First, they are in great need for well-trained knowled geable people in their field and thus they are willing to sponsor some students to make some. Second, the ACI industries have the students use their own specialty aggregates, fibers, or admixtures in the designs, thus they gain more insight into what the ir products are good for and how they can market them, as well as advertising at the competition which is an international ACI event. And probably most importantly, they get students with excellent training to employ. This has been the ultimate demonstr ation of success for the curriculum. The ACI industries sponsoring the students motivates them to participate with the industry and to do well, and gives them excellent job opportunities upon graduation. The first graduates of this curriculum are soon t o graduate and have already received several requests for interviews and job offers from the national and international ACI firms, such as TXI, FiberMesh, and Baker, who sponsored them, or who became interested in the students based on the innovation or s uccess of the designs at the competition.

This curriculum structure also exceeds the TAC of ABET requirement for at least a two course design sequence, and offers many more laboratory hours then required also. The students are very enthusiastic about the program due largely to the industry sp onsorship and the excellent job opportunities given to them.


As the technology era progresses, engineering technology, industry, and education are forced to re-examine the work of engineering technologists, and the way we teach them to work. The qualities desired by industry in engineering technologists are ana lytical and design ability, cooperative problem solving skills, and practical "hands-on" experience on real world problems. At the University of North Texas, we have developed a civil engineering curriculum to give the students the education ex perience that will prepare them for the next century by partnering with industry. As a result, our students are better prepared for today’s industry needs. This paper describes a curricula partnered with industry to establish industry mentors for studen ts, a program involving industry internships and summer employment opportunities for both students and faculty, an industry advisory committee, industry sponsored problems and projects, and industry donated hardware and software. Work and class experienc es will involve cooperative problem solution to prepare the students for today’s workforce and establish peer support bases for students, particularly underrepresented groups, to decrease individual isolation and increase each students potential to succee d. Design principles will be taught concurrent with technical applications to teach the students the tools they will be expected to use in industry. Through this curriculum, industry will be hiring new engineering technology graduates able to be immedia tely productive in today’s work environment, and the students will gain valuable practical, cooperative, and technical experiences which will enable them to succeed now, and for the duration of their careers.


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