“The next century poses critical challenges, and all of these challenges require engineering for their solutions,” said C.D. (Dan) Mote, Jr., president of the National Academy of Engineering (NAE). Mote’s speech kicked off a two-day conference in Cary, North Carolina, that brought together 145 representatives from industry, academia, and government to explore topics related to advanced manufacturing.
The conference was organized by the Research Convergence Accelerator in consultation with the NAE. The Research Convergence Accelerator is a consortium of Duke University, North Carolina A&T State University, North Carolina State University, RTI International, University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill, and Wake Forest.
Mote said that the skyrocketing human population is creating increased need not only for food, but also for water, energy, other natural resources, and infrastructure. The world’s standard of living is rising, too, which adds to the pressure. Population growth also creates threats, such as pandemics, terrorism, and climate change.
As evidence of the changing standard of living around the world, Mote said that in 1980, 77% of people in China lived on $1.25 a day or less, whereas today only 13% live on that amount. In addition, every year in China 13 million people move from rural areas to urban areas, and those people need infrastructure. Mote likened it to having to build enough infrastructure for Baltimore every two weeks.
Pressing global needs and threats such as these are articulated in the Grand Challenges for Engineering in the 21st Century, a list of 14 challenges compiled in 2008 by a committee set up by the NAE. The challenges include providing access to clean water, engineering better medicines, and preventing nuclear terror, among others. For more, see http://www.engineeringchallenges.org. Mote pointed out that the solutions to the Grand Challenges will require advanced manufacturing, because a better solar panel or better medical device will require new manufacturing techniques. However, in some areas of advanced manufacturing, the United States is falling behind. For example, since 1995, global shipments of photovoltaics have increased dramatically, but the percentage produced by the United States has fallen from 45% to 6%.
Another area of concern is how few American students choose to pursue engineering. Among undergraduate degrees earned in the United States, only 4.4% of them are in engineering. In Asia, about 21% of undergraduate degrees are in engineering, and in Europe, about 11%.
Mote suggested one reason students aren’t choosing engineering is public perception. “We have not educated the public about what engineering is and how it’s important to them,” he said. “We need to help people understand that engineering provides solutions in service of human welfare and the needs of society. We need to demonstrate for the public that their prosperity, security, and future are closely tied to engineering.”
A bright spot in engineering education in this country is the Grand Challenges Scholars program, pioneered by the engineering schools at Duke University, Olin College of Engineering, and the University of Southern California. About 15 universities are participating, including North Carolina State University, and 50 other universities are in some stage of using or adopting the program. Mote noted that women make up half of the Grand Challenges Scholars. For more, see http://www.grandchallengescholars.org. Grand Challenges Scholars meet curricular and extracurricular requirements that provide experience with research, interdisciplinary classes, entrepreneurship, global perspective, and service learning.
In response to a question from the audience, Mote emphasized that “partnership between universities, government and industry is essential.”
The New Engineering Frontier: Manufacturing for the Grand Challenges, a National Academy of Engineering Grand Challenges summit, was organized by the Research Convergence Accelerator in consultation with the NAE, and sponsored by SAS Institute (premier sponsor), Lord Corporation, and Cray, Inc. The Research Convergence Accelerator is a consortium of Duke University, North Carolina A&T State University, North Carolina State University, RTI International, University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill, and Wake Forest University. The conference was held October 31-November 1, 2013, at the Umstead Hotel and Spa on the SAS Institute campus in Cary, North Carolina.