Professor advocates revamp of engineering education

Sheryl Sorby seeks to modernize how engineers are educated

A University of Cincinnati engineering professor wants to adapt the education of future engineers to better address the needs of our digital, diverse, global and rapidly changing society. 

Sheryl Sorby, professor in UC’s Department of Engineering Education and past president of the American Society for Engineering Education (ASEE), co-wrote the article with Norman Fortenberry, executive director of ASEE, and Gary Bertoline, ASEE curriculum task force chair and professor at Purdue University. The essay, “Stuck in 1955: Engineering Education Needs a Revolution,” appeared in Issues in Science and Technology, a journal published by the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine and Arizona State University.

In the essay, Sorby and her co-authors make the case for critical updates to undergraduate and graduate engineering programs across the country to better prepare students for current and future careers, with a focus on a more humanistic approach to engineering.

“The pandemic brought to the surface several problems in the training of engineers that have festered for too long: racial and social disparities, elitism in academia, and the pervasive practice of locking students in or out of engineering pathways as early as elementary school,” the authors wrote in the article.

“To ensure that we are attracting and retaining a diverse pool of learners to our programs, we need to examine what we are teaching and how we are teaching it. Are we expecting our students to solve types of problems that inspire them to continue to pursue a career in engineering and change the world for the better?”

During her tenure as ASEE president, Sorby convened a task force to consider curricula as a tool for the transformation of engineering education. She has long served as a leader in efforts to improve the way engineering students are prepared for their careers. Through her extensive research, Sorby developed software and course workbooks to help engineering students, particularly women, grasp spatial visualization, something she struggled with herself as a student. This curriculum is being used by nearly 30 engineering programs in the U.S. She has received many accolades for her work.  

Read the full article in Issues in Science and Technology.