Book Review: A Whole New Engineer


| July 23, 2019 | in

Engineering is just for geeks with pocket protectors, right? Engineering is all about math, formula, and intensive study of existing builds, right?

I have done a good amount of software education over the years. Some as a student, and some as a teacher. The book “A Whole New Engineer” is a refreshing step back from the existing status quo.

In this book by David E Goldberg and Mark Somerville, much is covered about what is wrong with engineering education today and how it could change in the not-too-distant future.

Early on, they describe the six minds of the engineer. I think they were on to something here. Engineering isn’t just the analytical mind that really pushed during the college education experience. There are five (design, linguistic, people, body, mindful) other essential minds that need to be cultivated too. One of the critical things you often learn quickly about an engineer is how well they exhibit those other traits. The ability to design or the ability to relate with others is often way more important than the purely analytical mind that is cultivated during the college experience.

Another section of the book I really liked was on motivation. I think we all have experienced becoming excited about some sort of out-of-class project but yet can’t seem to care about a Fourier transform. There is something about working on projects that really exist and really matter that immediately make them more engaging and motivating. The more we can create those experiences in the classroom, the better.

From the book: “How do we take professors trained as experts – people trained to say, “I know” – and help them become people who can authentically say “I trust”?”

Another welcome concept is the idea of the instructor as a coach, and not as a knowledge dispenser. As instructors, we have to guide students to learn and grow, not force-feed them knowledge. And teachers have to be okay with not always knowing all the answers.

In the book, Olin College professor Lynn Andrea Stein said, “I don’t have to be proficient. They have to be proficient. If you think about it, the best coaches aren’t necessarily the best athletes.”

As I read through the book, the idea of Montessori schools kept coming to mind. My wife works at a Montessori preschool, and we sent our kids there. They loved it. It was like the kids were driving the learning process (albeit with guides). And I could see how they were growing from that experience. “A Whole New Engineer” makes me think of an engineering education like a Montessori preschool, but with fewer snack breaks.

Have you read this book? Let me know your thoughts either on Twitter or in the comments below.

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