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College as workforce preparation, not torture

Focus on teaching core concepts and the tools/software currently in use in industry, removing hand calculations and other outdated practices

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I'm a Mechanical Engineering student at the University of Maryland graduating in just two weeks with my BS. I learned a lot in my undergraduate education, but my experience could have been a lot better.

It breaks my heart that I spent thousands of hours completing thermo- and fluid- dynamic equations by hand. These are skills that took great amounts of time and energy to learn. They are also skills that I will never again use.

Of course, knowing the core concepts in vitally important. Knowing the relationships between variables and the scientific principles upon which they are built are so, so important.

What's not important, however, is forcing students to bang out pages upon pages of complex mathematical equations. This is mere legwork that is no longer needed thanks to the myriad of engineering software applications and websites available today.

Instead of learning how to use all of those great modern tools, we waste time completing calculations by hand.

Instead of learning how to use all of the incredible analytical features in the latest release of SolidWorks, we spend 30 hours per week solving polynomial equations using techniques created before the internet.

Instead of learning how to use the latest 3-d modeling applications, we tediously and painstakingly graph systems by hand.

Instead of learning how to do something the fast new way, we teach students the old and slow way. This is maddening. 

If we spent all of that time and energy teaching students how to use industry software, we would have lower unemployment, lower training periods for new hires, and a more productive workforce and economy.

I interned at an engineering design firm this summer. Everyone in the industry agrees. We should teach the principles and the latest and greatest tools; little of use lies in between.

Students are paying enormous amounts of money to be taught techniques that are not valued in the job market. At the same time, they are left to learn relevant software on their own accord. We need to remove the bloated and archaic hand calculations that lie between what our education does now and what it should be doing. 

Specifically, please check all that apply:

  • An Individual

Tell us about your work experience:

First Mate, Rod N Reel Charter Fishing, 2008-2012 Student at University of Maryland, BS Mechanical Engineering, 2012-2016 Systems Engineering Co-op at Naval Surface Warfare Center, 2014 Associate Engineer at Prototype Designs, 2016 Volunteer tutor, 2016

What is a provocation or insight that might inspire others during this challenge?

Don't teach something that students might need instead of something they need to know.


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Photo of Akemi Tatsakura

But only for the poor and middle class, as the wealthy and business classes will continue sending their children to the finest schools regardless of their qualms about low productivity and best business practices.

But does this new zeal for parsimony in education spending signal capitulation in the global economic race? According to the report from report after all workers in China labor for far less, don't (often) demand safe or healthy work environments, don't unionize, and don't require health care. And China already offers multi-national corporations freedom from onerous regulation--that is, freedom to pollute the air and water without worrying about that new GOP scapegoat, the EPA. Add in subsidies, low taxes and an artificially low currency and you've got an export powerhouse, rendering most workers in developed nations superflous.

And what else is education for if we no longer require a thinking workforce? Surely well-informed, thoughtful citizens are more trouble than ignorant, confused yahoos wearing tin hats emblazoned with the Fox News logo.

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