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ASCE Safety Initiative Highlights Flaws in Current CE Education System

  • 1.  ASCE Safety Initiative Highlights Flaws in Current CE Education System

    Posted 12-12-2021 09:40 AM

    I applaud the initiative to strengthen the teaching of design and personal safety into the undergraduate curriculum ref Academic Safety Challenge. Civil Engineering,  September / October 2021

    However, the challenges with implementation reflect a somewhat sad and disturbing commentary on our current educational system. Specifically, and as highlighted in the article, many civil engineering educators are focused on theory and / or lack practical experience to teach safety. The article is specific to safety but safety in my opinion is a proxy for a more extensive gap in engineering skills. Bringing in lecturers or professors of practice to teach topics like safety treats the symptoms and not the root cause of a larger problem in my view. Getting the educational system to get the right balance back between educators with theory and practice is not going to easy but we need to try. 

    How do others see the problem and solutions? Did others see the irony in the safety article?



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    Mitch Winkler P.E., M.ASCE
    Houston, TX
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  • 2.  RE: ASCE Safety Initiative Highlights Flaws in Current CE Education System

    Posted 12-13-2021 10:28 AM
    The current problems with CE education in the US are:
    1) State legislatures are mandating universities issue Bachelor's degrees in 120 hours (down from 140 or so 40 years ago).
    2) Universities are too interested in income; so, they hire researchers to get grants.  These researchers are typically right out of their PhD studies and have no "real world" experience.
    3) Researchers are rewarded (tenure, promotion, raises) primarily based on success in research (dollars into the university, graduate students supported, peer reviewed articles published).
    4)  Laboratory classes are extremely time intensive for instructors (researchers) yet only count for zero to 1 hour of required courses taught by the instructor.  The required number of courses taught by researchers has dropped from 9+ hours a semester to 9 hours a year - or less.
    5)  Long long ago, universities quit requiring (encouraging) engineering professors to consult on the side (so they would be current on engineering practices vs. theory).

    There is no room to add additional courses or even material to exiting courses (communications, arts, humanities, social sciences, safety, advanced engineering Bachelor courses)

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    Findlay Edwards Ph.D., P.E., BCEE, D.WRE, F.ASCE
    Retired
    Fayetteville AR
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  • 3.  RE: ASCE Safety Initiative Highlights Flaws in Current CE Education System

    Posted 12-20-2021 09:17 AM
    A serious problem I've had with engineers I've hired is that about half of them could not write. Not even decent paragraphs on inspection reports, much less any kind study or extensive report. They couldn't handle business letters, or even simple office communications. I don't know how they got through high school, much less an engineering curriculum. These were graduates from prestigious schools too. It's a serious failing IMO of the educational system.

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    George Runkle P.E., M.ASCE
    President
    Lawrenceville GA
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  • 4.  RE: ASCE Safety Initiative Highlights Flaws in Current CE Education System

    Posted 12-21-2021 08:43 AM
    George,

    Writing is an issue that plagues more than engineering. You are spot on that it is a serious failing of the educational system and it starts in elementary school. I think that one of the items that has contributed to poor written communication is elementary schools doing away with handwriting curriculum and teaching cursive. I know that using cursive when I write long hand has helped tremendously with my written as well as verbal communication. It is also something that has to be practiced properly. Just like engineering, you cannot get good at it if you don't practice it properly.

    From a college standpoint, the engineering professors need to teach better writing skills as a professional. I had a soils professor that was harder on me when turning in soils lab reports than any English professor I had. As he always told us, "It doesn't matter if your calculations are correct if you cannot communicate in a report using correct grammar and proper sentence structure, because the non engineer reading the report won't trust you because you cannot write." So true!

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    James Wilson P.E., M.ASCE
    Engineer
    Charleston Water System
    Charleston SC
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  • 5.  RE: ASCE Safety Initiative Highlights Flaws in Current CE Education System

    Posted 12-21-2021 08:43 AM
    One of the biggest advantages that we had in the engineering department at The Citadel was that every professor had at least 10 years of engineering experience before coming to The Citadel to teach. They also consulted and did research and all but one was a licensed PE. It was great to sit in class and be able to ask the question of how this was relevant in the 'real' engineering world and get an answer with a story of how they had used it in their career. Theory is great; but like anything you learn if it has real world application you will be more apt to retain and more eager to learn.

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    James Wilson P.E., M.ASCE
    Engineer
    Charleston Water System
    Charleston SC
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  • 6.  RE: ASCE Safety Initiative Highlights Flaws in Current CE Education System

    Posted 12-23-2021 09:42 AM
    That was a serious failing where I got my Bachelor's degree, I don't think too many of my professors had practical experience, and only a couple had PE's. OTOH, when I went for my Master's Degree at Columbia University, most of my professors had impressive real world experience in what they taught. It made a big difference. On writing, I took Forensic Engineering at Columbia, and I was excited to turn in my assignment. Part of my practice is Forensic Engineering, and I figured I would be showing everyone in the class "how it is done". I got a low C on my report. I got A's in the end, but what I thought were my great writing skills were lacking in my reports, and I didn't know that.

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    George Runkle P.E., M.ASCE
    President
    Lawrenceville GA
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  • 7.  RE: ASCE Safety Initiative Highlights Flaws in Current CE Education System

    Posted 12-20-2021 11:49 AM
    I would agree completely.  I agree that many civil engineering educators are focused on theory and / or lack practical experience to teach safety, as well as many other topics. Should educators be required to have a minimum of 4 years of field or practical experience?



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    Barry Anderson P.E.
    Granite Falls MN
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  • 8.  RE: ASCE Safety Initiative Highlights Flaws in Current CE Education System

    Posted 12-14-2021 02:44 PM
    The Civil Engineering program criteria (CEPC), which serve as a core element for accreditation of undergraduate civil engineering programs, are under systematic review by an ASCE-organized task force formed in early 2020.  I serve on this task force, along with nine other members (a mix of academics and practitioners) and more than 20 corresponding members.  The task force has received a great deal of input from the civil engineering community of educators and practitioners.  This input has included calls for more and different kinds of attention to safety in the undergraduate civil engineering curriculum.  From May to August 2021 an open forum on proposed revisions to the CEPC was hosted by the task force on ASCE Collaborate.  The proposed revisions included a specific mention of safety.  Many comments were received about safety and its importance in civil engineering.  From the many, diverse perspectives presented, it is clear that there are many dimensions of safety relevant to our field, with most of these highly context specific.  While some commenters were focused on construction site safety, there are many other aspects of safety relevant to civil engineering, specific to different kinds of workplaces and different kinds of civil engineering activities and projects.  Gaining understanding of and education about safety in a particular context is challenging for practitioners working in particular domains of our field.  It would not be possible to cover a broad spectrum of context-specific safety topics in undergraduate curricula, and for most programs not appropriate considering the scope of other learning outcomes to be achieved in undergraduate civil engineering education.  Some exposure to the importance of safety to all endeavors of civil engineering is important, however, and is already included in many undergraduate programs.  Discussion of how to address safety in the CEPC and/or the CEPC Commentary document continues by the CEPC task force and additional input is welcome.

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    David Dzombak, PhD, PE, Dist.M.ASCE
    Hamerschlag University Professor and Dept Head
    Dept of Civil and Environmental Engineering
    Carnegie Mellon University
    Pittsburgh, PA 15213
    dzombak@...
    ------------------------------



  • 9.  RE: ASCE Safety Initiative Highlights Flaws in Current CE Education System

    Posted 12-19-2021 11:29 PM

    Universities are responsible for OSHA safety plans, and they should be the ones planning and offering basic safety courses to all students, or at the very least, the science (labs) and engineering students. Economics/business students learn about "risk" and how to avoid it.  "Break-out" groups, or homework, could be tailored for particular disciplines. (maybe just having required reading of the regulations, or the Federal Registers for proposed rulemaking that lay out the reasons behind the regs). Even passersby face safety risks at the border of construction projects, on the road, around holes, or at the outlet of ventilation systems. This could be a good way to bring the real world to the whole community, and  it might even help make the public a little more knowledgeable about the physical reality, which science and engineering seek to understand and/or modify for human use.

    Having taken required OSHA safety training while in various environmental roles, I found that it can be an excellent way to understand hazards and how to do a job safely, provided the instructors are good and experienced in workplace conditions where their "trainees" work. We should not reinvent the wheel.  But I propose that hazard and safety principles need to be incorporated throughout a department's curriculum, instead of having a separate course for an extra few hours.   On the other hand, safety/risk training for safety trainers would be a valuable course addition to any institution of higher learning, and could welcome professionals from outside the ivory tower as students.  It would definitely diversify the real world safety stories of the class.

    As civil or other engineering student are taught to design, they should be fully trained in the hazards and risks of those designs over their lifecycles, including in construction (installation) and operation. Workforce (and personal) risk should certainly be included in our courses.

    Sarah Simon P.E.
    Boston Section



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    Sarah Simon P.E., ENV SP, M.ASCE
    Founding Partner
    Ipswich MA
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  • 10.  RE: ASCE Safety Initiative Highlights Flaws in Current CE Education System

    Posted 12-14-2021 03:43 PM
    We greatly appreciate the input of practitioners and academics to ASCE's educational policies and activities!  We are always open to and looking for those with an interest to join our efforts on committees and working groups to advance "Excellence in Civil Engineering Education" in all ways.  

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    Scott Hamilton Ph.D., P.E., F.ASCE
    York College of Pennsylvania
    York PA
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  • 11.  RE: ASCE Safety Initiative Highlights Flaws in Current CE Education System

    Posted 12-20-2021 01:00 PM
    I bemoan the extent of the shift from teaching to research in universities, and its effect on the education of engineers. I also appreciate impacts of the limits (e.g. graduation credits, other required courses, recruitment pressures, etc.) that universities face. I think there is little we as professional engineers can do to change these trends and limits on universities. Therefore, I also believe it is time to rethink the level of competence we expect from new college and university graduates, and to ensure that the profession provides a path to gain the additional skills required to perform the tasks expected of a licensed engineer. That is our (the profession's) responsibility; we need to ensure that only qualified persons obtain licenses, and to ensure that there are sufficient engineering professionals to meet societies needs.

    To wit, I suggest that we revise the requirements on the engineering curriculum to fit the constraints put on the universities, and that we test the graduates to ensure they have obtained the required level of competence using a revised EIT exam. This might involve developing specialized EIT exams for entry into the various branches of engineering in order to allow the educational program to fit within the limits imposed on the universities. Beyond completing the curriculum and passing the EIT there can (and I believe should) be requirements for additional course work and practical experience prior to sitting for the professional exam. These could (I'd argue should) include communications skills. Again, these can be specialized for the various branches of engineering. Licenses themselves can be restricted to various branches as necessary to ensure that the burden on prospective engineers is acceptable.

    An experience requirement for license could invite exploitation of new graduates. We need to address this concern. Further, the licensing exam must be structured to test that the required knowledge and skills that are not included in the curriculum have been mastered. Again, the topics can include safety, communications skills, and professional judgement.

    We need to ensure competence in the area of practice and we need to be able to recruit engineers. Combined, in my value system, these two objectives are more important than ensuring engineers have competence in all fields of engineering.

    In short, I do not hold much hope for imposing our training requirements in full on an education system subject to a wide range of outside constraints. I believe the profession needs to deal directly with the need to ensure a sufficient number of competent engineers continue to enter the profession. We still need to rely on the educational system to provide the bulk of engineering training, but we also need to provide the training that the educational system cannot or will not provide.

    Dan Sheer, P.E. (ret), LM. ASCE
    Columbia, MD




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    Dan Sheer LM. ASCE
    Retired former President HydroLogics Inc.
    Columbia Maryland
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  • 12.  RE: ASCE Safety Initiative Highlights Flaws in Current CE Education System

    Posted 12-23-2021 02:23 PM

    Dear Colleagues:

    If you are really concerned with the current state of CE education, I would like to urge all of you to become more actively involved with ASCE's committees such as the Committee of Accreditation and C. of Education.  ASCE provides guidance to ABET which is the accreditation organization for all engineering programs throughout the country.  ABET sets the standards for engineering programs in the US and elsewhere.  Currently, the program criterion for civil engineering is being rewritten by ASCE. This will impact all current and future graduates in civil engineering.




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    Mark Vanarelli Ph.D., P.E., P.G., BCEE, F.ASCE
    Department Head of Civil Engineering & Associate Professor
    Westminster CO
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  • 13.  RE: ASCE Safety Initiative Highlights Flaws in Current CE Education System

    Posted 12-23-2021 03:31 PM
    That sounds like a plan to me. I will try to do just that.

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    George Runkle, MS, PE, SE, M.ASCE
    President
    Runkle Consulting, Inc
    Lawrenceville, GA
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  • 14.  RE: ASCE Safety Initiative Highlights Flaws in Current CE Education System

    Posted 12-22-2021 09:30 AM
    Ideally, there would be a class offered dedicated to safety.  Degrees in safety are also becoming increasingly available, but the course studies vary greatly from civil engineering.  As adding to the current course load is a challenge, here are some thoughts on how safety can be integrated:

    - define and instill safety as a value in Engineering 101

    - derive and explain the reasoning behind safety factors, based on risk

    - talk about the difference between temporary and permanent structures in terms of design

    - we study physics, statics, dynamics, pullies, and cable design, but none of these subjects are combined into a crane or rigging model that is realistic

    - encourage students to identify dangers to the public - environmental, traffic, structural, geological, etc - and ways to mitigate them

    - in Engineering Economics & Ethics - explore insurance issues

    - in Engineering Economics & Ethics - explore the costs of being Safe vs. Unsafe

    - value engineering is taught in a way that reduces labor and material, but risk reduction should be the prime motivator

    - Capstone classes should define and highlight risks associated with the project - to workers and the public

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    Chad Morrison P.E., F.ASCE
    Professional Engineer
    Greenville RI
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  • 15.  RE: ASCE Safety Initiative Highlights Flaws in Current CE Education System

    Posted 12-23-2021 09:48 AM
    Undergraduate civil engineering education continues to evolve, as it always has, to engage new approaches in engineering education and new knowledge and technologies in the field.  While nearly all undergraduate civil engineering programs are aligned with ABET accreditation criteria (both the general criteria and field-specific criteria), these criteria allow for a great deal of flexibility, enabling programs to build on strengths and opportunities as their faculty, their alumni and advisory groups and other constituents, and their institutions define them.  The result is that there is substantial diversity among civil engineering undergraduate programs across the U.S., providing a spectrum of curricula and educational opportunities within civil engineering that strengthens and advances our field.   In short, undergraduate civil engineering curricula vary significantly, and this diversity is growing, a healthy development for our field in my view.

    As a reminder, undergraduate education provides a broad, base-level education for a person for their career and life.  Even for engineering, undergraduate education is not intended to provide a full professional education, nor is it possible to do so within the constraints of time (4 years) and money (personal resources of students and their families).  Professional education comes through mentored experience, graduate studies, formal training within companies and industries, and other forms of continuing education over one's career.   Professional education requires a commitment of the individual to continuing education and professional advancement throughout one's career.

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    David Dzombak, PhD, PE, Dist.M.ASCE
    Hamerschlag University Professor and Dept Head
    Dept of Civil and Environmental Engineering
    Carnegie Mellon University
    Pittsburgh, PA 15213
    dzombak@...
    ------------------------------



  • 16.  RE: ASCE Safety Initiative Highlights Flaws in Current CE Education System

    Posted 01-04-2022 04:55 PM
    The safety article was an interesting read. The article acknowledges early on that practitioners aren't taking the problem seriously enough. According to the ASCE ILC Roundtable moderator, the small and mid-sized companies that employ the majority of engineers "are less likely to promote and support safety to a high degree." Yet the industry appears to be defaulting more heavily on the undergraduate engineering education sector to solve this mammoth problem affecting public safety and trust in our industry.

    Colleges and universities in general are neither tasked nor equipped to solve all of the world's problems. Their duty to society is to impart a depth of knowledge and set of critical thinking skills necessary in a particular area to both apply and extend the existing body of knowledge and practice. These cognitive attributes are necessary for society's continued progress and evolution, but are not generally expected of those who have not been fortunate to have received this level of formal training. In my opinion, when we award degrees from fully accredited institutions and issue professional practice certifications and licenses following rigorous examination, we accept that the universities have for the most part fulfilled their duties.

    Expanding degree credit and educator qualifications requirements may not be the optimal solution to this problem. After all, those requirements would mostly benefit the sub-set of engineers with significant exposure to safety hazards/risks, and perhaps unnecessarily burden the rest, making our profession even less appealing. The safety article repeatedly referred to the 120-credit 4-year degree, but my and many other undergraduate engineering programs already require over 130 credits. Would adding additional safety-related coursework actually make a net-positive contribution?

    First and foremost, a level of personal and professional accountability should compel engineers to acquire the level of job-specific safety knowledge and training required to protect themselves, the public and/or the environment based on their specific duties and responsibilities by whatever means are available to them. Secondly, engineering companies also have a business and ethical responsibility to promote safety to the greatest extent possible and prudent, to protect themselves, their employees', the public and the environment. Finally, I'm all for less government intervention, but federal, state and local regulatory agencies must expand their role, as needed, to minimize harm to the public where individual engineering practitioners and companies/industries fail to address the needs.

    Can educators do more? No doubt they can, and perhaps should. But all considered, I believe that colleges and universities are currently doing their fair share to address the safety problem without further burdening that institution.

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    Ronald Eyma P.E., M.ASCE
    Municipal Engineer/Consultant
    Fort Lauderdale, FL
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  • 17.  RE: ASCE Safety Initiative Highlights Flaws in Current CE Education System