Fall 2010

Educating Engineers for the 21st Century

James D. Plummer

Dean of Engineering, Stanford University

James D. PlummerUndergraduate engineering education for more than 50 years has been aimed at producing graduates who are immediately productive at the companies that employ them. This objective is quite distinct from other professions like business, law and medicine, that encourage a broad liberal arts undergraduate education followed by several years of specialized graduate training. In many developed countries today, including the US, Europe and Japan, student interest in engineering is declining, in contrast to developing countries like China and India, in which student interest in engineering is exploding.

  • How should we educate students today for engineering careers in an increasingly global, flat world?
  • Is packing as much detailed technical material as possible into an undergraduate major the best strategy?
  • Should we put more emphasis on quantitative reasoning, entrepreneurship, creativity, innovation, systems integration, working in teams, and other skills?
  • Should we rely more on graduate education and life-long learning for the detailed technical skills engineers need?

This talk will attempt to assess these and other issues being debated today and draw some conclusions.

James D. Plummer is Dean of Engineering and a professor of Electrical Engineering at Stanford University. Prior to becoming Dean, he was the chair of the Electrical Engineering Department at Stanford. He received his BSEE degree from UCLA and MS and PhD degrees in EE from Stanford.

Dean Plummer is a member of the National Academy of Engineering, the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, and a Fellow of the IEEE. He has received a number of awards for research, including the 1991 Solid State Science and Technology Award from the Electrochemical Society, the 2001 Semiconductor Industry Association University Research Award, the 2003 IEEE Ebers Award, and the 2007 IEEE Andrew S. Grove Award. He has graduated more than 80 PhD students with whom he has published more than 400 journal and conference papers. These papers have won eight conference and student best paper awards. Most of his graduated students work in the semiconductor industry. He has also received three teaching awards at Stanford. He serves on the Board of Directors of several public and start-up companies, including Intel. His primary research interests are in nanoscale silicon devices.