The SEI Vision for the Future is very clear in that structural engineers need to be creative and innovative and that “young engineers need more encouragement to be creative and better training to get there.” But creativity continues to be lacking in an educational structure that is focused on right answers and ensuring coverage of a prescriptive topic list. For example, the 2016 NCSEA Curriculum survey performed every three years considers what courses a structural engineering education should include to sufficiently address topics important to the profession. Compare this to the Structural Engineering Institute’ s Vision Document which, in discussing a vision for structural engineering education, discusses the “skills and abilities needed to innovate and lead.” There is a huge gap between assuring topical coverage and developing skills and abilities. Of the attributes of engineering students left underdeveloped in the attainment of a knowledge base, creativity is at the top of the list.
Recent research in engineering education is alarming and suggests we may be doing more harm than good. Recent studies report
• Critical thinking skills in freshman engineers outperform the general population, but by their senior year, engineering students are lower than their freshman counterparts and significantly lower than the rest of the study body
• Senior engineers scored lower in the ability to create novel designs and concepts, and show higher levels of design fixation, or an inability to think outside previously established norms in their field
• Students that consider themselves to be creative are significantly more likely to leave engineering; in contrast, students that rate themselves as not very creative retain at a 90% rate.
Without a reimagination of structural engineering curriculum, it is difficult to imagine the SEI Vision of creative, innovative leaders coming from curricular programs that have not substantively changed in over 50 years. This paper presents alternative paradigms for education that focus on skill development and encourage creativity as a potential starting point for achieving the SEI Vision for Structural Education.