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Champy: Rethink engineering

MIT needs to reexamine its undergraduate engineering curriculum, James A. Champy asserted in delivering the annual Charles L. Miller Lecture at Bartos Theater on April 21.

"Consider creating an undergraduate core engineering program that will be taught across all engineering departments and examine whether this should be done in a five-year program," said Champy, chairman of consulting for Perot Systems Corp. and an MIT alumnus.

Champy's talk "In Charlie's Vision: The Future of Engineering at MIT" was given in honor of Miller, who headed MIT's Civil and Environmental Engineering Department from 1962 to 1969. The lecture was sponsored jointly by MIT's Engineering Systems Division and the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering.

Champy said that his work as a management consultant has shown him the need for MIT to integrate broader skills and attributes into its engineering disciplines. "The problems and opportunities in which MIT is engaged today demand an increased level of interdepartmental collaboration," he said.

Champy characterized MIT's School of Engineering as a great institution, but one facing increased competition for students, faculty, research funding and philanthropy.

"An engineering curriculum must have disciplines that develop our students' deep understanding of organizational behavior and the skills to deal with and within flawed organizations--and maybe fix them," he said. Champy questioned whether the traditional four-year undergraduate engineering program is sufficient.

Daniel Roos, who delivered last year's Miller lecture, introduced Champy. Roos, Japan Steel Industry Professor of Engineering Systems and Civil and Environmental Engineering and founding director of MIT's Engineering Systems Division, noted that during Miller's tenure, he not only revolutionized the department, but the profession itself.

Miller's aggressive use of information technologies to address engineering problems, coupled with systems thinking and interdisciplinary collaboration, "resulted in the golden age of CE at MIT," said Roos.

Champy, who holds MIT bachelor's and master's degrees in CE and was Miller's teaching assistant, suggested that recent advances in science demand that MIT faculty take a new look at engineering with the same boldness of vision that Miller displayed.

A version of this article appeared in MIT Tech Talk on April 27, 2005 (download PDF).

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