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What’s next for engineering education?

Dean of Engineering to share his views on engineering education in the face of increasing need for innovative technical leaders.
School of Engineering Dean Ian Waitz
School of Engineering Dean Ian Waitz

As a MacVicar Faculty Fellow, Ian Waitz is among a select group of faculty who have been honored for exemplary and sustained contributions to the teaching and education of undergraduates at MIT. Earlier this year, Waitz became dean of the School of Engineering, which comprises more than a third of the Institute’s faculty and nearly half its students. Waitz brings the same energy for education to the Institute's largest school, and, he hopes, to the world beyond MIT.

On Wednesday, Nov. 2, at 3:30 p.m. in Killian Hall, Building 14W-111, Waitz will share his thoughts on the future of engineering education in a public lecture sponsored by the MacVicar Faculty Fellows Program. He will examine current trends in engineering education and discuss how the School of Engineering can advance its educational mission both within MIT and beyond.

Waitz says he is concerned with the increasing breadth of engineering as it applies to addressing the world’s grand challenges in environment, energy, health care, information, poverty alleviation and other areas. That breadth is apparent across many dimensions — time zones, cultures, length-scales, disciplines within engineering and even those not traditionally considered to be part of engineering. "Increasingly, these challenges will be solved by engineers working collaboratively with others," Waitz says.

He is also interested in understanding how best to employ information technology in education. “It is a world that is moving under our feet, and we are often behind our students in adopting new approaches. We need to understand the best ways to use new technology to enhance the residence-based educational experience,” he says. “There are marvelous opportunities to experiment and change some of our traditional ways of educating, and I am hopeful that we can adopt creative approaches to exploring these ideas — quickly!”

These advances, he says, need to be balanced with operational experiences and leadership opportunities in the world outside of the MIT campus. MIT students need experience solving real-world problems as well as virtual ones, he says: "If we do that in the right way, it can contribute to deeper learning of the fundamentals while at the same time giving them the confidence to go out and change the world, and that's a great thing."

Lastly, Waitz says he's focused on efforts within the School of Engineering, and across MIT, to address the increasing need for innovative technical leaders, within the United States and globally. MIT faculty, staff and alumni have created more than 25,000 companies that employ more than 3 million people, and have annual sales of more than $2 trillion. “This is a very big part of what we do — and we need to do more of it,” Waitz says. “How do we enhance the ecosystem for innovation and entrepreneurship both within and outside MIT? How do we enable our uniquely capable students to capitalize on that, not only while they are here at MIT, but in the careers they have after MIT?”

In addition to his thoughts on engineering education for MIT students, Waitz has a much wider concern. "When parents, teenagers and the general public in the U.S. are surveyed, only a small percentage understand what engineers do, or believe that engineers are key contributors to society," he says. "We need to implement strategies, both here at MIT and more broadly, to better communicate the fact that engineers are creative problem solvers who change the world."

Waitz has been a member of the MIT faculty since 1991 and was the head of the Department of Aeronautics and Astronautics from 2008 until his appointment as dean earlier this year. He received his BS in 1986 from the Pennsylvania State University, his MS in 1988 from George Washington University and his PhD in 1991 from the California Institute of Technology.

Waitz was appointed a MacVicar Faculty Fellow in 2003. At the time, he said, "I have always loved teaching undergraduates more than any other role I play here, so it is terrific to be recognized this way."

The MacVicar Program is named to honor the life and contributions of the late Margaret MacVicar, professor of physical science and dean for undergraduate education. She founded the Undergraduate Research Opportunities Program and played a key role in reshaping the undergraduate program.

New MacVicar Faculty Fellows are selected annually based on nominations from faculty members and students. This year's deadline for nominating fellows is Monday, Nov. 14. Details about the nomination process can be found on the program website,

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