May 2008 News

01 May

In the April Soupçon, the American Society of Civil Engineers’ proposal on Civil Engineering Body of Knowledge (BOK2) for the 21st Century: Preparing the Civil Engineer for the Future (ASCE News, March 2008) was reported on here. This proposal recommends education beyond the bachelor’s degree in order to reach

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the professional engineer level. A good case for this proposal can be made for several reasons. Engineering, an empirical science, is becoming more and more accessible to analytical methods, but developing, using and critically judging these methods also requires advanced analytical knowledge and engineering judgement. Also, most engineering problems are not isolated from environmental, political, and social environments, which means that engineers have to appreciate and deal with these complex contexts or risk that their well-engineered project proposals will fall by the way side. And finally, there will be increased competition in a global environment that requires broadly educated technologists. “Professional engineer” should not just mean to have a state license; it should mean to be a well-versed, broadly educated engineer.

The question may arise if there will be takers for more education. In addition to the extensive learning effort, education costs are escalating rapidly. If the civil engineering work of the future turns out to be challenging then there will be takers. Actually one would think that this should be the case, given the run-down infrastructure in practically all sectors, as the periodical ASCE report card regularly asserts and the occasional collapses seem to confirm. But unless there is a reordering of priorities and a re-channeling of public funds through the political process, there may not be a profound change beyond temporary crisis management in the aftermath of failures. This outlook may not be attractive enough for young and smart students to devote their efforts to a career in civil engineering, especially when considering the challenging new subject areas that are competing for talent in other engineering sectors, like green power engineering and biotechnology.

It should be kept in mind that the proposed new educational plan of BOK2 is not obligatory. Much of the routine engineering work can be done with the qualifications of the bachelor degree, as past experience has shown, and as the proposed plan also reaffirms (see below in this article). It is only for those who want to go beyond the basics to become professional engineers, to become more knowledgeable, well-rounded engineers, and possibly leaders. If there are fewer of them, they will be more valuable, command high salaries, and rise in public esteem, perhaps even gaining more political clout in local, state, and national politics. A professional engineer of the future will do more advanced development and analytical work, such as probabilistic analysis of structures and decision planning in the face of uncertainty, and advise on the quality and safety aspects of work done by others. Even unexciting sounding sectors, such as infrastructure maintenance, harbor interesting advanced analytical aspects that can be brought to bear to do better work, specifically in cost estimating and failure avoidance. The proposed recommendations for the qualifications required for the future professional level take into account the increased complexity of engineering science and of the environment in which it is applied. If nothing else, the proposed plan should be a valuable educational guide for young engineers in general who do not have much of an idea of what may be coming toward them in their careers.

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BOK2, the second edition of Engineering Body of Knowledge, is an expanded version of an earlier plan. It recognizes 24 goals or outcomes. These outcomes are subdivided into three groups: I. Foundational Outcomes , II. Technical Outcomes , and III. Professional. Outcomes. Each outcome distinguishes six levels of cognitive

achievement: (1) Knowledge, (2) Comprehension, (3) Application, (4) Analysis, (5) Synthesis, and (6) Evaluation. Each successive level builds on the previous one. Knowledge is the base. The second level, comprehension, requires knowledge. Once the subject has been comprehended, it can be applied. Application results require analysis, and so forth. The measures of achievement are based on work by educational psychologist Benjamin S. Bloom (1984). For each outcome level there is an educational requirement to achieve it. These requirements are bachelor’s degree (B), master’s degree or an equivalent 30 credits (M/30), and prelicensure engineering experience (E). In the following, the 24 outcomes are listed with the cognitive achievement level (number) required to qualify for the professional level, and the way this achievement is to be attained (letter).

I. Foundational Outcomes

1. Mathematics: 3, B (this means that for outcome 1, mathematics, in order to reach professional (licensure) requirements, the candidate must reach the level of cognitive achievement, which is 3, the application level, and this level is achieved with the bachelor’s degree B. This case is explained in the plan as: “Solve problems in mathematics through differential equations and apply this knowledge to the solution of engineering problems.”
2. Natural Sciences: 3, B: Solve problems in calculus-based physics, chemistry and one additional area of natural science and apply this knowledge to the solution of engineering problems.
3. Humanities: 3, B: Demonstrate the importance of the humanities in the professional practice of engineering (note the words solve, demonstrate, which express the requirement of knowledge at the “application” level 3).
4. Social Sciences: 3, B: Demonstrate the incorporation of social sciences knowledge into the professional practice of engineering.

II. Technical Outcomes

5. Materials Science: 3, B: Use knowledge of material science

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to solve problems appropriate to civil engineering.
6. Mechanics: 4, B: Analyze and solve problems in solid and fluid mechanics.
7. Experiments: 5, M/30: Specify an experiment to meet a need , conduct the experiment and analyze and explain the resulting data (note that this outcome requires an achievement level beyond the B, i.e., a master ‘s degree or additional 30 credits).
8. Problem recognition and solving: 4, M/30: Formulate and solve an ill-defined engineering problem appropriate to civil engineering by selecting and applying appropriate tools.
9. Design: 6, E: Evaluate the design of a complex system, component or process and assess compliance with customary standards of practice, user’s and project’s needs, and relevant constraints (note that this outcome requires the highest level of cognitive achievement (6) and can only be achieved through engineering experience, E).
10. Sustainability: 4, E: Analyze systems of engineered works, wether traditional or emergent, for sustainable performance.
11. Contemporary issues and historical perspectives: 4, E: Analyze the impact of historical and contemporary issues on the identification, formulation , and solution of engineering problems and analyze the impact of engineering solutions on the economy, environment, political landscape and society.
12. Risk and uncertainty: 4, E: Analyze the loading and capacity, and the effect of their respective uncertainties , for a well defined design and illustrate the underlying probability of failure (or non-performance) for a specified failure mode.
13. Project management: 4, E: Formulate documents to be incorporated into the dprject plan.
14. Breadth in civil engineering areas: 4, B: Analyze and solve well-defined engineering problems in at least four technical areas appropriate to civil engineering.
15. Technical specialization: 6, E: Evaluate the design of a complex system or process or evaluate the validity of newly created knowledge or technologies in a traditional or emerging advanced specialized technical area appropriate to civil engineering (this is the second of three outcomes that require the highest cognitive achievement level (6).

III. Professional Outcomes

16. Communication: 5, E: Plan, compose and integrate the verbal, written virtual and graphical communication of a project to to technical and nontechnical audiences.
17. Public policy: 3, E: Apply public policy process techniques to simple public policy problems related to civil engineering works (note that here B only reaches the level (2) – comprehension- of cognitive achievement. The qualifying level for professional licensure must be attained through experience (E).
18. Business and public administration: 3, E: Apply business and pubic administration concepts and processes (note that also here B only reaches level (2) and the professional qualifying level must be attained by experience (E).
19. Globalization: 4, E: Analyze engineering works and services in order to function at a basic level in a global context.
20. Leadership: 4, E: Organize and direct the efforts of a group.
21. Teamwork: 4, E: Function effectively as a member of a multidisciplinary team.
22. Attitudes: 3, E: Demonstrate attitudes supportive of the professional practice of civil engineering.
23. Lifelong learning: 5, E: Plan and execute the acquisition of required expertise appropriate for professional practice (by self-directive learning – added by the writer). For this outcome only up to 3, B can be achieved by levels 4 and higher have to be achieved by E.
24. Professional and ethical responsibility: 6, E: Justify a solution to an engineering problem based on professional and ethical standards and assess personal, professional and ethical development. (This is the third outcome of the 24 that requires the highest achievement level (6) with B only attaining level 4, the higher levels require E).

The four outcomes (goals) of Class I – Foundational Outcomes can be achieved by the bachelor degree (B) if the minimum cognitive level 3 is attained. The eleven outcomes of Class II – Technical Outcomes require cognitive level 3 through 6, and in addition to the bachelor (B) they require a master’s (M) or equivalent experience (E). The nine goals of Class III – Professional Outcomes all require additional M or E training and levels 3 through 6.

The information on BOK2 is taken from ASCE News, March 2008, Volume 33, Number 3. The entire proposal can be read or downloaded from WOW.

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