When I returned to school more than two decades after getting my master’s degree in mechanical engineering, it was with the intent of teaching at the university level. I had previously taught engineering technology classes, early in my career, at one of Purdue’s extension campuses, and I enjoyed the experience. But I had studied to be an practicing engineer, and I left academia to begin my industrial career soon after. Following twenty years in the private sector, though, I felt that I had accumulated enough useful insights to be of benefit to young engineering students. Teaching at the university level requires a doctorate, however; so, at an age that was twice the norm, I began work on my PhD.
As I wrap up my degree (hopefully defending yet this semester), I must admit to having nagging doubts about an academic career. Its not so much the hard work associated with beginning at the bottom of the academic ladder, or the drudgery of grading tests and homework, or even the murky waters of academic politics. Rather, as I will detail in future posts, I think that universities face some serious challenges in the near future. Further, I believe that much of the coming revolution in education will be driven by private enterprise, and not academic institutions. I would much prefer leading the change, rather than resisting it.
Granted, this may be making some unfair assumptions about today’s universities. I know that many schools are working hard to modernize their curriculum and instructional methods. And my experiences in higher education may not be typical. So I’ve decided to give the academic path one final look during the course of this semester. I’m signing up for the “Preparing Future Faculty” course being offered this semester. Perhaps, given further additional exposure to the academic system, I will feel more comfortable about making positive changes from within a university position. If not, well then I can say I gave it an honest evaluation.
In addition to the PFF course, I plan on attending a series of workshops given by Purdue’s Center for Instructional Excellence (CIE). I’m told by friends who have previously attended these seminars that the material is more suited for the humanities than for engineering coursework. However, I’ll try to report on the ideas and methods that seem the most appropriate for the engineering classroom.