Carnegie researchers lead a collaborative team to improve engineering education

10/06/05

Center supported by $1.7 million from National Science Foundation

PITTSBURGH--A collaborative research team led by Carnegie Mellon University's Cliff Davidson, David Allen of The University of Texas at Austin and Brad Allenby of Arizona State University plan to revolutionize the way engineering education is taught by creating a new Center for Sustainable Engineering.

The center, supported by $1.7 million from the National Science Foundation (NSF) and $350,000 from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is designed to help future engineers better manage increased stress on the world's limited resources.

To the uninitiated, sustainable engineering meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs for human development.

The Center for Engineering Sustainability plans to help galvanize engineering programs into action. Some of those programs include holding workshops to improve engineering faculty teaching, creating a Web site with peer-reviewed educational materials about sustainable engineering with Prentice Hall's Pearson Custom Publishing, and conducting a nationwide survey of sustainable engineering programs and courses to benchmark the status of education in this emerging discipline.

"We want this new center to help the nation's 1,500 engineering programs realize that being green may not be easy, but it is vitally important," said Davidson, a professor in Civil and Environmental Engineering at Carnegie Mellon.

For the past year, mainstream business economists have been increasingly surprised at how Americans have shrugged off rising energy prices. But even as some prices start receding, Davidson and his peers argue that Hurricane Katrina has raised deep-seated fears about energy security in the same way that September 11 raised lasting fears about terrorist attacks on U.S. soil.

The crisis-born urge to conserve at a time when a growing appetite for energy use continues to skyrocket only makes this the best time to launch a new center dedicated to teaching and rewarding engineers who incorporate environmental and social constraints into projects, according to Davidson.

As the global population grows and standards of living improve, there will be increasing stress placed on the world's limited resources, center researchers said.

Given the choice, for example, people tend to procrastinate about annoying energy-saving tasks like adding insulation, replacing leaky windows or switching to a car that gets better gas mileage or hooking up with a carpool, Davidson said.

Source: Eurekalert & others

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