The Center for Innovation in Engineering Education (CIEE) recently announced the appointment of Greg Olson, co-founder of Sensors Unlimited and a successful businessman with close ties to the University, as Entrepreneur-in-Residence at the School of Engineering and Applied Science (SEAS). This action is a step forward in CIEE's efforts to provide a context for engineering coursework and show its applications to the real world.
We see CIEE's mission as contributing positively to the University community. CIEE's effort to publicize engineering courses to all students is impressive. The center's pamphlet, which will soon be distributed to students in both degree programs, identifies engineering courses that either expose students broadly to the field of engineering or have relevance to students who are concentrating in other fields. In addition, CIEE's efforts to introduce BSE freshmen to the various fields of engineering is not unlike what we hope to see the Major Choices initiative do for AB majors.
The center has addressed concerns that the appointment of an Entrepreneur-in-Residence represents a move toward an increasingly vocational education for engineers by ensuring that Olson will not teach any courses and will have only the status of lecturer. CIEE has appropriately identified Olson as a resource for students who wish to consult with him regarding their ideas for businesses, while also making clear that he personally is prohibited from profiting from his position. Yet even as opportunities evolve to link classroom experiences with the world of business, CIEE and the University should remain mindful that teaching in SEAS, as in all departments, must be firmly rooted in academics.
There are two additional areas that would benefit from the Center's attention. The first is for the Center to use its resources to broaden Princeton students' views of business. Many students think of financial services and business as being almost synonymous, given the University's proximity to New York and the heavy on-campus recruiting by that particular industry. CIEE can perform a valuable service by showing students how their education can be applied in many more ways than the well-traveled road of finance.
Second, in this age of genetic engineering and nanotechnology, engineers need to be exposed to coursework in ethics and morality just as much as AB students, if not more so. A triumphant presentation of modern technology as an unalloyed good ignores how often technology has been used for base purposes, as the recent rush toward the proliferation of nuclear weapons has shown. Many prospective engineers would benefit from a course on the historical and ethical implications of technology.
The appointment of the first Entrepreneur-in-Residence is an innovative step in undergraduate education at Princeton. As the University moves into a more application-focused program of study for some, however, it should keep sight of the benefits and rigors of a general academic study for all.
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