About Joseph Hartman

Dr. Joseph Hartman was appointed Dean of the Francis College of Engineering at the University of Massachusetts Lowell in July of 2013. An industrial and systems engineer by training, Hartman’s research and teaching interests are in the areas of engineering economic decision analysis and applied optimization. He has published over 100 scholarly papers with his research being continuously funded by the National Science Foundation since 1997, including the CAREER Award. He has taught courses in engineering economy, quality management, production logistics, and operations research, and is author of the textbook Engineering Economy and the Decision Making Process. He is a fellow of the Institute of Industrial Engineers. Hartman previously served as professor and chair of Industrial and Systems Engineering at the University of Florida from 2007 through 2013. He served in a similar capacity at Lehigh University in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania where he also held the George N. Kledaras ’87 Endowed Chair. He has also held visiting positions at the University of Edinburgh and the University of Dortmund. A native of the Chicago area, Hartman received his B.S. in General Engineering from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and his M.S. and Ph.D. in Industrial and Systems Engineering from the Georgia Institute of Technology.

Choosing the Right College…

In light of the admissions scandal at a number of universities as revealed by the FBI this past week, a lot has been written about the admissions process and choosing a college.  One enjoyable read was from Dr. Denise Pope of Stanford University, “The Right Way to Choose a College,” which appeared in the March 23-24 weekend edition of The Wall Street Journal.  The article noted two important findings:

  • There is no correlation between college selectivity and future job satisfaction or well-being (2014 Gallup-Purdue Index study);
  • A school’s selectivity is a not a reliable predictor of outcomes, especially learning.

More importantly, as stated by Dr. Pope, “What students do at college matters much more than where they go.”  Specifically, being active in extracurricular activities, working on projects which span multiple semesters, engaging with faculty and mentors, and participating in meaningful internships are activities that are much more likely to lead to thriving after college and feeling fulfilled at work.

In the Francis College of Engineering, we take pride in providing students with numerous experiential learning opportunities.  Whether performing a service-learning project in the community, taking on a leadership position in an Engineering society, competing on the design-build-fly, SAE car, or concrete canoe team, studying abroad, bunking in a Living-Learning-Community, applying classroom knowledge on a co-op or internship, or tackling a two-semester senior design project sponsored by industry, the learning that goes on in the classroom is better understood through its application in these activities.  And the activities list is only enhanced by being on a comprehensive campus, as one can compete with the mock trial team (yes, engineers compete here too), join an intramural or varsity sports team, play in a band, sing in a choir, or play underwater hockey (yes, we have a team for that!).  In addition to the learning and fun, these activities also enhance a resume and prepare one for success after college.

The research shows that one key to life after college is to get engaged while in college.  Come see what UMass Lowell has to offer!

Celebrating Engineering Week: A Major for All Careers

We just wrapped Engineering Week 2019 at UMass Lowell with a number of exciting activities, including panel discussions on potential career paths. Tuesday, we hosted four alumni that landed in “atypical” careers for grads with engineering degrees. Their “new” roles included (1) real estate developer; (2) financial manager; (3) social entrepreneur; and (4) lawyer. Here are some nuggets that I gleaned from the engaging conversation:

  • If you decide to make a significant career change to a different field, plan your career “pivot” accordingly.  The (extreme) example was: suppose you work in the biopharmaceutical field producing advanced drugs but you want to become an IT manager.  This move requires two pivots – one from the chemical/pharmaceutical field to IT and another from production to management.  The first pivot will likely require an additional degree or training but can be accomplished at night while working in the pharmaceutical field.  The second can be accomplished by taking on project management/managerial roles in the field before exiting.  With planning, this evolution can be successfully managed.
  • Networking is crucial to making a pivot.  While pursuing additional training, another way to build credibility in another area is through networking.  Attending conferences, tech talks, or networking mixers can provide a way to meet those in the industry and learn about the skills necessary to move.
  • In these growing days of automation, you cannot assume that you will receive an interview for a job if your credentials do not match those requested in an ad.  For example, a job posting may require a certain degree which, you could argue, is not necessary with your experience.  Thus, to give yourself a higher probability of an interview, have an inside champion (someone at the company) that can hand deliver your resume with a recommendation to interview, noting that your different background is actually an asset to the company.
  • An engineering degree gives you credibility in the workplace and the job search.  In 2015-16, only 5.6% of bachelor’s degrees conferred in the United States were in Engineering, according to the Digest of Education Statistics published by the National Center of Education Statistics.  Use this to your advantage, as earning an Engineering degree declares that you are likely a hard-worker and diligent – traits that are welcome in any field.

My favorite takeaway from the panel was the statement that “Engineers really can do anything.”  But this was prefaced by the fact that it is much easier to move from engineering fields to non-engineering fields while it is relatively difficult to move from non-engineering fields to engineering fields because the barrier of entry requires an engineering degree.  Thus, engineering is a great place to start for nearly any profession.

Why UMass Lowell?

This past Saturday, hundreds of prospective students attended our recruiting event with parents, siblings (sometimes begrudgingly), guardians and friends in tow.  On numerous occasions, I was asked, “Why should we choose UMass Lowell over University [insert name]?”  The comparison school ranged from private to public, small to big, and urban to rural.  I thought I would share my answer, regardless of the school named:

  • Program Choice: Students in the College can pursue degrees in Biomedical, Chemical, Civil, Computer, Electrical, Environmental, Mechanical, Nuclear, and Plastics Engineering; options in Biological, Nanomaterials, and Nuclear Engineering; and minors including Aerospace Studies, Biomedical Technology, Business Administration, Climate Change and Sustainability, Computer Science, Economics, Energy Engineering, Entrepreneurship, Mathematics, Nuclear Science and Engineering, Physics, Robotics, Sound Recording Technology, STEM Teaching, and Technology, Society and Human Values.  Additionally, every major provides a Bachelor’s to Master’s Degree Option where one can earn two degrees in as little as five years.  But perhaps most importantly, new students may start with “Undeclared Engineering” in order to determine which path, amongst this myriad of choices, aligns best with their interests.
  • Experiential Learning Opportunities: Whether participating in a society or club, volunteering to teach at a local school, studying abroad, enrolling in the professional co-op option, carrying out research in a laboratory, or building prototypes for an entrepreneurship competition, the opportunities to learn outside of the classroom are vast.  These activities deepen the college experience, build valuable skills, and lead to lifelong friendships.  They can also make a bigger school, which has the benefit of more program options, feel small.
  • Location, Location, Location: According to data from the Bureau of Economic Analysis, nearly 75% of the Commonwealth’s Gross Domestic Product is generated within the I-495 corridor.  As Lowell sits on I-495, UMass Lowell has easy access to companies for internships, co-ops, industrial senior design projects, and research projects.  This translates to excellent placement rates for our graduates!
  • Personal Return on Investment: Payscale.com is a popular resource for analyzing the return on an investment (ROI) in a degree – a measure of earnings after graduation compared to the cost of attendance.  We are proud to be ranked second in the state for annual ROI.  But one must understand that these rankings are based on average data, and only a student can compute their true ROI.  That is, the cost of attendance is dependent on residency, degree (some charge fees), and the amount of financial aid or scholarships.  These are all personal data points that may vary widely.  However, starting salaries do not vary widely for new graduates with a specific Engineering degree at a specific company.  Thus, to calculate the ROI upon graduation, the ROI numerator is similar for most Engineering graduates – making the denominator (cost of attendance), critical.  Being a public university where 90% of need is met, UMass Lowell is quite competitive, making its ROI, very attractive.

So, regardless of the school for comparison, I would argue that UMass Lowell is a sound choice!

Educating GenZers

A recent report by Jeffrey Selingo of The Chronicle of Higher Education, “The New Generation of Students,” discusses the learning habits of Gen Z students (Gen Zers), those born between 1995 and 2012, and implications for higher education.  It is an interesting read that contrasts the habits of Gen Zers versus Millennials (born 1980 to 1995) and Generation X (1965 to 1980).

I was encouraged to learn that this generation is concerned with an education that can be applied and is open to a mix of learning styles – but extremely interested in experiential learning.  A few takeaways that grabbed my attention, especially with our approach at UMass Lowell:

  • Degree relevance and job placement are crucial: GenZers are focused on education that leads to a career.  The Francis College of Engineering offers eight bachelor’s degree programs with additional options and minors such that a student can tailor their education to their desired career outcomes.  Furthermore, job placement rates have been well over 90 percent across all Engineering majors for a number of years – our graduates are in high demand from employers across the region, state, and nation.
  • Value and low debt are important: This generation is extremely concerned with rising student debt and its potential to alter or delay life-changing decisions, such as moving for a job, buying a house, or starting a family.  At UMass Lowell, our mission statement specifically uses the word “affordable,” as we strive for accessibility by keeping tuition low and providing significant financial aid.  According to cappex.com, 89% of student need is met.  Furthermore, we offer many forms of student employment while on campus and our professional co-op programs, especially in Engineering, provide students the opportunity to gain valuable experience while making competitive wages.
  • Services trump amenities: While every student wants the opportunity to exercise in a shiny new gymnasium, this generation would rather receive support in areas ranging from tutoring and career services to counseling and wellness. As noted by these links, UMass Lowell is dedicated to helping students succeed, in and out of the classroom.
  • Experiential learning: The study reports on the desire for students to apply their knowledge from research projects to internships, both independently and collaboratively.  In my opinion, this is a strength of UMass Lowell.  In Engineering, we pride ourselves in providing a hands-on education, seen clearly through our large number of laboratory course offerings.  However, the opportunities outside of the classroom are even greater – professional co-op, student club competitions, innovative senior design options, research opportunities, and the annual DifferenceMaker Idea Challenge and Prototyping Competitions – just to name a few!
  • Soft skills and entrepreneurship: I lumped these two items together because, in my opinion, they go hand-in-hand.  Being entrepreneurial requires that one looks for opportunities to improve a situation or start something new that is valuable.  To do so takes creativity and grit, but it also takes the soft skills – communication, persuasion, and leadership – to bring great ideas to fruition.  Our DifferenceMaker program provides training and workshops on these topics, but also sponsors competitions that allow students to practice what they have learned.  An astounding 19 companies have been formed from our last six years of competitions!  Furthermore, the River Hawk Experience Distinction is a credential that combines coursework with experiential learning to guide students in developing soft skills.  Areas include Leadership, Entrepreneurship, Global Engagement and Community Engagement.

This list fills me with great optimism!  If students are looking for value and support on a career path that is defined by experiential learning to develop skills beyond a textbook, then faculty should be excited about our next generation of learners.

Make it Small

It is that time of year again when high school and community college students are taking hard looks at universities and determining where to apply, possibly rushing to meet early-action deadlines.  We have already hosted one Open House on campus, with our largest attendance ever, and will host another group of visitors this coming Sunday, October 28.

One question that I am routinely asked is: “Is it better to go to a small or large school?”  It is clear that there is a tradeoff – bigger can be better, because the implication is that there are more opportunities for students.  This means more majors and minors to select, more clubs to join, and more activities in which to participate.  But one can also make a case for small – not feeling like a number and the potential to have closer relationships with staff and faculty are positives.

But what if you want the best of both worlds?  Then you need to go to a “bigger” school and, as I advise my students, make it small.

Make it small?  That means finding ways to be a part of smaller, more intimate groups on campus.  When I pursued my undergraduate degree, each day was marked by a sea of humanity wandering across a sprawling campus.  It would have been easy to feel like a number.  But I joined a number of groups and participated in a number of activities to “make it small.”  I joined the marching band (yes, I was a band geek playing trumpet) which brought my world down from thousands of students to just a few hundred musicians during rehearsals.  (It was even smaller if you just considered the trumpets!)   I also joined an engineering society; a social fraternity; an honors society; intramural teams; and worked part-time in a research group for a professor.  Each of these interactions made school seem small, and those experiences made my undergraduate experience memorable.

For students still looking to choose a college, I suggest you attend a school with a myriad of degree options that are of interest to you – because statistics show you will likely change your major.  Even if you know your major with certainty, you might want to add other credentials – from minors to study abroad.  A bigger school will provide more of these options.

In addition to the educational offerings, make sure that the school has a number of activities that interest, or might interest, you.  I quickly browsed our offerings at UMass Lowell to discover over 250 student clubs and organizations! The options covered every walk of life,  categorized according to: Academic/Professional (such as those affiliated with a major – like an engineering society – or career); Club Sports; Culturally Oriented; Graduate Student Organizations; Greek Life; Honors Societies; Media; Performing Arts; Service Oriented; Special Interests; and Spiritual.  (See https://umasslowellclubs.campuslabs.com/engage/organizations for a list of options with descriptions.)

Another way to make the experience small is to engage in a Living-Learning Community (at least that is what we call them at UMass Lowell – https://www.uml.edu/student-services/reslife/living-learning-communities/).  Here, students with similar interests are housed together, with weekly programming centered around the theme of interest.  At UMass Lowell, we have 23 LLCs!  The College of Engineering supports three, including “Women in Science and Engineering,” “Developing Leaders in Engineering,” and “LEAF: Leaders in Environmental Advocacy of the Future,” and our students participate in numerous more.  In my interactions with students living in LLCs, they truly enjoy the programming as well as the constant contact with potential study buddies.

In addition to clubs, societies and communities, your university of choice (and perhaps the immediate area) should have a number of opportunities for you to have intimate experiences, such as lectures, debates, shows, and workshops.  Attending these with friends and colleagues, or making new friends and colleagues at these events, can also help make your college experience “small.”

For those already in college, get involved!  Our data shows that students who are engaged in activities with a cohort of students – such as a club, society or living-learning community – are retained at a significantly higher rate than those that are not engaged.  I guarantee that these experiences will also enrich your college experience.

So, yes, I am biased – I prefer a big school because I want every possible experience at my fingertips.  I want the opportunity to try new things and meet new people, as well as continue to participate in activities that I already enjoy.  These experiences and opportunities made my big school experience, small.  UMass Lowell is not huge, but it is big.  For our students, it means we have a comprehensive list of offerings to get involved.  I encourage you to look at our offerings, and see how you can “make it small.”

UMass Lowell Investments in Education

I had the good fortune to be asked to speak on a panel concerning the “Workforce of the Future” at the 3DExperience Forum hosted by Dassault Systemes.  Al Bunshaft, Senior Vice President, Americas Global Affairs & Academia at Dassault moderated the panel, which included Dr. Gregory Washington, the Dean of Engineering at UC Irvine; Landon Taylor, CEO of Base 11; and Charles March, Chief of Design Tools and Standards for Bell Flight.  Below is not a transcript, but a summary of questions (in bold) posed to me and my (expanded) answers.

UMass Lowell has made significant investments recently. Your school may not be the UML people think of if they haven’t been there recently. Tell us about some of the recent developments and how that’s impacting education. 

UMass Lowell has been undergoing a complete transformation over the past decade, driven by our 2020 strategic plan.  This plan centered on improving our student’s experience and providing the necessary infrastructure and climate for that experience.

On the infrastructure side, we have opened on the order of 14 new or renovated buildings in the past five years.  These include parking garages and dorms, and a number of new academic buildings.  On North campus, we have opened the Saab Emerging Technologies and Innovation Center; Pulichino-Tong Business Center; University Crossing; Lin Makerspace; and late this fall, we will re-open Perry Hall.  In addition to these infrastructure investments, we have invested heavily in new faculty positions – roughly 50 new engineering faculty have been hired in the past five years.

What is important to understand about these investments is how they impact the educational experience of the students – mainly in terms of experiential learning.  Experiential learning is a term used to describe education endeavors that provide practical experience, generally outside of the classroom.

For example, one may not think that new dormitories provide learning experiences, but with the new dorms, we were able to expand our Living Learning Communities (LLCs) where students live together around a theme – entrepreneurship, engineering leadership, or sustainability, for example.  In addition to living together, a number of programmed events (speaking engagements, activities, etc.) are built around the theme.  Research has shown that students in LLCs have significantly higher retention rates.

The new University Center houses staff for our professional co-op program, which is open to all Engineering majors.  This program prepares students to secure a 3-month or 6-month work experience in their field of study and reflects on that experience once the student returns to campus.  The work experience provides funding for education and helps connect classroom topics to the real world.

Our new Lin Makerspace allows our students to bring ideas to the prototype stage through our DifferenceMaker program, which instills the concepts of entrepreneurship and innovation through a variety of workshops and competitions. Our new Dassault Systems 3D Experience Center will further enhance our capabilities in terms of ideation and prototyping.

The renovation of Perry Hall truly upgrades our laboratory capabilities in the College.  We recently launched two new undergraduate degrees, Biomedical and Environmental, in the College and each will have their teaching labs on the ground floor.  These labs further enable a hands-on education at UMass Lowell.

Finally, these infrastructure investments have also allowed us to increase our research capabilities.  The building of the Saab ETIC and the renovation of Perry Hall has enabled us to expand our research endeavors in nanotechnology, printed electronics, biotechnology, clean energy and sustainability.  Cutting edge research facilities, such as the cleanroom in the Saab ETIC, is critical to hiring world-class faculty and growing our graduate program.  But it is also vital to engaging our undergraduates in another form of experiential learning – research. Our UROC (Undergraduate Research Opportunities and Collaborations) program pairs undergraduates with faculty to tackle the important problems of today.  And involving our students in research is important to our partners which share research space on campus, the Raytheon Company and the U.S. Army Natick Labs, which are always on the lookout for talent.

So, UMass Lowell has truly changed a lot – both in terms of infrastructure and the student experience.  What has not changed is our commitment to the Commonwealth to continue to provide a talented workforce, engage in our community, and solve the pressing problems of today and tomorrow.

The Boston area has some of the most prestigious schools in the world, yet UMass Lowell plays a key role supplying talent to MA and NE companies. As the world of engineering education changes, can state schools change quickly enough. How do you see their role?

I’m a state school kid. I grew up outside of Chicago and went to Illinois and Georgia Tech for my undergraduate and graduate engineering degrees.  I also taught at the University of Florida before coming to UMass Lowell – so I have seen firsthand the importance of strong, state-backed universities.

To understand the critical nature of our business, one just has to consider the following data:  Roughly 85% of UMass Lowell students come from New England, with the vast majority from Massachusetts.  Why?  It’s the value proposition.  They can get a great education, leading to a great career, at a great price – especially when one compares going to school out of state or to a private institution.

But the real key is this: Graduates from New England tend to want to stay in New England.  Maybe it’s the Red Sox or the Patriots or the Shore, but somewhere on the order of 85% of graduates of UMass stay in Massachusetts.  This is what differentiates UMass Lowell from a lot of private schools – privates recruit from out-of-state at a higher proportion that we do, and thus, their graduates do not stay in the state at the same rate as our graduates.  Thus, we, disproportionately, provide a greater share of the workforce to the state and region than our private counterparts.

As for changing quickly enough, I believe UMass Lowell has illustrated that we can change and grow to meet the needs of the state (our enrollments in Engineering have doubled in the last decade).  I was just reviewing data on our 2017 Engineering graduating class – within six months of graduation, 99% were either gainfully employed or pursuing graduate studies.  Of those 99%, 93% are working in industry – which tells me that employers are hiring our students at a great pace and the job market is very good – so good that graduate school is not an overly enticing option!

But those rates, and our industry partners, continue to tell me that more talent is needed.  UMass Lowell can continue to expand, but we will need help.  Tuition from increasing enrollments can finance the hiring of faculty and staff to deliver programs, but we will need continued and increased support from the state – or elsewhere – to continue to expand our infrastructure.  The renovation of Perry Hall, mentioned earlier, is being financed by the University – not by the state.  Unfortunately, this is not a long-term solution for infrastructure development and upkeep if we are to keep tuition at reasonable rates.  Years ago, the state covered about 80% of the costs to run the University.  Today, the state covers about 20%.  Unless this support level changes, we will not be able grow and meet the economic needs of Commonwealth, region or country.

Let me leave you with one more stat as to the critical importance of state universities:  Nearly one-third of UMass Lowell students come from homes that have an income of $30,000 or less!  Think about that for the moment.  Obviously, a majority of these students are first generation college students.  UMass Lowell, and other state entities, are the only opportunities for these students to pursue degrees and improve their economic standing.  And it is clear from our placement data, that our Commonwealth needs these graduates!

Hopefully the role, and importance, that UMass Lowell plays in the Commonwealth, the region and beyond is clear.



Is Engineering Fulfilling?

Each semester, I visit with Freshmen in our Living Learning Communities.  Last week, I met with a number of students from our Developing Leaders in Engineering (DLE) group.  As always, I arrived with a stack of plain notecards, handing one to everyone in attendance.  (This is an old trick that I learned from Dr. John White, former Dean of Engineering at Georgia Tech and Chancellor at the University of Arkansas.)  Getting strange looks from the students, I asked them each to write down any question that they wanted me to answer.  Once I explained that the cards would be collected, shuffled, and handed to me, they understood that I would not be able to ascertain who wrote which question.  Therefore, the questions could be asked with pure anonymity – and one could truly ask anything.

This past week, I received a disturbing question: “Is Engineering Fulfilling?”  Yes, disturbing.  Not because it is an offensive question, but rather, because it has to be asked.  I believe this is an indication of the failure of my field – Engineering — to promote itself.  That is, if people better understood the good that Engineers do, then it would be abundantly clear as to how fulfilling an Engineering career can be.  And if people understood this better, then more people, especially from underrepresented backgrounds, would likely pursue careers in Engineering.

The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines “fulfilling” as “providing happiness or satisfaction.”  Can you think of another career that provides more happiness or satisfaction to humanity?  Think of the different products or services that Engineers have designed and built in order to improve the human condition: from automobiles and airplanes to bridges and highways; from computers and smartphones to rockets and heart rate monitors.  From the seemingly mundane (vacuum cleaners) to the exotic (robots), Engineers are continuously developing new technologies to move us forward.  One only has to imagine the future to ponder what Engineers will build for a better tomorrow.

This is why the question troubled me.  Every Engineering discipline provides happiness and satisfaction to humanity — because every discipline contributes to improving the human condition. And that is why Engineering is fulfilling as a profession.  Improving the human condition is a truly satisfying endeavor.

If all understood this, then I believe more would pursue Engineering as a profession.


Get to the Career Fair!

Spring is always a great time of year because we have numerous prospective students visiting campus and we have a number of students getting ready to exit campus with degree in hand.  Most of those graduating students have lined up jobs, but I am sure there are a number that are still looking or weighing options. Naturally, I would expect to see those students at tomorrow’s (Thursday, March 29) Career Fair.  However, I urge ALL of our students to attend!

Generally, our Fair attracts about 200 companies to campus with recruiters eager to speak with students about career opportunities.  A majority of these companies come to meet Engineering majors. What students need to realize is that a Career Fair can do much more than provide a job lead. Rather, attending can help answer a number of useful questions, regardless of your year in school, such as:

  • Does my favorite company hire my major? (Analogous to “Which major(s) does my favorite company hire?”)  It has been my experience that students often struggle with declaring a major, because they do not necessarily understand the differences between the different engineering degrees.  However, today’s students do seem quite able to name their favorite employers – often listing SpaceX, Apple, Microsoft, Intel, Amazon, Google, J&J, etc., to name a few.  Therefore, it is only natural that attending the Career Fair can provide answers to those questions.
  • What do graduates with my major do for a living? The benefit of walking around the Career Fair is that every booth housing a company or agency has a poster declaring the majors that they are hiring and level (i.e., full-time, intern, and/or co-op).  So, by walking around and just reading, one can easily identify companies hiring their major – and then ask those recruiters about specific job functions.  One does not need to be looking for a job to ask those questions.
  • What do you look for in a new hire? Graduation is the worst time to learn that your dream employer only hires students that have had previous internship or co-op experience with the company.  If you have a dream company – or a list of companies of interest – talk to them early (Freshman year!) and learn what is important to them.  It could be something straightforward, such as a minimum GPA, or it could very well be something outside of your major – community service, leadership in a certain society, etc.  This is not something you want to learn about when it is too late!

I realize that it is hard for students to envision a post-graduation life.  But it is important for students to realize that this will be the easiest and most convenient opportunity in life to network and meet multiple employers at one time and in one place.  Future jobs will not be found at Career Fairs, but rather through networking.  So take advantage of the opportunity, and get to the Career Fair!



An Engineer, Defined

As part of our Engineering Week celebration this past week at UMass Lowell, I presided over our Order of the Engineer induction ceremony.  I always enjoy this event – although it is a bit somber, as we reflect on the history of the Order, which originally started in Canada, motivated by the collapse of the Quebec Bridge during its construction in 1907 and again in 1916.

In our ceremony, we further reflect on the Space Shuttle Challenger disaster of 1986, as our alumnus, Mr. Roger Boisjoly staunchly raised objections to the launch on the day before the disaster.  He correctly predicted that the O-rings would fail in cold weather, which ultimately led to the shuttle’s failure.  Boisjoly ultimately received the Award for Scientific Freedom and Responsibility for his work.  We use this example to illustrate the deep responsibility that we have as Engineers.

As you might imagine, reflecting on these two tragedies can lead to a somewhat depressing induction ceremony.  However, we close by talking about the great advances in technology, and society, due to the efforts of Engineers and the world of opportunity that awaits the next generation of Engineers (our audience at the ceremony).

To aid in this discussion, I took the liberty to look up the definition of an Engineer.  Here is the Oxford Dictionary  version:

“1    A person who designs, builds, or maintains engines, machines, or structures.

  • A person qualified in a branch of engineering, especially as a professional.
  • A person who controls an engine, especially on an aircraft or ship.
    • (North American) A train driver.
  1. A skillful contriver or originator of something.”

Other common sources, such as Merriam-Webster and Dictonary.com were no less glamorous.

It’s not that any of these definitions are false (although I have never wanted to be accused of being a “contriver of something”), but rather, there is no explanation as to “why” we design or “originate” something.  In my mind, this is misleading, as Engineers are driven to solve important problems under various constraints.

In my continued search, I found a number of references to the definition of Engineering from ABET, the leading accrediting body of Engineering programs (although I could not find the exact reference on the ABET website):

“The profession in which a knowledge of the mathematical and natural sciences gained by study, experience and practice is applied with judgment to develop ways to utilize, economically, the materials and forces of nature for the benefit of mankind.”

This is a vastly improved definition, as our motivation to be Engineers is stated clearly: to benefit mankind.  But my years in academia want a more explicit definition.  Thus, here is my attempt to define an Engineer:

“A person who applies the laws of science and technology to the design, build and implementation of solutions that improve the human condition while considering performance, safety, economic and ethical impacts on the user, society, and the environment.”

I believe a first step in attracting more people from all backgrounds to our profession is making it clear that the purpose of Engineering is not to “contrive” things, but rather, to provide solutions to problems in order to improve our quality of life.

Choosing College

I’ve Been Admitted.  Should I Accept?

We are fast approaching the time when colleges and universities mail acceptance letters, if they have not done so already.  UMass Lowell has contacted early admission applicants and will soon reply to students who applied during the regular process.  If a prospective student receives acceptance, the decision is literally in their hands.

A timely article in The Chronicle for Higher Education looked at the prospective student’s decision of college choice through results of a survey of 90,000 college-bound high school seniors by Eduventures.  In summary, more than 70 percent of those surveyed identified at least one of the following criteria (below, in bold) for selecting a college.  I have added my opinion as to how each criterion relates to UMass Lowell Engineering:

  • Affordability:  As a public institution, the cost of attending UMass Lowell can be extremely appealing to residents or those that can take advantage of proximity programs.  However, even non-residents can find it affordable when compared to attending a private institution.  Furthermore, UMass Lowell offers a variety of scholarships, grants, loans and employment opportunities for undergraduates, as well as graduate students. Please note that affordability refers to cost, not value, which is noted in the following criterion.
  • Value of education for cost of attending:  Value is in the eyes of the beholder, but payscale.com ranks schools based on their return-on-investment (ROI), which is an annualized measure of one’s median income 20 years after graduation when compared to that of a high school graduate (24 years later), less the cost of attending college.  Lowell ranks 33rd in annual ROI amongst over 1,800 schools ranked nationally, second in the state of Massachusetts.  This affirms that a UMass Lowell degree leads to a productive career at a reasonable cost.
  • Availability of a desired program:  I am often asked why one should attend a “bigger” school.  The answer generally comes down to options, as larger schools can offer more programs.  For example, we offer undergraduate degree programs in Biomedical, Chemical, Civil, Computer, Electrical, Environmental, Mechanical, Nuclear and Plastics Engineering, with a number of additional options and minors.  The number of programs grows considerably at the graduate level, which is important for undergraduates seeking work in research labs or access to advanced courses for technical electives.  Also, larger schools, tend to provide more options outside of the classroom, including co-op programs, student clubs, and sports.  While UMass Lowell’s enrollment does not define it as one of the largest schools in the country (i.e., over 30,000 students), it is one of the largest undergraduate engineering programs in the Northeast and big enough (roughly 20,000 students at the University) to provide a wide variety of both curricular and extracurricular programs and activities.
  • Career outcomes/job opportunities for graduates:  Engineering is a profession, and thus, engineering degrees are defined as professional degrees.  Therefore, it is important, and expected, that an engineering degree will lead to gainful employment, albeit potentially after graduate school.  I am repeatedly told by employers that our students are in high demand.  This is supported by our placement rate (percentage of graduates gainfully employed or in graduate studies within six months of graduation) which has been over 90% for all graduates over the past few years, with some majors approaching 100%.  Why?  In addition to our hands-on approach to education, we provide students numerous opportunities to prepare for a rewarding career upon graduation, including a professional co-op program; interdisciplinary senior design projects sponsored by industry; and access to a variety of services from the Career and Co-op Center designed to prepare students for all aspects of finding and starting a job, including resume posting, interviewing, negotiation, and professional etiquette.
  • Reputation/academic quality: There is truly no substitute for quality.  ABET, formerly known as the Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology, assesses programs, upon request, across the country on six-year cycles to ensure that programs are up-to-date and continuously improving.  Our established programs are all ABET accredited while we will seek ABET accreditation for our new programs after the first cohorts graduate – a requirement of ABET.  In addition to accreditation, there are many rankings for reputation with U.S. News and World Report generally considered the leader as it considers surveys of peers and employers, as well as statistical program data, in its graduate program ranking.  UMass Lowell Engineering is currently ranked 67th among public engineering programs and 104th overall, having risen over 35 spots in just the past four years.
  • Feeling of fit:  This may be listed last, but that should not minimize its importance.  Every school has a “feel” or “character” and it is important that one can envision themself as a student on campus.  The best way to do this is visit!  We would be happy to take you on a tour and even shadow a student.

In all, choosing a college is a difficult decision, and one that is critically important.  It is likely that one of the above reasons will drive your decision.  Thus, you must determine which of these criteria is most important and investigate accordingly a each school of interest, and visit to gauge the “fit”.  I invite you to do so at UMass Lowell!