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Memoirs of the First Forty Years, by Dan H. Pletta

An Educational Grant

The 1950 and 1954 technical conferences were followed by a year-long STUDY OF ENGINEERING EDUCATION AT VPI in 1960 with a $50,000 grant from the Ford Foundation. I served as the project director and steering committee chairman and 25 staff members from 10 departments formed the study committees. They were assisted by 5 outside consultants. The study was organized to implement the recommendations of the ASEE Committee on Evaluation of Engineering Education discussed in its 1955 Report. This was soon named the "Grinter Report" after its Chairman, Dr. L. E. Grinter. I served as secretary of that ASEE Committee. The recommendations emphasized the need to modernize engineering education 1) by upgrading the scientific and mathematical foundation so as 2) to strengthen the design requirement which distinguishes engineering from most college programs, and 3) to recognize the obligations of the profession to society. These three needs became evident in World War II when western democracies had to rely to a greater extent more upon scientists than engineers to develop such technological advances as radar and nuclear fission to win that struggle more quickly.

The Grinter Report (1955) provided the criteria for the long overdue introduction of these changes. At first, these criteria were resisted, but the launching of the Russian satellite Sputnik in 1957, and their ensuing adoption as ECPD accreditation requirements, accelerated their acceptance. New courses were introduced and obsolete ones were eliminated. Unfortunately, the credit hours required for the engineering baccalaureate were reduced 10% in the early 1960's during a slump in engineering enrollment so that these programs could compete for students with those in arts and sciences. Design courses were virtually eliminated. The Grinter Report did not recommend any reduction or extension in required credit hours or program length, but concentrated instead on quality and purpose. It stressed the fact that design differentiated engineering curricula from those in science.

The VPI Study recommended 39 changes in courses and 33 in curricular structure and administration. All except 11 of the latter were approved by at least a majority of the 26 committee members after many hours of deliberations -- both spirited and restrained. Portions of the recommendations were implemented even before the report was sent to the printer. The report was published as VPI Bulletin, Vol. LIV, No. 11, Sept. 1961.

Significant recommendations rejected by a majority of the committee in 1958 included one to establish a lower-division, a two-year common core for all engineering curricula. However, the committee did endorse bifurcation of the upper division so that dual curricula could be developed in departments which had enough enrollment and such a desire. One of these was to be a 4-year terminal degree oriented toward immediate employment in practical technology. The other was to be a graduate preparatory program oriented toward a broader base in scientific theory and the humanities for more extended use in engineering research, development and creative design. It might be noted that somewhat similar terminal 4-year accredited engineering technology programs expanded nationwide from zero in 1958 to 47 in 1972 in 20 institutions while engineering programs increased from 839 to 1035, as Table V shows.

TABLE V - GROWTH OF ACCREDITED TECHNOLOGY AND ENGINEERING PROGRAMS

Technology Programs Engineering Programs
Year B.S. Schools B.S. Schools M.S. Schools
1958 0 0 839 154 0 0
1967 2 1 935 185 0 0
1972 47 20 1035 222 52 22
1981 244 84 1212 250 90 32

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