- Timothy Wei, Dean
UNL College of Engineering
Recently I was asked by the Nebraska Society of Professional Engineers to write for their newsletter. I focused on answering the question: “How do we build a flexible and lasting infrastructure that will meet the needs of society today, tomorrow, and every day after that into the 22nd century?”
It is an open question that is fundamental to all of engineering, and one that we at the UNL College of Engineering are asking ourselves as we articulate and implement a roadmap that will serve the citizens and economy of the state of Nebraska and the global community as a whole.
The context for this question lies in the fact that how we train the engineer of today will have a first-order impact 100 years from now. If we do our job well today, this year’s graduates will rise to key leadership roles over a career spanning 40-50 years. Toward the end of their careers, these leaders will be developing the next generation of leaders–who will, in turn, have 40-50 year careers. In sum, then, how we train our students today will directly impact society in the 22nd century.
To see the importance of this principle, note that the University of Nebraska was founded as a land grant university in 1869, after the Civil War, to provide the science and technology base needed to help the nation transition from an agrarian to an industrial economy. Almost exactly 100 years later, men walked on the moon. This was a completely unforeseen legacy of the wisdom and vision of the founders of the land grant college system, which included the University of Nebraska. We at Nebraska Engineering, and engineers as a whole, must think about answering scientific questions and transcending technological barriers to a future society that most, if not all, of us will not be here to see.
It is incumbent upon us, then, to structure everything we do to prepare our students to formulate solutions and create technologies for problems and challenges we cannot even envision. This includes everything from building the fundamental engineering science knowledge base, to creating multidisciplinary teaming and problem solving paradigms that have both immediate and long range impact, and engaging our students in every facet of this enterprise.
If we are to equip and enable future generations to design and build their environments in meaningful and sustainable ways, it is essential for those of us in the educational arena to start building the intellectual infrastructure they will need today.
At the same time, it is the mission of the engineering profession to not only provide current technologies and solutions, but to simultaneously build a pathway for the profession (and society) well into the future.
On behalf of the college, we look forward to working with you in building for Nebraska and the world. With the commitment I see embodied in Nebraska Engineering community members, especially those highlighted in this publication, we are well on our way.