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Thu, March 17, 2022
“Emphasizing leadership at the undergraduate level in engineering is critical for success,” said John L. Anderson, president of the National Academy of Engineering (NAE). During Engineers Week 2022, he visited and spoke to students, faculty, and university leaders in the University of Florida’s Linda Parker Hudson Engineering Leader-in-Residence Program.
“Two things that distinguish engineering as a profession are creativity and problem solving,” Anderson noted. The time is ripe for the engineering community to get more young people interested in engineering, increase public understanding of engineering, and enhance diversity and inclusion to strengthen the future of the field.
“The important thing for a leader is to do the right thing. The hard part is deciding what is the right thing,” Anderson said. “If you’re being advised by persons with the same background and experiences as you, you are missing important input.”
He credits diverse perspectives in helping him make decisions as a leader. “The rewards of diversity are broader perspectives and improved designs, all necessary to meeting the challenges facing all segments of society and our planet.”
Anderson briefly discussed his background in leadership positions – successes and failures – and why an engineering education is good preparation for leadership.
“We aren’t born leaders.… Leadership requires active listening and hard work and a grasp of what it means to create and assess systems,” he explained, as he paired his remarks with those of fellow NAE member Linda Hudson, namesake of the Leader-in-Residence program. The program supports and brings together leaders in industry and academia to talk about their experiences in leadership and mentoring for early-career faculty and for students.
Elected to the NAE in 2019, Hudson started the program at her alma mater in 2015, with strong support from College of Engineering Dean Cammy Abernathy, to give students and faculty an opportunity to learn from leaders across various fields of engineering. She is enthusiastic about the future of engineering education and wants to help prepare students: “I believe our future depends on their development, and I am passionate about accomplished leaders sharing their knowledge and experiences with younger generations.”
Hudson retired as chair and CEO of the Cardea Group and was the first woman to lead a major national security corporation. She was formerly president and CEO of BAE Systems. She is known for transforming companies by increasing their competitiveness, reviving enterprises, and shaping work culture and talent retention for success.
Feature article by the University of Florida
Acknowledging Hudson as a standout in fields where women are not particularly well represented, Anderson shared findings from an American Society of Engineering Education (ASEE) report that shows women tend to enter fields such as environmental, biomedical, chemical, and biological engineering in much higher numbers. He also cited a 2017 article, “Why Are Some STEM Fields More Gender Balanced Than Others?,” reporting that the masculine culture of some engineering fields signals that women do not belong, and that a lack of early experiences with computer science and physics correlates with women’s underrepresentation in those fields.
National Academies reports on the importance of achieving diversity in the engineering profession emphasize positive assets such as increased talent, improved design processes that address the totality of society, and greater innovation. “We are making strides not only in greater inclusion of society in the engineering profession but also greater diversity of engineering leadership,” Anderson observed. “Just compare the make-up of the 2019 class of NAE elected members, when Ms. Hudson was elected, with the inaugural class of 1964, which consisted entirely of white males.”
Anderson reviewed the evolution of engineering curriculum, from a response to the military needs of a growing nation to the creation of land-grant educational institutions to the proliferation of engineering schools. He also posited that computer science, which is sometimes classified as a nonengineering field, should be considered part of the engineering community because it emphasizes technical creativity and is a foundation of all engineering fields.
In conclusion, Anderson explained that an interdisciplinary approach to engineering is helping to prepare students and the US to meet the challenges facing our nation, its diverse inhabitants, and the world. “Thank you for sending me back home with more than I came here with.… Talking with students, faculty, and university leaders is a true joy.”