Expanding engineering innovation beyond the classroom

Academics expands beyond the boundaries of the classroom.

Online learning promotes the idea of self-teaching for mass customization of the education experience. Siemens is merging with Mentor Graphics to move the classroom virtually throughout the speed-of-trust.

Trust is conveyed through competence via ongoing learning opportunities, and character in looking for ways to dynamically build a connection.

This new structural concept is dynamic – a work-in-progress. Education is moving outside conventional methods to encourage students to learn subjects like engineering in a manner which translates into this new academic landscape.

Bringing engineering into the modern classroom

In focusing on engineering, you have a wide array of compelling opportunities for career advancement in an ever-changing industry of technological innovation. So, how do we mentor and prepare students for future opportunities in this dynamic arena? Also, what needs to change in how students learn?

The following transcript displays an excerpt from a podcast about this compelling topic from, Alex Allison, Enterprise Account Orchestrator, interviewing Dora Smith, Senior Director of Global Academic Partner Programs at Siemens Industrial Software. They discuss several academic concepts and trends:

Alex Allison: Thanks so much for joining me. So, you’re in charge of Siemens Academic Partner Programs globally. Help us understand what that role entails.

Dora Smith: We have an academic program that looks for ways to work with educational institutions at every grade level. We want to get students more exposure and the ability to use our software. So, then they can innovate with that technology. We’re in a global strategy group, so we do some direct work with schools, but we also provide enablement through all our colleagues around the world. We provide curriculum development, real-world competition support and any opportunity to see what schools need for evolving or revolutionizing where they are today and where they need to go. So, this includes a consultative role as well.

Alex Allison: There’s no doubt you have a lot of experience. You’ve been in the industry 20 plus years, but I’m curious to understand how you got into this role. It’s not a very common, so, what’s your background? What led you to your current role?

Dora Smith: Several things. I think education has always been an interest and a passion of mine. I grew up in a household where after we all started school, my mom went back to school to receive both her bachelor’s and masters’ degrees in Education. So, she’s always been an inspiration to me. She went on to teach in both the public and private sector. Also, my dad and uncle were influencers, along with other people in my life that were entrepreneurs and inventors yet engineering and getting a degree wasn’t an option for them. Therefore, from an early age, I wanted to be a part of something where I could pursue and encourage others to seek education and provide for considering engineering as a profession.

I’ve been very fortunate. I started in the engineering industry right out of school and fell in love with it. I have been privileged to earn several degrees from technical marketing. Also, I interview customers on using our software and writing the data sheets that explain our technology, along with conducting academic programs. I’ve been doing this for the last five years, and it’s a great job, and I’m blessed to have it.

Alex Allison: You recently attended an event where you served on a panel and provided some interesting insights and dialogue. Do you mind sharing a bit about the specifics of that event and some of the highlights?

Dora Smith: Sure. That event was the Engineering Dean’s Institute from ASEE, which is the American Society for Engineering Education. They hold this annual event where about 200 deans from throughout the U.S. come together and talk through critical issues. I’ve been fortunate the last two years to be on the panel to represent a voice for the industry, along with some of our customers like Northrop Grumman, National Instruments and MathWorks. It’s an opportunity to hear from the deans as to what they need from vendors, and to share our insight. The topic they asked me to address was a multidisciplinary curriculum.

When you look at how we’re trying to reform curriculum in engineering education, we traditionally have many silos. You either became a mechanical engineer or an electrical engineer; however, the need in the industry is cross-disciplinary: to be broader and stronger in at least two areas, with the ability to work across various domains. Also, a few of the trends that came out is how schools are being challenged, much like our commercial customers, but at a different level. You’ve got the system of the school trying to meet specific accreditations, and the educator in the classroom developing curriculum to improve student’s skills in staying up-to-speed with current trends.

Also, one of the emerging trends is the need for more student-centered or focused learning, giving them more options to expand and go beyond the traditional curriculum, as it struggles to evolve and reform. We discussed ways to upskill faculty. We’ve experimented with doing some reverse sabbaticals, with educators coming to work in a Siemens facility and getting a feel for what’s happening and being able to take that knowledge back into their classroom. We also discussed credentials, going beyond the degree, to augment it and stay up with current digital skills for today and the future. Schools welcome companies like Siemens to come on campus and dive into a topic in a brief four to eight-hour session versus a semester.

We touched on experiential learning. That’s the way you break down boundaries between education disciplines in giving students the chance to work on real-world projects and competitions. This gives them a chance to experience using the technology. We want new graduates that enter the industry to be able to solve problems with the technology, not just know how to use it.

Alex Allison: Some of those terms you mentioned I’ve never even heard of, like a reverse sabbatical. You were almost describing the idea of micro-credentialing. I’ve heard this rhetoric around a skills gap. Some call it an engineering skills gap; others call it a manufacturing gap. Some are even saying that it’s an emergency. Is it really that dire? What’s your perspective, and were there any insights that came out in the event?

Dora Smith:  Yes, when I got into this academic role, I saw many studies outside and a lot of conflicting information. We commissioned our study in that space because we wanted to know specifically for our customers and our prospects, what are they facing. Tech-Clarity is an industry analyst in our space and performed a study of 200 manufacturers. One of these studies came back that there is a skills gap, but also an impending situation, with several issues combining as a trifecta. Companies will see a lot of growth over the next five to ten years, with a 69 percent anticipated engineering growth, yet a significant majority are top-heavy with experience.

Nearly 98 percent in that study noted that they will face negative business impacts if they can’t find and hire the right engineers. Another interesting result is the most important skills these manufacturers need. One is product costing. Students learn how to design, analyze, and even manufacture it, but do they understand the implications of the materials they’re selecting for students? These students are entering the workforce understanding design, but not comprehending the actual manufacturing and managing of a product throughout its life cycle.

The skills gap is very real, and it’s something that the industry and education are aware of, and hopefully, they’re coming together to address it.

Alex Allison: So, designing something affects so many things downstream. Getting that cycle back to create the best next product in NPI – it’s all connected. I’m curious, how do demographics and geographies play into this skills gap? Both my parents come from a medical background where rural areas have a difficult time attracting highly-educated, talented folks away from the city into rural areas. I would assume manufacturing is very prevalent in some more rural areas; however, many engineers and highly-educated people are staying in more urban areas, working for flashy companies, yet in our country, there’s still much manufacturing in rural areas. What’s your perspective?

Dora Smith: Yes, at this event last week, one of the deans was asking a similar question, looking to everyone on the panel from larger companies, about small to medium-sized companies and where they believe students want to locate to for work. Their answer is either at their own company as an entrepreneur or at a small startup, right? That may be rural or not, but how do we facilitate that? Also, we spent some time talking about this issue within large companies, like Siemens. We have a whole focus around entrepreneurship. It’s called Next47. So even encouraging students to consider starting from that point and bridging into their own businesses afterward, brings up a good point for discussion and I don’t know that we’ll completely solve it.

I came from a very small town, and it’s still very small town today, with a difficult time attracting industry-related jobs. But digitalization is changing this paradigm, and I am hopeful that we’re creating more opportunities where you don’t need to be in a specific physical location.

Alex Allison: Yes, that certainly resonates with me. There’s this concept of an industry called design-make-anywhere, and digitalization within that. So, companies are spitting up centers of excellence where you might perform a significant amount of design or simulation work, with knowledge gain that can be accessed remotely or at the manufacturing level.

Dora Smith: To add to that, Alex, you brought up centers of excellence, and we have seen this in Asia.  I was recently on a two-week trip to India, and they have invested in these centers of excellence in rural areas. They’re trying to bridge out from the large cities and invest in these centers to train the students in skills right where they’re located. Hopefully, this helps create future companies and future employment opportunities. So, that’s the other idea, to move the education and bring the technology along with you to some of these more remote areas.

Alex Allison: That’s great insight, Dora. Thanks for joining us, and we are looking forward to hearing more.

Siemens Digital Industries is committed to empowering the next generation of digital talent with the skills employers need. Today the academic partner ecosystem enables more than one million future engineers and technologists at educational institutions worldwide to provide a strong pipeline of talent to over 140,000 commercial customers.

Listen to the full podcast on SoundCloud or read and listen to the overview blog and podcast on this topic.

This concludes our second blog in a series on Siemens Academic Program. Our next blog will continue with another portion of this podcast conversation via transcription. Learn how our solutions  propel future engineers to where today meets tomorrow.

About the authors:

Dora Smith is the senior director of the global academic program for Siemens PLM Software. The program empowers the next generation of digital talent through project-based learning, STEM competitions, and industrial-strength software and curriculum to support students and academic institutions worldwide.

Alex Allison is an account orchestrator with Siemens PLM Software and has been with the company since 2013. In his current role, he is responsible for maintaining relationships with electronics and high-tech companies on the Eastern seaboard. Alex began his career in the semiconductor industry, specializing in manufacturing systems. He has experience around OCM, managing complex enterprise system architecture, and ensuring customers have the right solutions and processes that will result in transformational efficiencies throughout their business.

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This article first appeared on the Siemens Digital Industries Software blog at https://blogs.sw.siemens.com/thought-leadership/2019/08/14/expanding-engineering-innovation-beyond-the-classroom/