University of Vermont

CEMS - The College of Engineering and Mathematical Sciences

UVM-led article dispels myths about holistic engineering

Release Date: 09-08-2008

Author: Dawn Densmore

The August/September 2008 issue of PE magazine, a publication of the National Society of Professional Engineers, features an invited article led by two University of Vermont authors. The article, "Dispelling the Myths of Holistic Engineering," is co-authored by Domenico Grasso, Dean, and Melody Brown Burkins, Associate Dean, of the UVM College of Engineering and Mathematical Sciences (CEMS), as well as Joseph Helble and David Martinelli.

Initially coined by Joe Bordogna, former President of the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE), the term and idea of "holistic engineering" has been the focus of three national articles by Dean Grasso since 2007 as he has advocated for national adoption of a more contextualized, cross-disciplinary and whole-systems approach to engineering education and practice.

The holistic approach, Grasso and colleagues have argued, is one in which 21st-century engineers are not only competitive in technical knowledge, but have added value and proven leadership with expertise in communications, collaborative design, entrepreneurship and broad-based critical thinking among other "non-traditional" engineering skills. Grasso and his colleagues were invited to write the PE article to address those in the engineering field who may be skeptical about changing traditional engineering curriculum, despite the fact that was established in the mid-20th century, before the advent of the Internet and engineering challenges in our rapidly changing, environmentally aware, and globally connected economy.

"I am pleased to have had another opportunity to write about this compelling, national education reform issue with my colleagues, both here at UVM and also the Dean of Dartmouth's Thayer School of Engineering and the former Chair of Civil Engineering at West Virginia University," said Grasso. "I am also honored to have so many excellent faculty here at UVM — in my College and across campus — working towards these new, multidisciplinary ideas and complex systems approaches to engineering thought."

"New thinking to attract, retain and develop the best students who want to pursue science and engineering in service to society — students who can work both inside and outside of traditional technologically focused fields — is important to invest in now," said Burkins. "Only two decades ago, interdisciplinary education and holistic approaches to problem formulation were considered novel. Today, the ability to work across disciplines, communicate across cultures, and creatively open traditional silos of information is fast becoming a requirement for leadership and success."

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