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THE IDEAL ENGINEERING EDUCATION.
By WM. H. BURR,
Professor of Civil Engineering, Columbia College School of Mines, New York.
As no course of professional study can possibly fit any student for a complete and mature professional practice, it is a safe assumption that even "the ideal engineering education" cannot be expected to produce young engineers so mature in the exercise of all their professional functions that nothing is left for the years of subsequent practice to accomplish in the direction of education. This point should be emphasized at the outset, for the reason that many men engaged in practical duties of an engineering nature frequently, and perhaps usually, complain that within their own experience, young engineers almost invariably have failed to possess immediately that grasp of practical detail and well-balanced judgment which gives to the experienced practitioner the almost unconscious power of so perfecting plans and conducting operations as to perfectly control and utilize all indeterminate factors and blend them in proper proportion with the purely physical elements of the problems which lend themselves to exact treatment. It is true that young engineers have not acquired through their education those ripe powers which are the fruits of years of professional practice or of actual experience. The postulates of those very critics are enunciated from a vautage ground of middle life, or even later years, from which a clear view of their own earlier qualifications is quite obscured, either by present activities or by a failure to appreciate either the purposes or the scope of professional education. It is not here maintained that these critics in practice are either many in number or that they give a ruling tone to the consensus of professional opinion as to education in engineering, yet they constitute an existing type, and their strictures merit attention, since they accentuate the consideration of at least some of the principal features which should characterize an ideal engineering education. The fundamental motive of this criticism is not influenced by the fact that education, particularly professional education, creates nothing; that its functions are to draw out, to develop systematically and symmetrically those latent powers with which the individual is endowed, not in ripeness and maturity, but in condition only for growth. This indeed is, or ought to be, the purpose of all education, but it is particularly true of the ideal engineering education or of any other professional education, since the latter requires the exercise of such functions under conditions belonging to the completion of an antecedent training of a more general character. Although the status of both the education of engineers and of their calling is still such that all courses of engineering study in this country are in their earlier portions combinations of arts and technics, yet the distinction is vital. Training in arts is of a liberal character; its purposes is a general cultivation of the individual, and it
may be accomplished by certain series of acquisitions in various portions of the broad field of arts; each set .. of results, characterized by the same degree of excel
lence, being equally effective. Hence the elective system of studies which has been so widely developed in some of the greatest universities. The purpose of any given course of professional training, on the other hand, is perfectly specific, and the necessary acquisitions are included within the limits of a rather narrow range of subjects more or less closely related and possessing considerable similarity or, at least to some extent, the same motive. In the older learned professions this sequence of a broad and general cultivation prior to, and forming the foundation of, the subsequent professional training, is well defined, and the ultimate nature of the case in engineering is precisely the same as that in law or in medicine. By means of a liberal training, the requisite powers of observation and a sound judgment are more symmetrically developed and far more accurately applied in consequence of truer conceptions of the object on which they are brought to bear, and a correspondingly enhanced power of healthy mental assimilation is acquired. The broad cultivation, it matters little when or where it is obtained, is the only effectual corrective for that narrow and malformed excellence in some some special direction, which, while it is certainly much better than no excellence at all, falls lamentably short of the vigorous and well-rounded product of the ideal education in engineering. The writer unhesitatingly places, therefore, as the first and fundamental requisite in the ideal education of young engineers, a broad, liberal education in philosophy and arts, precedent to the purely professional training. It would be well, although not imperative, that the liberal education should be given a trend, in its elective portions, toward the special work in engineering which is to follow. Such considerations might wisely govern that portion of the student's career, but they should govern in a subordinate way only. The main purpose should be such a cultivation of human qualities as will subsequently enable engineers to meet men as well as matter. If there is any one quality which is marked by its absence in the educational and intellectual outfit of engineers at the present time it is that by which, in bearing and in communication, men persuade and control other men in the business of life. It is a high attribute to be able to so direct the great sources of power in nature as to adapt them to the use and convenience of man, but all that power of control is essentially material and utterly barren of results, unless other men or even communities, may be first pursuaded that their "use and convenience” are really to be subserved. No greater error can find lodgment in the minds of engineers than the assumption that this general education is purely disciplinary in character and possesses no direct practical value. It has immediate value of the highest order. At the present time there is no executive position in the whole field of industrial activity, including the vast sphere of railway operations, which is not only open to engineers, but actually demanding