Vice Provost Speeches
In his role as Vice Provost for Global Programs, Dr. Michael Adewumi regularly delivers speeches to university administrators and our partners on Penn State's global activities and strategies. Furthermore, being an engineer, Dr. Adewumi also delivers speeches and lectures in many international engineering fora. On this page, you will find transcripts of some of his speeches, as well as PowerPoint slides (where applicable).
"Educating Engineers for Africa in the 21st Century" - AMRS Conference, Botswana (12/11/2017)
Educating Engineers for Africa in the 21st Century
Michael Adewumi, PhD, FNSE
Vice Provost for Global Programs
Professor of Petroleum & Natural Gas Engineering
The Pennsylvania State University
University, Park, PA 16802
December 11th, 2017
Thank you very much for your nice introduction. I am delighted to have this opportunity to share a few thoughts on the topic of how we educate engineers for Africa in the Global Century.
Educating engineers to power the industrial development of Africa is an urgent task. And it is a task that I really believe that this group must make a top priority. And let me be clear: I am not just talking about numbers. I am talking about the relevance and the mindset of the engineers that this continent needs.
I am an engineer. And I was trained on the continent of Africa, albeit at a different time, and perhaps for a different set of circumstances. I will be blunt: I wouldn't train an engineer today the way I was trained, more than four decades ago. Don't get me wrong - I received arguably some of the best training in the world at that time. But, naturally, what was good at that time is no longer adequate for the 21st Century.
I would begin with the obvious, at least obvious to this audience: engineers are problem solvers – we are trained to solve problems – human problems! An important prerequisite to solving a problem is being able to define it. If we can’t define a problem, then how can we solve it!
This makes engineering fairly unique, compared to many other disciplines. It is often said that scientists want to know why – as the end in itself; but the engineer wants to know why, as a means to the end, which is, "and so what?" In other words, the engineer wants to know how to utilize the newly-acquired scientific knowledge to create a product, or processes - something that could make life better for people.
In recent years, when I speak with certain colleagues – who shall remain nameless! – about the future of engineering, many of them bring up cutting-edge technologies, such as nanotechnology. They speak endlessly about innovations such as driverless cars or Elon Musk’s Hyperloop project. “This is the future of engineering,” they tell me.
Well, with all due respect - I am not sure that I agree! At least, not in the context of Africa. Now, if we are training all engineers to work in the U.S. and other developed countries, that may very well be true. But in Africa, nothing could be further from the truth. Now, I know that in the audience, I have some of the best nano-material scientists in the world. And some of them are trying to use that knowledge to solve some of the common problems in Africa.
I applaud that! What they are doing is contextualizing the application of the knowledge gained, rather than assuming that the knowledge being acquired will always serve a certain community. We must adapt applications of knowledge to the environment in which it is needed! And since engineers are applicators of scientific knowledge to real-life problems, their training must, of necessity, take the environment into account.
In fact, if you will indulge me, I would like to take just a few minutes before I begin my presentation to share with you a brief video which shows what the true soul of engineering will be in the 21st century – what it must be, in order for Africa to thrive.
Slide 2: Solar Light Bottle Program: The Philippines
This video encapsulates everything that I believe about engineering, especially in the 21st C. For example, I would like to draw your attention to one specific phrase, uttered at the end of the video – “third world solutions for third world problems.” Another way of saying it might be: “thinking globally while acting locally.” This is the soul of the future of engineering in Africa. We cannot continue to train engineers to think like Westerners and try to pursue Western ideals of engineering. For Africa to thrive, we must train engineers to think like Africans and solve African problems – by whatever means they can!
I will be referencing the content of this video throughout my presentation. It presents a compelling case study in resourcefulness as well as multi-dimensional thinking - which is the primary skill needed by African engineers in the 21st C.
In the next few minutes, I will attempt to define the problems facing African engineering education, as I see it within the global landscape. Then, I will suggest some solution pathways.
My current responsibility of providing leadership and oversight to all of Penn State's int'l engagements over the past decade has given me a fairly unique vantage point as I have interacted with higher education leaders across the globe. I have become an avid student of global higher education in general; and as an engineer myself, I have become especially interested in engineering education globally. This has given me a broad perspective on the global landscape of higher education - in addition to that of the US! Let me state, with all humility, that what I would be sharing is heavily influenced by my global lenses!
My Basic Thesis
This is what I believe: we need to train locally-relevant and globally-competitive engineers for Africa in the 21st Century.
In the balance of time remaining, I would like to define some of the salient issues confronting Engineering Education in Africa. I will then discuss potential resolution strategies. In doing so, I will like to go beyond the usual prescription that I receive from my African colleagues, which is lack of money. And yes, money is needed, but we need a much more valuable commodity – innovative ideas and approaches to engineering education.
Before we can completely define the problem, we must discuss the environment. In solving a Thermodynamic problem, we must define the system as well as the environment. The environment influences the behavior of the system. So, the first thing that we must do is to look at the global imperatives for engineering education in the 21st C - in the African context.
I will explore today’s global landscape and will discuss some of the imperatives for engineering education and the need to think globally and to be globally engaged in the 21st Century – the so-called global century. I will then address those imperatives within the context of Africa at-large.
Slide 4: Global Century: African Context
Normally at this point in my remarks, I would begin by borrowing from the work of the best-selling author and popular New York Times columnist, Tom Friedman. Mr. Friedman’s writing on globalization is very well-respected. In fact, he is my favorite author on the subject.
But for the African context, we must be more critical of Mr. Friedman's work and its assumptions. In fact, I undertook such an exercise a few years ago when I co-taught a course on Mr. Friedman's 2005 Bestseller, The World is Flat. In the book, Mr. Friedman argues that the world is becoming "flatter" - that, in fact, the playing field is becoming more level between developed and developing countries.
I taught the course, which included students from all around the world, with a colleague who is a geographer. He, of course, disagrees that the world is flat! The center of the class revolved around the question: Is the world truly "flat," as Mr. Friedman claimed? Are the world's developing countries truly being placed on an equal playing field?
In the course, we split students into groups. They had to debate with each other about global issues and whether the world was indeed flat. We had a 50-50 split arguing either way - by design. At the end of the class, we had the students give presentations on particular subjects and argue one way or the other - the world is flat or the world is not flat.
As I have said before, Mr. Friedman is one of my favorite authors. I went into the class assuming that I would side with the "World is Flat." But I was shocked to discover that the students' presentations swayed me and made me question my beliefs. You see, the students came to the conclusion that the world is not flat - it is, in fact, tilted to the favor of some and not others. The global system gives advantages to developed countries and disadvantages to developing countries. This can happen locally too, by the way – within countries or even cities!
Slide 5: In the Serengeti
To be fair, Friedman may have been talking about this very issue when he writes about his vision of the world made up of lions and gazelles—lions being the world’s superpowers and gazelles being the developing countries.
It is easy, when viewed through this lens, to see that lions and gazelles have different contexts. Though they share the same living space - just as we Africans share the world with Americans and Europeans - their environments are much different. Lions are not concerned with larger predators coming after them. They have different strengths, different needs, and different wants than gazelles. By the way - lions are carnivores, while gazelles are herbivores! So, the lions are on the top of the food chain - just like developed countries are on the top of the food chain.
Now, imagine if someone tried to teach a gazelle to live like a lion! The gazelle's previous experiences do not lend themselves to hunting, or any of the other aspects of a lion's life. We do not teach the gazelle to solve the lion's problems, like lions! No!
And yet, this is what we do to our engineering students. We teach them to solve Western problems using Western ideals of engineering. In essence, we work with the assumption that acquired knowledge will be relevant in any context, when in fact it is only relevant in one context - the Western context. This must change!
Of course, there are issues which affect lions and gazelles alike. It is easy to imagine a violent storm which would force lions and gazelles alike to flee, or a volcanic eruption which would do the same. It would be important for lion and gazelle alike to be able to recognize the danger. In this context, global issues - such climate change, population explosion, energy insecurity - are global imperatives that affect all humanity.
In order to educate engineers for Africa in the 21st C., they must be knowledgeable about these global imperatives while also working to fix problems in their local contexts. In essence, they must think globally and act locally - a simple, but profound statement. Put differently, we need to train engineers who are globally competent and locally relevant for Africa. In order for them to have the required knowledge to do this, we must re-examine the ways in which we train engineers.
Let me dwell on some of the major obstacles that I see in training globally competent and locally relevant engineers in Africa for the 21st C. I will also suggest some solution pathways around these obstacles.
Obstacle 1: Ignoring Local Context
The first obstacle I see with engineering education in Africa is that it often ignores local contexts.
Let me give you an illustrative example. Let's consider a Nigerian student - and I am using Nigeria generically in this context; it could have been Botswana! She grew up in the rural area; having been successful in the relevant exams, she is admitted to study Mechanical Engineering, say at the University of Lagos.
Having grown up in rural Nigeria, her water is fetched from the stream, cloth washing is done by hand using native soap, fields are cultivated using hoes and cutlasses, etc. Basically, she has accumulated years of experience in simple agrarian life. She may live in an area that looks something like the picture to the left.
Then, this student arrives at the university. The first days in class, her professor begins the lesson by talking about designing automated cars – driverless cars - like the one on the right. Why – because that’s what is making the news in the US. This poor student has never even seen the inside of an internal combustion engine. The student is left to imagine the unimaginable rather than building on what she is familiar with using his previous knowledge as a building block. This student is forced to learn everything from up-down rather than ground-up. She not only needs to grasp basic engineering concepts, she is forced to imagine a context that is so foreign to her that you might as well be talking about Mars!
In fact, this example is not so far from an experience I once had myself. When I arrived in the U.S. to begin my Ph.D. work, one of the first courses I took was FORTRAN programming. Now, I don't know how many of the younger generation will even know what FORTRAN is about - but it is a programming language used by scientists and engineers. And, before I got to graduate school, I actually had a fairly good background in FORTRAN programming. So I thought, "this class is going to be easy." But at the end of the first lecture, the professor gave us an assignment that almost made me cry. The assignment was for us to write a computer program to play a "tic-tac-toe" game with a computer. If we were successful in beating the computer, we get an A. And, being used to getting "A's," I knew immediately that I was in trouble - because I had no idea what "tic-tac-toe" was!
I was so upset that I went to my room almost in tears. I had a roommate, a PhD student in another department. I explained my dilemma to him. Being an American, he of course understood the game. He went ahead and explained the game to me. After some struggle, I was able to write the code.
Now, when this professor gave this assignment, he made the simple assumption that everyone in the class was familiar with tic-tac-toe - that they had played it all their lives. I happened to be the only non-American student in that class. Thus, put in a different context, I really looked dumb. Now, this may be an extreme example. But sometimes I feel that that is what we do to some of our students in classrooms - even on the African continent! We give examples that are alien to them; we give contexts that are foreign to them; and we expect them to excel!
When we do this, we ignore the student’s life journey and suddenly transposed into a different stratosphere. So much of the knowledge gained over the course of her life is now declared irrelevant, during her engineering training! That creates what we often refer to in mathematical modeling as a jump discontinuity. It would have been more effective to provide an opportunity for an open sharing of experiences, and then build a coherent value-adding knowledge. I would suggest that it is much more relevant than knowledge that is Western-centric!
Furthermore, it teaches them to think like a Westerner and to solve Western problems instead of local ones. Can you imagine if Illac Diaz, the social entrepreneur who brought the bottle lamp to the Philippines, had instead been focused on bringing electricity to the villages or - worse yet - electric cars? It would have made little difference in the day-to-day lives of normal Filipinos!
Solution: Integrate Local Knowledge into the Curriculum
Here is a counter-example of someone using engineering principles in their local context. When I was young, I used to spend some time with my uncle in his village. My uncle was unmarried - and so, unlike many men at that time, he had to do his own chores, which included fetching water from the stream.
Now, my uncle was not an engineer. In fact, he did not attend school at all! But, he was ingenious. He decided to build a simple pipeline made out of local material to transport water from the stream to his hut. The first thing he did is to locate a natural fall in the stream, which fell across a rock. So, he was able to locate the inlet of the pipe in that location, giving him enough gravitational head to convey the water to his hut. And with what material? He used bamboo as pipe! Instead of needing to carry a heavy bucket for hundreds of yards when he wanted water, he only had to set up the pipe!
Can you imagine if an engineering student at University of Lagos had begun part of his training by visiting my uncle's invention in action! Perhaps he would have started to think about further applications of using bamboo as a pipeline - perhaps to create an easier way for the entire village to access water!
What I am proposing here is turning the pedagogy "upside-down." We normally think of giving students a lot of theory in the classrooms, and then send them to the field later to learn practical applications. I wonder what would happen if we did the reverse? Send the students to the villages, and the cities - where there are problems staring them in the face! Ask them to seek to understand the problem by speaking with the people who may have been living with the problem for quite some time!
By so doing, they will have successfully defined the problems that have relevance to their community. Afterwards, they can go back to their classrooms, have even more refinement on the definition of these problems. Then, they can begin to proffer some solution strategies based on some theories and principles that they have just learned. Subsequently, they might then go back to the community and attempt to apply their solution and see what happens!
I believe two things will happen: 1) the students will begin to associate what they are learning in the classroom with the real problems in the community; 2) the community will begin to look at the academy through a different set of lenses. They will begin to see them as problem-solvers who are attempting to make their lives better, instead of cold academics sitting in the ivory tower - whose efforts have no relevance to their lives.
By the way, I have the sneaking feeling that this is how engineering began in the first place. Engineering did not begin inside of a classroom. I am no historian of engineering, but I suspect that my uncle did exactly what the earliest engineers did - they saw a problem and thought, "How do I fix this?" Then, they used local resources to do so. I wonder how we got so far away from this type of approach to engineering education - to the point where we now do all of our teaching in a classroom. Our current approach desensitizes students from their own local context. It, in effect, reduces the amount of stake they feel they have in their local communities, divorcing them from the reality of their own country and people.
I am not at all arguing that classroom learning is unnecessary! Students must possess acquire basic technical knowledge - thermodynamics, fluid mechanics, strength of materials, et cetera. But, they also must be fully aware of the issues facing not only their local communities, but the world at large. They must think globally and act locally. However, if we do not find a way to educate our students about the issues relevant to their home contexts, we cannot expect them to act on those issues - we cannot expect them to improve Africa if we do not allow them to learn from African contexts!
Students come to us with such rich experiences and backgrounds and so much to offer – and we ignore their background and life experiences; we intellectually transport them into a totally different context in which they have little or no experience at all. We do this all in the name of molding them into what we think they must be – a typical western-centric engineer. We are underutilizing their potential as one of Africa's most potent resources!
I will borrow an analogy often used by Penn State's President, Eric Barron, when he implores the students to take full advantage of the enormous resources provided by a world-class research institution like Penn State. He says to them, "you have access to some of the best scholars in the world as your faculty. Why restrict yourself to just interacting with them in the classrooms? Why not get involved in the cutting-edge research in their labs? Maybe you will learn a thing or two that will change your perspective!" And then, he says to them, "it's like paying for a Corvette, but driving it like a Ford! Why drive a Corvette at 20mph?"
Essentially, he is saying that you are underutilizing the full potential of the car, which is what you paid for. What’s the point of using paying the hefty price for a sports car if you are not going to put your foot to the pedal! And, indeed, what is the point of an African engineering student having extensive relevant local knowledge if their subsequent education is simply going to ignore it!
All I am saying is that we need to localize our engineering curriculum in Africa.
Obstacle No. 2: One-Dimensional Training
The second obstacle I see with Engineering Education in Africa is that our curriculum is largely one-dimensional. It is strong on technical knowledge – on facts! The student receives an incredible dose of technical knowledge – but little else!
Engineering students do not dabble into subjects like history, arts, music, economics, management, international relations, or psychology. Nor are they provided what is called soft skills – communication, leadership, team building, etc. Even more damaging is that they are not taught how to integrate disparate knowledge in a coherent fashion to address emerging problems.
Now, one might ask, “Why do engineers need to study these subjects?” I would argue that it is vital that we do! After all, the job of the engineers is to solve human problems by creating products and processes that make life better for human; so it would be useful for the engineer to have some understanding of the people whose lives they are attempting to make better.
It would be useful for them to have some idea about the market forces that shape the adoption of their product and process. Need I say more!
Solution: Offer Multi-Dimensional Training
I will submit to you that today's engineers, particularly in Africa, need to be trained to think in at least three dimensions - the human dimension, the technical dimension, and the environmental dimension. As engineers, we must remind ourselves that our goal is not just creating a product or a process, but rather to make life better for people. When an engineer creates a free light source, out of locally-available materials, for the betterment of his fellow man - that is an engineer who is thinking in three dimensions!
We must also recognize that we only have this small planet, Earth, with rapidly burgeoning population putting much pressure on limited non-renewable resources, and thus putting into jeopardy the welfare of future generations.
The world is not as simple as it once was. Global economic order, the internet, the economic and environmental interdependence of the earth– these are all realties of the 21st Century. Since we are so interconnected, we must learn to work together collaboratively while also competing to be our best. Future engineers will need to work alongside people from around the world, in a variety of capacities.
In order to do so, they must be well-rounded; they must understand how to operate in a global world. They must understand and harness cultural nuances. Additionally, engineers must have some level of competency in a variety of areas. Therefore, we must offer – and require – courses in areas such as economics, business, international politics, foreign languages, marketing, psychology, and the like. A well-rounded engineer will be built for success in the Global Century.
This goes beyond offering separate courses, however. In fact, these concepts must be integrated into the Engineering curriculum itself. Engineers must be trained within an interdisciplinary framework, and must learn this within their Engineering courses as well as outside of them. It is a complete paradigm shift – but one that is necessary.
Example: Black Soap
Let me give you a hypothetical example. In many places in Africa, people make their own soaps. Where I grew up, it was called "Black Soap." These soaps are organic and good for the environment. Let us say that an Engineer discovers a new process which makes creating these soaps easier, more cost-effective, and more marketable. If they do not already work for a soap company, what are they to do? Perhaps they could sell this new discovery to Leventis. But how would they know whether that was the right decision to make? And what if they wanted to start up their own company?
We must expose Engineers-in-training, both conceptually and practically, the importance of patents and copyrights, marketing and advertising, and even supply chains. They must learn about and understand the problem they are trying to solve before attempting to solve it - and they must recognize the environmental implications of their solution pathway.
Solar Light Bottle Program
Let me briefly return to the bottle program in the video. This program represents a truly three-dimensional thought process. It solves a local problem focused on human need and based on human experience, hence the human dimension; it improves the day-to-day lives of the people, hence, it is locally relevant; it uses material components combined in such a way to create light using only the sun, hence the technical dimension; and it reduces environmental impact of plastic bottles, hence the environmental dimension. In essence, it embodies all the aspects that I have talked about.
I wonder what would happen if engineering students in the Philippines started their studies by visiting the communities and studying this lighting system. Perhaps they might go back to the classroom and begin to research how to improve it. I wonder what would happen if our engineers studied the highly skilled weavers all over Africa - discuss and learn from them; then, they can think about how they may design better weaving machines for these weavers.
Teaching engineers to think holistically can have radical effects on the day-to-day lives of Africans.
Obstacle 3: White-Collar Job Expectations
The third obstacle I see in Engineering Education is the issue of job expectations and career opportunities. Most students attend engineering schools and expect that when they graduate, they would be employed by a multinational corporation, and enjoy good earnings for the rest of their working life. While this view of the profession may have been true at one time, though certainly not for everyone, the present reality is much more complex, even in developed countries.
We no longer live in a “punch-in, punch-out” world. An engineering student should be thinking about how to create value by solving local problems and bringing such solutions to the market place, thereby creating jobs, rather than seeking jobs!
African universities produce thousands of engineers every year. Despite all of this, many of these countries still lack even basic infrastructure. Even the most rudimentary road repair job is given to a foreign contractor. Why?
Many oil-rich African countries still rely on doing the beneficiation outside the country. This approach deprives the country of acquiring the necessary technical expertise and deprives the population of good jobs. The same thing applies to petroleum production! Most of the refineries are outside of the country!
Solution: Creative Application for Local and Global Problems
To succeed, both individually and as a continent, African engineers in the 21st century must be resourceful, creative and be locally relevant. They must use the resourcefulness of their childhood – of their local context – and apply it to larger issues. They must be job creators! Just think about the guy from the video, Demi! The solar bottle program was so successful that he had to quit his "punch-in, punch-out" job. And, he even employed others!
One can imagine many reasons for the plight of Africa. The history of Western cultural and economic dominance, and a lack of available funding are two reasons that I hear a lot from colleagues. And they are both true! However, at the most basic level, I believe that a large part of the problem is that African engineers are not thinking of the bigger picture. A man in the Philippines is providing light to thousands of people with nothing but empty plastic bottles, water, chlorine, and a bit of metal. There is little to no funding needed for that - and using Coca-Cola bottles is certainly one way of turning Western consumerism on its head!
We have many African examples, just waiting to be explored in this way. Take, for example, these clay pots. I’m sure many of you have seen these pots in family homes – some of you may even have used them yourselves some time on your lives. These are clay pots used to keep water cool naturally – they serve almost the purpose of natural refrigerator! These clay pots are truly incredible. They are simple, but effective. Why are we not encouraging our students to research clay pots and how to design even better-cooling clay pots?
Another example. In many areas, mostly in rural Africa, many families still use oil lamps as a source of lighting at night. The oil might be Kerosene, or palm oil in West Africa. We now know that the fumes from Kerosene are harmful to health. In fact, when I was a Grammar School student, that was the only means for me to study at night - like thousands of my schoolmates. I'm actually sad to say that, several decades later, this is still the case in many parts of rural Africa. What happens to the sun energy? How can we harness it to change the lives of so many?
To succeed in the 21st C - both individually and as a continent - African engineers must be deliberate in seeking local problems to solve and proffering locally-relevant solutions. They must think holistically. They must combine the technical, the entrepreneurial, the local, and the global. They must, in essence, always be working to make life better for people in their local communities. It is the only pathway to success in the 21st C!
The 21st C. needs a different type of engineers than were needed in the 20th C. Engineering schools in the US and much of the developed countries recognize this and they are working hard to make amends. I am part of this process for my own discipline. But, we cannot and must not wait and copy their product – the result of what is best for the American-centric engineer. We must come up with home-grown solutions that take into account values, cultures and even the idiosyncrasies of the people, and equally importantly, the local context.
We must blend the local with the global. We must leverage our resources – a home and dispersed all over the world. We must solve problems like Africans, using all of the expertise and life experience we have gained, rather than trying to force ourselves to think in the mold of Euro-American centric way.
Like Illac Diaz for the Philippines, we must find a way to use local resources to make life better for Africans. We must train engineers to think holistically, in three dimensions - the human, the technical, and the environmental.
If we make these fundamental changes, I truly believe that African engineers will help Africa transform in the Global Century.
Thank you very much for your time. It has been an honor to be here today.
Taiwan Alumni Reception - Taipei, Taiwan (10/26/2017)
Welcome Address: Penn State Alumni Reception
October 26th, 2017
Good evening and welcome.
As Vice Provost for Global Programs at Penn State, I am delighted that you have honored our invitation and you are able to join us this evening. Welcome!
I am humbled to see so many of you! Some of you may have graduated 5 years ago, while for others it may have been 20 – or more! It is a testament to the longstanding partnership between Penn State and Taiwan. As I have traveled around the world in the last decade, I have come to realize that Penn State is not just a university. It is a phenomenon. And the reason for this is the strong loyalty and commitment of the hundreds of thousands of Penn State alumni like you around the world. It is a very strong network.
Before I begin my remarks, I would like to introduce a few others from Penn State who have traveled here to be with you this evening:
- First is Dr. Martin Trethewey, Professor of Mechanical and Nuclear Engineering at Penn State. Marty is one of Penn State’s best global champions. Recently, he has taken on the role as the director of Penn State’s Global Engagement Network. He is literally a global citizen – I think he may have traveled more than I have!! Sometimes, when I am stuck in my office, I wonder, “Where in the world is Marty?” Marty is joined tonight by his wife, Jeanine.
- Next, Rolf Dietrich, Director of International Development. Rolf recently joined Penn State in this newly-created position. He comes to Penn State from the MasterCard Foundation, and before that, he spent eight years at Michigan State University in a similar role. I am pleased to have Rolf join us tonight for his first ever official international trip as a Penn Stater! He will be traveling all over the world, meeting with Penn State alumni.
- Finally, Rose Tan, a Strategic Initiatives Coordinator who works with Marty and myself. Rose is a great colleague, and I am delighted that I am able to visit her native country of Taiwan.
In addition, I would like to quickly recognize the many contributions of the College of Education to this partnership. Indeed, the partnership between the College of Ed and Taiwan is longstanding. It began all the way back in 1950 – almost 70 years ago! It began with vocational education programs and has developed into a bedrock partnership of the university.
The College of Education continues to be active in Taiwan. It is currently led by Dean David Monk, whom I am sure many of you have met before. He has visited Taiwan many times. In fact, he organized the last alumni event here in Taipei!
I will be brief in my remarks tonight. I seek to follow FDR’s mantra: “Be brief, be sincere, and be seated.” And besides, I would like to leave plenty of time for more intimate conversations at your tables. Let me leave you with a few key points in the next few minutes.
If you remember only one thing tonight, I want you to remember this: Penn State continues on its quest towards greater excellence, particularly in terms of global impact. And we want you to be a part of this effort!
The first point: We are trying to transform Penn State into a truly global university by building what we are calling “the Global Penn State.” It is a top priority of our leadership. Let me be clear: we are not interested in brick-and-mortar, or even a physical presence outside of the United States.
What we are trying to do is to extend our mission as land-grant university beyond Pennsylvania and the United States. In other words, we want to become a global land-grant university. We seek to make global what has been national for centuries: “Making Life Better.”
Under the leadership of President Eric Barron, Provost Nicholas Jones, and our many distinguished deans and chancellors, great progress is being made in this area.
So, are we doing it? How are we “building the Global Penn State?” Our tactical approach can be explained by the analogy of a “three-sided coin.” Many of you may think that a coin has only two sides; but in fact, it has three!
The first side of this coin is labelled “GO.” “GO” refers to our commitment to sending Penn State students, scholars, and faculty abroad.
The second side of the coin is “COME.” “COME” refers to bringing international students, scholars, and faculty to Penn State – just as you came to Penn State all those years ago! I am sure some of you would rather not say how many – I know that I sometimes conveniently forget myself!
We want to bring the best and brightest to become graduates of Penn State so that in the future, we can meet them at an event like this one!
Finally, the third side of the coin, the side which keeps the other two together, is called “PARTNER.” “PARTNER” refers to the creation of long-term partnerships which leverage resources in order to solve global problems.
Using these tactics, we have been very successful!
My office facilitates a robust education abroad portfolio; serves and supports an ever-growing international population; and provides administrative resources for Penn State’s strategic international partnerships and collaborations.
Let me give you some concrete facts.
Penn State currently offers more than 300 study abroad experiences for 3,000 students each year, and our campuses host 10,000 international students from more than 140 countries. We also have an ever-growing network of strategic partnerships – called the Global Engagement Network – and we are increasing our activities in Africa around the topic of water, energy, and food security.
As the number of international students continues to grow, so do our number of international alumni around the world. It is important to not only provide our students with a quality education, but also to continue to stay better connected with our alumni after you graduate.
We are committed to the quality and utility of a Penn State degree, no matter where in the world our graduates decide to work or study. Penn State is a world-class institution by any measure!
Let me give you some illustrative facts.
First, Penn State is consistently ranked among the top 100 universities in the world. In fact, we are among the top 1% of research universities in the world.
Second, Penn State is a huge research enterprise. It is one of the largest and most impactful in the world. With more than $800 million in annual research expenditures, Penn State ranks among the top 20 research universities in the United States. We are only one of two institutions in the nation accorded land grant, sea grant, sun grant and space grant status. Truly incredible!
But I do not want to overemphasize rankings or research, as important as they may be. Rankings change every year, and so they are an inconsistent measure. The true value of a Penn State education is something far greater.
As I have said, Penn State is a world-class university by any measure. But that is not what makes it an incredible institution! I am always searching for the right word to describe what Penn State is. I think the best word that I have found is that Penn State is a family. No matter where I go in the world, when I meet a Penn Stater, I am always received with warmth and a spirit of camaraderie. Penn Staters are incredibly supportive of each other – we all want to help each other succeed.
This Penn State family is manifested through our network of global alumni. This is a powerful network! No matter where in the world you go, you can always find a group of Penn State Alumni that will welcome you with open arms.
Did you know that we have over 670,000 alumni around the globe? And in fact, Penn State has the largest dues-paying alumni association in the world.
My colleagues and I are very pleased to be here with you. It is our hope that this will be the beginning of a high level of engagement between you and your alma mater.
President Barron recently established the first-ever Global Advisory Council, made up of a few select global alumni and friends of Penn State from around the world. One of our council members, Dr. Ovid Tzeng, used to serve as Minister of Education here in Taiwan. The council is working to strengthen Penn State’s global impact.
We also recently established a Global Alumni Ambassador Program that encourages alumni to serve as champions for Penn State in their home country and region of influence. If you are interested, I would be happy to take your information and make contact with you later.
My colleague Rolf will be very interested in sharing with you how you can better connect with your alma mater. more information about ways you can get involved.
And now, before I break FDR’s three rules, allow me to conclude by saying that I am delighted to be here among my family of Penn Staters, and I look forward to spending the evening with you.
Just one last thing. If you could indulge me to end my speech…
"Penn State's International Engagement Strategy" - Dalian University of Technology (10/23/2017)
Penn State’s International Engagement Strategy: An Overview
October 23rd, 2017: DUT
Good afternoon. I am happy to be back here visiting Dalian University of Technology (DUT). I am doubly happy because DUT is truly one of Penn State’s strongest partners. There are three main factors responsible for this. Let me quickly describe them.
The first is leadership. Without the dedicated and creative leadership provided by Professor Chunshan Song, my colleague and good friend, this partnership would not have gone this far.
Professor Song is the creative force behind the DUT-Penn State Joint Center for Energy Research. He is also the chief architect of the annual Joint Energy Workshops between Penn State and Dalian. These workshops continue to provide the intellectual framework for our partnership. I am very happy that the partnership is indeed thriving.
I don’t always have the opportunity to publicly thank Professor Song for his enormous contributions. So, I would like to take the opportunity to acknowledge him! Professor Song, would you please stand?
Professor Song is a distinguished Professor at Penn State – one of our very best. He is a world-renowned scientist. But equally important, he is one of you – he is an illustrious alumnus of DUT! He is indeed a good ambassador for DUT at Penn State, and for Penn State at DUT. In a lot of ways, he is like a “double agent.” Can we please express our appreciation to Professor Song by giving him a round of applause? (Round of applause)
Okay, Professor Song, we will allow you to sit now!
The second critical factor in building this strong relationship is the commitment of the leadership of both universities. In fact, there have been regular visits at the highest levels of the two administrations.
So, I would like to seize this opportunity to express my deep appreciation to President Guo Dongming and his administration at DUT for the warm hospitality that we always receive.
In addition, I would like to acknowledge the contributions of my good friend and colleague Vice President Ning Guiling. She has been a champion of this relationship from the beginning.
Also, I would like to recognize the commitment of another colleague, Dr. Zhao Shengchuan, Director of the International Office.
The third and final factor is the engagement of the faculty of both institutions. I would like to recognize the commitment and the contributions of the many faculty members at DUT to the building of this partnership. There are too many to mention by name.
On behalf of President Eric Barron and Provost Nicholas Jones of Penn State, I would like to convey our deep appreciation to the administration and the entire faculty of DUT.
Now that I have spoken on the strength of the DUT-Penn State partnership, I will turn to the topic of this presentation. I have been asked to present a brief overview of Penn State’s international engagement strategy. I will spend the next few minutes doing just that.
I will break this presentation into three parts. First, I will talk about the global context that informs our strategy. Second, I will talk about the underlying philosophy. And finally, I will discuss our tactics – the specific actions that we are taking to implement this strategy.
First, the context. Let me state our viewpoint upfront – In this day and age, international engagement is not a choice - it is a necessity!
The World is Flat
I will begin by borrowing from the work of the best-selling author and popular New York Times columnist, Tom Friedman; Mr. Friedman’s writing on globalization is very well-respected. In fact, he is my favorite author on the subject.
In his 2005 bestseller, The World is Flat, Friedman claims that borders are a thing of the past. For Friedman, the world is no longer made up of nations or nationalities.
Instead, he envisions a world made up of lions and gazelles—lions being the world’s superpowers and gazelles being the developing countries.
Let me give you a concrete illustration of the validity of Friedman’s viewpoint. In Friedman’s world, a product is not necessarily made in a single country. What this means, of course, is that parts of this product will be made in a number of countries. And then, following the global supply chain, these parts find their way to the point of integration into the final product.
Now, education may not be exactly like business. But there are more similarities than you might expect! Let me briefly illustrate this point.
Global Supply Chains: Gibson
The picture you see here is a picture of Gibson guitars, one of the most recognizable American brands in the world. Many famous musicians have played Gibson guitars – such as the Rolling Stones, Eric Clapton, and the Beatles.
Gibson: a Global Company
Gibson is a perfect example of Friedman’s “borderless world.” Here is an excerpt from an article about the company by Kevin D. Williamson: “For much of its history, Gibson was a Panamanian company, and while Gibson-branded guitars are indeed made in the United States, there is much more to Gibson Brands than American-made guitars: Chinese-made Baldwin pianos, Chinese- and Japanese-made Epiphone guitars, Boston-based Cakewalk Software, Malaysian-made Cerwin Vega audio components, a stake in Japanese electronics firm Onkyo, and much more. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service took an interest in Gibson’s wood imports from Madagascar a few years back, which came via a German intermediary. Which is to say, in its triumphs and in its troubles, Gibson is a truly global company.”
Gibson is just one example of this phenomenon, but there are countless.
It might be interesting for you to know that 80% of the Toyota Camry – a favorite Japanese car in the United States – is produced in the United States? On the other hand, Chevy (or Chevrolet) – a classic American brand – manufactures only about 2% of its Chevy Aveo in the United States.
Why is this the case? The simple fact is that knowledge is no longer a citizen of a country or a place. Knowledge has a rapid global mobility, particularly in the 21st century. Companies need the best knowledge, wherever they exist, in order to make the best products. So companies will acquire and pay for the best knowledge available anywhere. In fact, one can go as far as to say that commercial entities are rarely loyal to a country or a place; they are simply loyal to the bottom line – the best product and the best return on investment. If that means that Gibson makes its guitars in America, with wood from Madagascar, then so be it!
You see, just as there is a global supply chain for Gibson or Toyota, there is now a global knowledge development chain for institutions like DUT and Penn State. This is all the more reason why partnership is the key to high-quality knowledge generation.
Context Created by Global Knowledge Chain
We now live in a global knowledge economy. The future of economic development is no longer about transfer of natural resources; instead, it is about the development and mobility of intellectual resources through this global knowledge development chain. Institutions of higher learning have a vital role to play in this process. Research and publications contribute to the process. As you can see here, there is a strong correlation between a country’s openness to international partnership and the impact of its research enterprises.
Institutions like Penn State and DUT have two important products: (1) human resources and (2) intellectual resources. I will speak briefly on each of these.
First, human resources. After they graduate, most of our students will join the labor force. They, too, must show that they bring value to their employer. By and large, that value is not only limited to their technical knowledge, but also their ability to work across cultures; the reality today is that a Chinese living in China will most likely work with an American, a Japanese, or others. So in order for them to be successful, they have to know how to navigate the cultural nuances. So, in preparing our students to succeed in the Global Century, in addition to technical competence, they must also have cultural competence. Being culturally competent and technically competent means that they will become marketable and globally competitive.
Our second most valuable product is new knowledge produced by our intellectual resources. While a single university can provide some intellectual resources on its own, this is not the most effective way to create this vital product. Instead, like Toyota or Gibson, universities must leverage their particular areas of expertise within the global knowledge development chain.
But what is the best way to go about leveraging these resources which are so vitally needed in the 21st Century? In one word – PARTNERSHIP.
In the Serengeti
Let us consider a common scenario in the Serengeti in Africa. There, a group of lions would cooperate to kill a bigger game, like a wildebeest. The wildebeest is large and strong. It is not feasible for a single lion to bring down a wildebeest, hence, they learn to cooperate. The good thing about this is that the wildebeest is big enough for all of the lions to share and have their fill! We as humans, especially knowledgeable humans, should emulate the lions.
Why? Because there is strength in cooperation! This principle is very well summarized in an African proverb that says: “If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.”
This analogy has a moral imperative. No single university or single country can address the myriad of global challenges that we face today. It requires collaboration among universities and nations alike.
This fact does not diminish the need for competition! However, competition must not be blind or self-destructive. We must combine the reality of global competition with the opportunities offered by global collaboration.
This creates a concept that I will call competitive collaboration. This is the lens through which we must view the Global Century. And this is the lens through which Penn State views international engagement.
Broadly speaking, I see some major imperatives that would define the global landscape in the 21st Century. We can call them, the global imperatives.
The salient ones are:
1. Managing limited natural resources with a burgeoning population;
2. Maintaining the integrity of the environment with growth;
3. Ability to function in a globally interdependent world
Now that we have defined the major global imperatives, let me revisit Friedman’s viewpoint of the world in the 21st century one more time. In his 2008 sequel titled, Hot, Flat, and Crowded, Friedman explains how environmental challenges, such as climate change and population explosion, heighten the competition for limited resources in a “flat world.”
I am certain that you will all agree that the most basic natural resources that every human being on earth needs are water, food, and energy. You will also agree that climate change and population explosion threaten the sufficiency of these resources. This is one of the reasons why Penn State has decided to focus on the issue of global water-food-energy security.
But again, we know that we cannot resolve this challenge by ourselves. We even know that the United States, however powerful it is, cannot resolve this issue on our own. Resolving this challenge requires partnership. And, indeed, we are currently trying to build a credible network of institutions with like minds to participate in the resolution of this challenge.
In addressing this theme, we are asking some basic questions and trying to find answers. Questions such as: How will people be able to eat and drink in the new climate? How will our energy demands be met with a burgeoning population? What happens, post fossil fuels? How can we ensure the most people have the best standard of living?
I am a teacher. I always advise my students – the primary task of an engineer is to make life better for people; your job is to create processes and products which enhance human life. Creating a product is not an end, in itself; it is only a means to an end.
Likewise, the research efforts that we undertake must not be the end in itself, but only a means to the end. If our areas of research are not contributing in some way to the betterment of humanity, then I ask you - what is the point?
This approach is the foundation of Penn State University. You see, Penn State is a land-grant institution – one of the dozen or so such institutions created in America in the mid-19th Century. As opposed to the other institutions which existed at the time, the mission of these new universities was to make life better for their particular region.
It is a mission that continues today at Penn State! By any account, most Americans will agree that these land-grant institutions, including Penn State, have indeed made life better for Americans.
Now, our goal at Penn State is to become a kind of global land-grant University - to make life better for all citizens of the world in the 21st C.
Think Globally Act Locally
Thinking like a global land-grant university requires a change in mindset. We must be thinking as global citizens. As the Vice Provost for Global Programs at Penn State, one of my admonitions to students is to think globally and act locally.
You see, in order to resolve global challenges, a university must use its unique local knowledge, cultures, and resources, and integrate it into the global framework through strategic partnership.
One of the foundational principles in our current strategic plan is “Enhancing Global Engagement.” We call the aggregate of these efforts as “Building the Global Penn State.”
Building the Global Penn State
The goal of building the Global Penn State is to expand the global reach of Penn State - without a physical presence. In other words, we want to build a network of like-minded partners that will emerge in the forefront of resolving the global challenges of our time.
As referenced earlier, one of these global challenges is energy security. Economic development is not possible in the 21st century without it! Therefore, I am happy that the initial focus of the DUT-Penn State partnership is on developing affordable clean energy technologies.
And by all accounts, our Joint Center for Clean Energy is already on its way to accomplishing this goal.
In the time period of only about three years, they have published about 100 articles in international journals. This is simply impressive! This affirms that partnership is the most efficient way to do international engagement.
Pursuing the solutions to global challenges like energy security is a key component of Penn State’s underlying philosophy. I will briefly explain.
The ideals of the Global Penn State are anchored by two pillars. These pillars are “global citizenship” and “global leadership.”
The first pillar is global citizenship. The key to being a global citizen is to always think globally while acting locally. And this is what we encourage our students and faculty to do. I can tell you that at the beginning, it was challenging for some of our faculty.
Faculty, in teaching their classes, always think about their disciplines – but not always about global impact!
Earlier in my time as Vice Provost for Global Programs, one of our distinguished professors challenged me in a public forum - similar to this one – with a question. He said, “I teach calculus. Calculus is calculus - whether it is in Beijing or in New York City. So, how can I make my students think globally in a calculus class?”
I paused for a few seconds and considered his challenge. Then I asked him a question: “In teaching calculus, have you ever discussed the important figures of the subject? Laplace? Legendre? L’Hopital? Certainly, none of them grew up in America!”
His reaction was quite rewarding. He said, “I never thought about that.” He promised that, from then on, he would include a discussion of the global history of calculus in his class. That is thinking globally while acting locally.
The second pillar is "Global Leadership." Global leadership is about being part of the solution to global issues. When DUT and Penn State are partnering together to resolve the clean energy challenge that we face as humanity, we are assuming the mantle of global leadership. Of course, it is impossible to be a global leader without also being a global citizen!
At Penn State, we have enormous intellectual resources at our disposal – as a leading world-class research enterprise, with some of the best faculty on the planet, and an administration that is strongly committed to global engagement.
But, we understand that we cannot do it alone. Therefore, we are leveraging the resources of a few select like-minded institutions around the world, such as DUT.
The Three-Sided Coin
Now that we understand the context and the strategy of our global engagements, I will now focus on the tactical framework. The framework is illustrated by what I call the “three-sided coin” approach. Since most of you are engineers, you have no difficulty with the concept of a three-sided coin. You would be surprised to know that some people have always thought a coin has only two sides!
This “three-sided coin” encompasses the three aspects of our international engagement strategy. The words GO, COME, and PARTNER are written on the three sides of the coin. Let me now explain what each side means.
Three-Sided Coin: GO
First, let’s talk about the “GO” side. “GO” refers to students going to study-abroad. Our goal in this area is threefold: increase participation, improve diversity of participation, and provide transformative experience.
Time will not allow me to dwell on every aspect of this. But all three are important to achieving our goal as a university.
In fact, our mission is best summarized by the statement made by President Eric Barron.
“If you don’t have a world view, if you don’t understand other cultures, if you’re not experiencing everything that this world has to offer, you’re actually at a disadvantage.
“There’s no doubt about it. It doesn’t matter which facet of university life you have – research, teaching, service – it’s enriched by an international experience.”
Penn State Programs
Let me now give you some concrete numbers. We offer 300 education abroad programs which cover all six continents. These offerings include traditional, long-term study-abroad programs - one semester or a full year abroad. They also include short-term programs lasting anywhere between one week to over a month.
The most exciting trend we have seen is with faculty-led embedded programs. These programs are integrated into a residential course that they take at Penn State. The course has some international option where students travel with their professor and have an experience which directly relates to what they are learning in the classroom. These vary year by year, but we have sent students to China on these courses, as well!
These experiences are incredible. They tie in with the course and let students experience a world different from their own. So, they are learning within a different cultural context.
We have also noticed that these programs tend to go to more diverse locations. In addition to China, these programs go to Cuba, Malawi, South Africa, Cambodia, Morocco, Chile, and many other places that would not be considered "traditional" study-abroad destinations for American students.
Study Abroad Participation
We have made significant progress in the last decade – growing the number from about 2,100 to about 2,800.
Three-sided Coin: COME
Next, let me talk about the “COME” side of the coin. “COME” refers to increasing the international populations at Penn State - students, faculty, and scholars. This is important for our campus in many ways.
First, it exposes our students to diverse cultures, right in Pennsylvania.
Second, it brings new and broader perspectives into the classroom.
Finally, it enriches our discourse and our research and invariably builds a more global community.
Int'l Students at Penn State
We now have a robust international student population at Penn State which makes up roughly 11% of the student body. This means that 1 out of every 10 students at Penn State comes from another country. This creates an international flavor on our campus.
The total number of int’l students at Penn State is about 10,000, which is 3 times what it was just a decade ago!
Penn State - Place of Origin
Let me briefly talk about the countries of origin of these international students. You will be happy to know that China is very well-represented, accounting for nearly 40%! Any of you students would feel at home at Penn State – because you will be in good company! We host students from 141 countries.
Int'l Scholars at Penn State
Penn State also hosts a large number of international scholars. We have about 1,500 from many countries – the majority from Asian countries.
As you can see, Penn State hosts many internationals of all kinds. And we could not be happier about it!
The Third Side: "PARTNER"
Finally, let me talk about the third side of the “three-sided coin”: “PARTNER.” Partnership is the glue that holds the other two sides – “GO” and “COME” – together. There is no question in my mind that partnership strengthens the “GO” and the “COME” sides.
As a good example, the partnership between DUT and Penn State has been key in encouraging more of our students to come to Dalian to study. Similarly, the partnership has been encouraging Dalian students to study at Penn State! Without the partnership, this wouldn’t have happened.
But partnership goes beyond just being a glue. It brings value, in and of itself! Partnership is about integrated collaboration – research and teaching. Through partnership, faculty collaborate to do things that each side couldn’t have done on their own. This fulfills the common saying in the English language: “The whole is greater than the sum of its parts.”
Let me summarize what I have been saying so far. In fact, if you remember only one thing from this presentation, remember this: Partnership is simply the most effective way to promote successful international engagement. One needs only to look at the DUT-Penn State partnership to see how effective it is!
Strategic Partnerships: The GEN
When it comes to partnership, at Penn State, we are very strategic and very deliberate in the choice of our partners. That is because we want the partnership to be meaningful, productive, and sustainable over a long period of time – similar to our partnership with DUT, in fact! So, our approach is to listen to the faculty – to let the faculty lead the charge – and provide the administrative support.
Although there are collaborations with many universities around the world, only a few of them are considered our “Strategic Partners.” With these strategic partners, we are now building what we call the “Global Engagement Network (GEN).” The purpose of GEN is to leverage the combined intellectual resources of members of the network, to tackle the global challenges of our time. In this way, we are contributing to the global knowledge development chain!
GEN is a multi-faceted and multi-institutional partnership network consisting of about a dozen universities – you can see them all on this map. The guiding principle is: if one can do this much, then two can do more, and certainly, a group of six can do much, much more. The cautionary note here is that too many will do too little. So, we have no intention of significantly growing the network beyond where it is at this point. Instead, what we want to do is strategically strengthen the network and its capacity to have true impact.
As you can see, DUT is a member of this GEN and it is one of our most successful partnerships! It is one of the few partners with whom we have a Joint Center.
Currently, the focus of the GEN is on two broad themes – Global Health and Water-Energy-Food Security. A thematic focus helps to leverage the resources effectively so that we are making the most progress in these important areas.
Strategic Partnership Principles
It is important that I explain the basic guiding principles for our choice of strategic partners.
Number one, we are selective. Number two, the partnership is faculty-driven. And finally, there must be a compelling reason for the partnership. In other words - why partner if we are doing the same things? On the other hand, if we bring complementary strengths to the table, then it makes sense for us to go into partnership. In this case, we are always looking to ensure that the whole is greater than the sum of the parts.
We have distilled these down to several specific criteria that must be met in order for a partnership to be formed.
Number 1: Complementarity – Partners must be able to leverage their resources and expertise to achieve their stated goals. In this line of thinking, faculty work must be complementary. If both sets of faculty are doing the exact same work, there is no point to the partnership – we are just stepping on each other’s toes!
Number 2: Strong Faculty Engagement – The faculty is the heart of the academic enterprise. Because of this, the faculty must be at the forefront of any engagement with strategic partners. All of our partnerships are faculty-led.
Number 3: Sustainability – We would rather have a few select and robust partnerships than a hundred MOUs. There must be a strong framework for sustainability beyond the signing of the initial MOU – otherwise, the MOU is merely a piece of paper!
Number 4: Consistency of Institutional Goals – We must be working towards generally similar goals with our partners. We should not have competing goals – that undermines the entire idea of collaboration!
Number 5: Finally, Mutually Beneficial and Productive – At the end of the day, the partners must be able to show beneficial and tangible results – on both sides.
Strategic Partnerships: Long-Term View
We view all of our strategic partnerships through the lens of a long-term relationship. We always keep long-term goals in mind. In so doing, we have come up with some effective ways to collaborate that lend themselves to the long-term. These are just a few examples.
Number 1: Joint Hiring of Faculty Cohort – this is an example of leveraging resources. The two universities work together to hire faculty members with complementary research interests. This ensures that the best people are hired to pursue research in a strategic area on both sides.
Number 2: Joint Acquisition of Essential Facilities/Equipment – Pooling resources allows both universities to acquire equipment which may have been otherwise unaffordable.
Number 3: Finally, Evolution of Joint Strategic Goals – as time goes on, we become interlinked with our strategic partners in areas of interest. Through this connection, we discover together new areas of focus, and new and exciting ways to innovate.
Conclusion and Q&A
In conclusion, let me highlight a few key points.
- The state of the DUT-Penn State partnership is strong. In the context of the new Global Century, it is imperative to create strong partnerships like this one, in the spirit of competitive collaboration.
- The key pillars of the Global Penn State are global citizenship for all of our students and global leadership for the university.
- The framework for actualizing the Global Penn State is best illustrated with the “three-sided coin” approach – “GO,” “COME,” and most importantly, “PARTNER.”
In essence, partnership is the key to success in the 21st Century. It is the most effective way of developing successful international engagements.
Thank you for your attention! I would now be happy to answer your questions.
"Training Engineers for the Global Century" - Nigerian Academy of Engineers - Keynote Lecture (7/6/2017)
Nigerian Academy of Engineering
Training Engineers for the Global Century
Michael Adewumi, PhD, FNSE
Vice Provost for Global Programs
Professor of Petroleum & Natural Gas Engineering
The Pennsylvania State University
University, Park, PA 16802
July 6th, 2017
Thank you very much for your generous approbation. It is indeed a great honor for me to address this very distinguished gathering!
Preamble: Madam President, Distinguished Fellows of Nigerian Academy of Engineering, Distinguished guests, Ladies and Gentlemen. It is both a privilege to be here among this very distinguished audience - intellectual giants, captains of the industry and renowned public servants. Usually, when I have been in gatherings like this one, members are mostly Americans and I am usually part of a very tiny minority. So, for me, standing here among fellow Nigerians so distinguished and very accomplished is a special blessing. When I was a young boy, I never would have dreamed that I would be asked one day by some of Nigeria’s best and brightest to address them! This is made possible by the grace of God and the help of many along the way.
There is a saying that when someone appears to be taller among the crowd, it is because s/he is standing on the shoulders of others! I am indeed standing on the shoulders of giants, some of whom are actually here today. I would like to acknowledge some of them. I will mention them by name in chronological orders – as they popped into my life.
- Professor G.K. Falade, retired Professor of Petroleum Engineering at the University of Ibadan because of his immeasurable impact on my training as an engineer.
- The late Engr. Teju Oyeleye, the first Nigerian General Manager of the then WNTV/WNBS - the first and best in sub-Saharan Africa.
- Engr. (Mrs.) J. O. Maduka, one of the most accomplished engineers in Nigeria – male and female.
- Engr. Dr. Olumide Phillips for setting an enviable example in capacity building in the Nigerian Petroleum Industry.
Madam President, with your permission, I would like to dedicate this lecture to Professor Falade, Engrs. Oyeleye, Engr. (Mrs.) Maduka, and Engr. Dr. Phillips.
Introduction: Let me begin with the obvious, at least obvious to this audience. Engineers are problem solvers – we are trained to solve problems – human problems! An important prerequisite to solving a problem is being able to define it. If we can’t define a problem, then how can we solve it!
Actually, this makes engineering fairly unique, compared to many other disciplines. It is often said that scientists want to know why – as the end in itself; but the engineer wants to know why, as a means to the end, which is how.
In some other disciplines, people simply want to talk about issues. In my current role, I work with very bright people, intellectuals from a wide variety of disciplines. Many a time, as an engineer, while they are talking about issues, my engineering mind is pondering, “What is the real issue here, and what can I do to fix it?”
In the next few minutes, I will attempt to define the problem facing Nigerian engineering education, as I see it within the global landscape. Then, I will suggest some solution pathways.
My current responsibility as Vice Provost for Global Programs at Penn State over the past decade has given me a fairly unique vantage point as I have interacted with higher education leaders across the globe. I have become an avid student of global higher education in general and engineering education in particular. This has given me a broad perspective on the global landscape of higher education - in addition to that of the US! Let me state, with all humility, that what I would be sharing is heavily influenced by my global lenses!
My Basic thesis: Let me submit upfront what I believe. We need to train globally-competitive and locally-relevant engineers in the 21st Century.
In the next few minutes, I would like to define some of the salient issues confronting Engineering Education in Nigeria. I will then discuss potential resolution strategies. In doing so, I will like to go beyond the usual prescription that I receive from colleagues in Nigerian Universities, which is lack of funding. And yes, funding is needed, but we need much more valuable commodity – innovative ideas and approaches to engineering education.
Before we can completely define the problem, we must discuss the environment. In Thermodynamics, you can only define the system as a subset of the environment. The environment influences the behavior of the system. So, the first thing that we must do is to look at the global imperatives for engineering education in the 21st C.
I will explore today’s global landscape and will discuss some of the imperatives for engineering education and the need to think globally and to be globally engaged in the 21st Century – the so-called global century. I will then address those imperatives within the context of Nigeria.
I would like to begin by setting in global context the broader challenges faced by engineering education.
I will do this by borrowing from the work of the best-selling author and popular New York Times columnist, Tom Friedman, whose writing on globalization is very frequently cited. He is one of my favorite authors on the subject.
In his 2005 bestseller, The World is Flat, Friedman claims that borders are a thing of the past. For Friedman, the world is no longer made up of nations or nationalities.
Instead, he envisions a world made up of lions and gazelles—lions being the world’s superpowers and gazelles being the developing countries. In order to appreciate the gravity of this analogy, you have to cast your mind back to the plains of Serengeti in East Africa, where the gazelle makes a good meal for the lion.
Just like in the Serengeti, Mr. Friedman believes that we live in a survival-of-the-fittest world, where entrepreneurial competition is always in flux, economic instability is never-ending, and where, according to Friedman [QUOTE] “the weak will fall farther behind.” [END QUOTE]. In his 2008 sequel, titled, Hot, Flat, and Crowded, Friedman discusses how environmental challenges, such as climate change and population explosion, heighten the competition for resources in a “flat world.”
Friedman’s flat-world framework suggests a Darwinian model for globalization. On one hand, the breaking of barriers is beneficial because it increases our interconnectivity—which is a good thing.
It compels us to realize our interdependence and allows for the open sharing of information. If done right, it could make us better global citizens, better stewards of our environment, and certainly better stewards of our limited resources.
On the other hand, this level playing field could result in the less powerful nations –with fewer resources - falling prey to the more powerful and better-resourced nations, just like the gazelle falls prey to the lion!
In contrast, consider another scenario in the Serengeti where lions would sometimes cooperate to kill a bigger game, like wildebeest. Once downed, they all gather together, without much fighting and with each having her fill! And the opposite effect happens when the wildebeest bunch together; the lion would always retreat, because there is strength in cooperation! Collaborative engagement is the key to success, especially in the 21st C.
From the foregoing, we can see somethings that define the global landscape in the 21st Century. The salient ones are:
- Managing limited natural resources with a burgeoning population
- Maintaining the integrity of the environment with growth
- Global Interdependence and ability to function as a global citizen
It is within this global context that I will examine some of the issues facing engineering education in Nigeria.
Issue No. 1: One-Dimensional Training
The first issue I see with Engineering Education in Nigeria is that it is largely one-dimensional. It is strong on technical knowledge – on facts! The student receives an incredible dose of technical knowledge – but little else!
Engineering students do not dabble into subjects like history, arts, music, economics, management, international relations, or psychology. Nor are they provided what is called soft skills – communication, leadership, team building, etc. Even more damaging is that they are not taught how to integrate disparate knowledge in a coherent fashion to address emerging unfamiliar problems.
Now, one might ask, “Why do engineers need to know these subjects?” I would argue that it is vital that we do! After all, the job of the engineers is to solve human problems by creating products and processes that make life better for human; so it might be useful for the engineer to have some understanding of the people whose lives they are attempting to make better.
It would be useful for them to have some idea about the market forces that shape the adoption of their product and process. Need I say more!
I will submit that they need to be trained to think three-dimensionally - the technical dimension, the environmental dimension and the human dimension. Engineers must remind ourselves that their goal is not creating a product or process, but rather to make life better for people. It therefore makes sense for us to attempt to understand the people for whom we are creating product or process.
We must also realize that we only have this small planet, Earth, with rapidly burgeoning population putting much pressure on limited non-renewable resources, and thus putting into jeopardy the welfare of future generations.
The world is not as simple as it once was. Global economic order, the internet, the “flattening” of the earth– these are all realties of the 21st Century. We are all interdependent, hence we need to work together collaboratively while also competing to be our best. Future engineers will need to work alongside people from around the world, in a variety of capacities. In order to do so, they must be well-rounded; they must understand how to operate in a global world. They must understand and harness cultural nuances.
Issue 2: Ignoring Local Context
A second issue is that engineering education in Nigeria is almost completely divorced from the reality of students’ life experiences. Let me give an example.
A Nigerian student, who grew up in the rural area, having been successful in the relevant exams, is admitted to study Mechanical Engineering, say at UNILAG.
Having grown up in such an environment, water is fetched from the stream, cloth washing is done by hand using native soap, fields are cultivated using hoes and cutlasses, etc. Basically, he has accumulated years of experience in simple agrarian life
Then, this student arrives at UNILAG. The first days in class, his professor begins the lesson by talking about designing automation of cars – driverless cars. Why – because that’s what is making the news in the US. This poor student has never even the inside of an internal combustion engine. The student is left to imagine the unimaginable rather than building on what she is familiar with using her previous knowledge as a building block. This student is forced to learn everything from up-down rather than ground-up. He not only needs to grasp basic engineering concepts, he needs to imagine a context that is so foreign to him that you might as well be talking about the Mars!
This type of education ignores the student’s life journey and suddenly transposed into a different stratosphere. So much of the knowledge gained over the course of her life is now declared irrelevant, during his engineering training! That creates what we often refer to in mathematical modeling as a jump discontinuity. It would have been more effective to provide an opportunity for an open sharing of experiences, and then build a coherent value-adding knowledge. I would suggest that it is much more relevant than knowledge that is Western-centric!
Here is another example. When I was an Engineering student, many years ago, all my textbooks in Petroleum Engineering had one thing in common – they all focused on oil fields in Texas. This is because all of my textbooks came from the United States.
Now obviously, the issue of Western cultural dominance extends beyond Engineering and even beyond academics – but to me, this is particularly outrageous. We do not need to look to Texas for examples of Petroleum fields – we do not even need to look elsewhere in Africa! After all, Nigeria is the number one producer of oil on the African continent, and has been for some time. Our students should be learning about our own Petroleum fields!
This type of training desensitizes students to their own local contexts. It, in effect, reduces the amount of stake they feel they have in Nigeria, divorcing them from the reality of their own country and people.
As Vice Provost for Global Programs, one of my mottos is “Think Globally, Act Locally.” If we do not find a way to educate our students about the issues relevant to Nigeria, we cannot expect them to act on those issues.
Issue 3: Job Expectations
The third issue I see in Engineering Education is the issue of job expectations. Most Nigerians attend engineering schools and expect that when they graduate, they would be employed by a multinational corporation, and enjoy good earnings for the rest of their working life.
While this view of the profession may have been true at one time, though certainly not for everyone, the present reality is much more complex, even in developed countries.
We no longer live in a “punch-in, punch-out” world. S/he should be thinking on how to create value by solving local problems and bringing such solutions to the market place, thereby creating jobs, rather seeking jobs! There are so many problems waiting to be solved. If engineers have solutions to any of these problems, there are people willing to pays for it.
In order to do this, engineers do not only need technical knowledge; they need a variety of skills, and the correct mindset, to succeed in the new Global Century. Life-long learning is needed to continuously re-tool for the ever-changing world.
With these issues briefly defined, now, it is time to suggest what can be done to fix it.
Educating Successful Engineers for the 21st Century
Beyond merely understanding the technical dimension of the profession – which is, of course, a prerequisite for success – 21st century engineers must be three-dimensional thinkers. This means that they must have:
- Technical competency
- Local contextualization
- Global competency
The problems facing Nigeria are intricately linked with the rest of the globe, and engineering students must understand this fact. To ensure that they do, some serious changes must be made to the way we train them – to the way we teach them how to think.
So how do we go about training an engineer who thinks in these three dimensions? I would like to suggest a few steps.
Step 1: Integrate Local Knowledge
The first step is that teachers must be much more than just purveyors of contents. Today, the savvy student can source technical contents from a wide variety of sources – just google it!
As I stated earlier, there seems to be a decoupling of the Nigerian students’ life experiences from his/her engineering training. How can that be! It makes no sense to ignore the gifts, skills, talents, and knowledge that people have gathered over the course of their lives. To train a successful engineer, we must have a seamless integration between what they already experience and what they need to know! For example, while teaching gaming theory or probability, why not focus on the game of Ayo instead of baseball!
At Penn State, our University President, Eric Barron, uses an analogy that I would like to borrow here. You see, Penn State is a world-class research institution. We have some of the most renowned, world-class sought-after researchers in the entire world.
Most of these researchers are happy to speak with students one-on-one, or provide them research opportunities. Nevertheless, many students who attend Penn State go through their entire academic career without taking advantage of all of the resources the university has to offer. They get up, they go to class, and then they return to their dorm room, do homework, pass exams and play video games or watch television.
President Barron likens this approach to buying a sports car – he uses the example of a Corvette – and drive it at 20 miles per hour. Essentially, you are ignoring all of the potential and, in fact, misusing the car. What’s the point of using paying the hefty price for a sports car if you are not going to put your foot to the pedal!
This is the situation with the current engineering education in Nigeria. Students come to us with such a rich experiences/background and so much to offer – and we ignore their potential in order to mold them into what we believe they must be – like a typical western-centric engineer.
Take, for example, a typical Nigerian child. A typical Nigerian child has undeniable entrepreneurial experience. I know when I was a child, I used to hawk goods for my mother at the marketplace, and I know that I was not the only one!
Nigerian children, through life experience, have an innate understanding of the economics of supply and demand. They know that if they’re the only family in town that sells baskets, they can charge more than if they have a competitor. Nigerians already have entrepreneurial spirit; all they need is some formal training which builds on concepts which they already know.
So instead of teaching about oil reservoirs in Texas; instead of talking about an internal combustion engine; let us incorporate existing knowledge into the curriculum. Let us learn from the highly skilled weavers in Nigeria – perhaps after we know enough, we could help design a better weaving machine! And let us learn about Nigerian oil fields - not American ones.
It is imperative to use local knowledge and understanding. The curriculum must first be localized before the knowledge gained can be used globally.
Step 2: Three-Dimensional Education
Beyond localizing the curriculum, we must also make it multi-faceted. We must build on the inherent experiences of Nigerians, yes; but we must also give them tools to expand their skills and their ways of thinking. We must, in essence, teach them to think three-dimensionally. They can no longer rely on getting a steady, long-term job right out of university. We must teach them to find ways to create jobs, not just work them.
Engineers must have some level of competency in a variety of areas. Therefore, we must offer – and require – courses in areas such as economics, business, international politics, foreign languages, marketing, psychology, and the like. A well-rounded engineer will be built for success in the Global Century.
This goes beyond offering separate courses, however. In fact, these concepts must be integrated into the Engineering curriculum itself. Engineers must be trained within an interdisciplinary framework, and must learn this within their Engineering courses as well as outside of them. It is a complete paradigm shift – but one that is necessary.
Let me give you a possible example. Let us say that an Engineer discovers a new chemical composition that makes good, quality cloth-washing detergent for a lower cost than other soaps. If they do not already work for a soap company, what are they to do? Perhaps they could sell this new discovery to Leventis. But how would they know whether that was the right decision to make? And what if they wanted to start up their own company?
We must teach Engineers, both conceptually and practically, how to file patents, handle marketing and advertising, and even in some cases how to figure out an entirely new delivery system for a product. In essence, we must teach them to think “beyond the job.”
Step 3: Creative Application for Local and Global Problems
My final suggestion follows this thinking. You see, in Nigeria, we produce thousands of engineers every year. The vast majority of them are at the very least competent; very many of them are high-quality; and, I know for a fact we have some excellent engineering minds in this country. Despite all of this, Nigeria still lacks basic infrastructure. Why is this?
We are an oil-rich country – the number one producer on the African continent, with possibly the lowest cost of production per barrel in the world – and yet many of our citizens are completely without power. Even in major cities like Lagos, most citizens can only truly rely on a supply of electricity for a few hours per day.
Obviously, these issues are multifaceted and heavily systemic. However, at the most basic level, I believe that a large part of the problem is that these Nigerian engineers are not thinking of the bigger picture. This needs to change. To succeed, both individually and as a country, Nigerian engineers in the 21st century must be resourceful, creative and be locally relevant. They must use the resourcefulness of their childhood – of their local context – and apply it to larger issues.
Take, for example, clay pots. I’m sure many of you have seen these pots in Nigerian family homes – some of you may even have used them yourselves some time on your lives. These are clay pots used to keep water cool naturally – they serve almost the purpose of natural refrigerator! These clay pots are truly incredible. They are simple, but incredibly effective. Why has no one researched the properties of these clay pots, improve its performance and searched for other applications?
Another example. In many areas, mostly in the more rural parts of Nigeria, many families still use Kerosene lamps as a light source at night. We now know the Kerosene is harmful to health. What if we found a way to use solar lamps? Nigeria gets plenty of sun. It would save families money on buying Kerosene, and may very well save lives. So why are we not working on this possibility?
Engineers must begin to think holistically. They must combine the technical, the entrepreneurial, the local, and the global. They must, in essence, always ask, “What is the real issue here, and what can we do to fix it?”
The Role of the NAE
As the body of the foremost engineering thinkers in Nigeria, NAE has an important role to play in this process. If you think, as I do, that we must make fundamental changes to the way we educate engineers, then I encourage you to lead the way in spearheading this new approach.
There are some possible ways in which NAE can make a difference. Some are mentioned below:
- Informing Policy – persuading policymakers to hands-off engineering education
- Curriculum reform – that avoids cookie-cutter approach but seeks innovation
- Contextualization – ensuring seamless integration between the local and the global
- Outcome-focused – pursue outcome-based engineering education
- Making use of the diaspora community – rapidly deploy army of technocrats to help
Th 21st C. needs a different type of engineers that was needed in the 20th C. Engineering schools in the US and much of the developed countries recognize this and they are working hard to make amend. I am part of this process for my discipline. But, we cannot and must not wait and copy their product – the result of what is best for the western-centric engineer. We must come up with a home-grown solution that respects our values, our cultures and even our idiosyncrasies, but more importantly our local context. The guiding principle must be an outcome-based engineering education, in which we must define upfront what we want the Nigerian engineer of the 21st century to know and be. We, as NAE must provide the much needed leadership – provide an effective framework within which for the engineering teachers could use their creative talents to foster. Now is the time for NAE to be asking the important engineering principle to engineering education: “What is the real issue here?” – and – “What can we do to fix it?”
We must blend the local with the global. We must leverage our resources – a home and dispersed all over the world. We must solve problems like Nigerians, using all of the expertise and life experience we have gained, rather than trying to force ourselves to think in the mold of Euro-American centric way.
If we make these fundamental changes, I truly believe that Nigerian engineers will prosper in the Global Century.
Thank you very much for your time. It has been an honor to be here today.