sealPurdue News Op-Ed

February 13, 2003

The changing face of engineering

By Linda P.B. Katehi
Purdue University John A. Edwardson Dean of Engineering

WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. – What do the Internet, the Interstate Highway System and the International Space Station have in common?

Besides being among the most inventive, invaluable accomplishments of the past century, they owe their existence to engineers, the innovators we are celebrating during National Engineers Week, Feb. 16-22.

You see Andrew Jackson's face on the $20 bill you remove from the automated teller machine (ATM). But the man and the face and the mind behind the Personal Identification Number you use to retrieve your money belong to John Atalla, the Purdue University alumnus who invented the PIN. He also invented the Atalla Box, which currently secures 80 percent of all ATM transactions worldwide. He earned his master’s degree in mechanical engineering and a doctorate in mechanical engineering from Purdue.

Engineers Week celebrates the accomplishments of the men and women who – as President George W. Bush has said – help drive our economy, protect our environment, secure public safety and influence the quality of everyday life around the world.

One out of every 50 engineers in the United States holds a Purdue degree, so it is natural that we have planned a weeklong celebration of awards banquets, speakers, presentations, gift announcements and presentations.

But beyond mere celebration, the week's events and activities, being conducted at universities and schools from grades K-12 nationwide, hope to inspire the next generation of engineers.

Certainly there is much to celebrate and much to be inspired by.

Since my arrival a little more than one year ago as the dean of Purdue's Schools of Engineering, our administrators and faculty have mapped out a vision that will take our programs in learning, discovery, and engagement to preeminence – a new level of excellence, leadership and achievement for the betterment of our state, our country and beyond.

And we are off to a good start.

Central to our preparations for preeminence is our commitment to improve diversity among students and faculty, which also is one of the major themes for National Engineers Week 2003.

Engineering has changed the face of the world, and now the face of engineering itself is changing.

Engineering schools – including Purdue's – strongly supported by industry partners, already have been making strides toward fostering not only greater diversity in their student bodies and faculty but also in their attitudes.

Since our first engineering degree was granted in 1878, Purdue has graduated more female engineers than any university in the country. Purdue currently enrolls more international students than any other public university in the nation.

In addition we have taken steps to further improve the climate on campus.

In 1998 the Schools of Engineering began two-day multicultural diversity forums at the suggestion of an alumna working for E.I. du Pont de Nemours and Co. In the past five years, more than half of the engineering schools' 284 faculty, and 81 past or current staff members, have participated in this program.

These forums are part of a long-term commitment. Every dean, every department head, every faculty member and key staff members will participate in the gender, race and life-skills workshops. Purdue will foster awareness and sensitivity to minority and gender issues within the schools and open, honest dialogue between races and sexes. The goal, though, is broader. We will settle for nothing less than a climate that embraces diversity and transfers that appreciation to our students.

The results of a survey we have just completed show that the forum has been a success story in engineering. Forum participants who responded to the survey reported having a significantly better understanding of ethnic history, diversity issues, stereotypes and prejudices. They also felt more empathy for people of color and began to assume personal responsibility for improving the racial climate around them.

Industry, clearly, also has a stake. Corporate America has noted the changing demographics: Minorities will dominate the work force of the future. Not only is industry looking to universities to educate more minorities, it also is urging universities to teach students the value of diversity.

In fact, companies such as Daimler Chrysler, Eli Lilly and Co. Procter & Gamble Co. and Cargill Inc., are helping fund the workshops.

We all agree technological, economic and scientific prowess requires empowered people working together.

Education can provide the tools. The imaginations of tomorrow's engineers will provide the rest.

NOTE TO JOURNALISTS: Below is a timely editorial from Linda P.B. Katehi, Purdue University's dean of the Schools of Engineering, who just recently completed her first year as dean. It is written in conjunction with National Engineers Week, which begins Sunday (2/16). A publication-quality photograph of Katehi is enclosed, and the photo also can be downloaded at

* To the Purdue News and Photos Page