To succeed in today’s engineering workforce, students need more than a grounding in theory: they also need the skills and confidence to bring new ideas into reality through interdisciplinary teamwork. That’s what the MIT School of Engineering aims to provide with a hands-on curriculum called New Engineering Education Transformation (NEET).

“You have to jump in and learn by trying things, by making the mistakes that everybody makes the first time they try to solve problems,” says Anette “Peko” Hosoi, associate dean of engineering and the Neil and Jane Pappalardo Professor of Mechanical Engineering. Hosoi is the faculty co-lead of NEET with Ed Crawley ’76, SM ’78, ScD ’81, Ford Professor of Engineering in the Department of Aeronautics and Astronautics.

Learning by doing has always been an important ingredient of MIT education, but according to Amitava “Babi” Mitra, NEET’s executive director, NEET’s approach sets it apart. “Most engineering curricula in the world, including at MIT, focus on the more traditional machines”—for example, designing and manufacturing a 1950s-era plane such as a Boeing 707, he says, while consigning new technologies such as quadcopters and self-driving cars to a single class or two. In contrast, NEET aims to educate young engineers to build the new machines that will address social needs of the future.

The 120 students who have begun NEET since it launched in fall 2017 will earn a degree in their chosen major within the usual four years, while spending sophomore through senior years immersed in machines and systems under development in modern industry. Emphasizing disciplinary breadth as well as depth, NEET offers a rethinking of the existing engineering curriculum, while retaining the strengths of “mens et manus.”

According to Living Machines lead instructor Timothy Kassis, a typical undergraduate series of labs, classes, and internships can add up to “experiences that are valuable but that don’t necessarily tell a coherent story. When our NEET students graduate, they will have a story they can talk about.”

In its first year, NEET piloted two cross-departmental threads, or learning pathways: Autonomous Machines and Living Machines. Two more begin this fall: Clean Energy Systems and Advanced Materials Machines. The four threads were proposed and assessed by engineering faculty assisted by faculty from MIT’s other four schools. A students’ chosen thread will be named on a NEET certificate bestowed as a new credential upon graduation.

“Before learning about NEET, I was having trouble choosing a major, because I saw interesting classes relevant to my field scattered across the aerospace engineering, mechanical engineering, and computer science curricula,” says Gabriel Margolis, a Course 16 (AeroAstro) junior. “NEET’s Autonomous Machines thread brings the most interesting parts of those majors together.”

Each year of NEET focuses on a project of increasing complexity within a student’s selected thread. Along the way, students acquire lab and collaboration skills and study the NEET Ways of Thinking—11 categories ranging from making and discovering to analytical and humanistic approaches—that enable learning on the job. They also participate in a seminar through which they actively help to shape this experimental program.

“NEET is already being acknowledged in academic, professional, and industry forums as an initiative that is worth watching,” says Mitra. “We hope others will join with us in the effort to create a transformational teaching and learning program for MIT, the engineering education community, and beyond.”

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2 comments

  1. Robert Ebright

    Sounds like what the world needs in order to solve problems. Now it seems like a matter or getting more people involved.

  2. Nicholas Hudanich

    NEET is definately a right step forward for engineering students. I feel that every college student from the senior to the freshman who knows thta they have a deep passion for a field of study should be able to directly pursue that field of study. The brilliant engineers that will be building the machines of tomorrow dont need to necessarily know about the evolution of airplane construction if they seek to bring innovations to the realm of cutting edge 3-D printing technology. Sure, there will be plenty of important engineering factors that can be learnt from planes, but these factors and then culled from indoctrination of dozens of otherwise insignificant machines. Having a curriculum of solely the most tangent concepts to an intended interest is an absolutely amazing modus operandi. Additionally, there are several other fields other than mechanical engineering that could use a reorganization to match that of NEET’s. I myself am interested in Transportation Engineering, but one of the biggets problems I have faced is that there is not a string ciriculum laid out in the first years of college to guide towards that major goal. For example, although there may be some bridge building principles of civil engineering that are important for a transportation engineer, the TE engineer focuses more on the software, system optimizing aspects of transit, and thus knowing the loads of different concrete and how to reinforce bridges correctly isnt necessarily relevant. I would love to take optimization civil engineering courses, but there is no defined ciriculum for that at most colleges (Which is one of the reasons I really like MIT as it has a more defined TE program).

    Time spent on factors that a person would never use in their dedicated career field of interest could be better used on exploring the cutting edge solutions of that field, enabling successful engineering in the student, universities, and the nation.

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