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Engineering...Beyond the Classroom

The Engineering...Beyond the Classroom Blog is focused on engineering issues that are important to students and faculty in an educational setting. This is the place for conversation and discussion about technologies to watch, tools of the trade, parts & assembly and problems & solutions. Here, you'll find everything from application ideas, to news and industry trends, to hot topics and cutting edge innovations.

The Numeracy Problem is Hurting Our Purchases

Posted June 08, 2017 5:00 PM by MaggieMc

Can you calculate your tip at a restaurant?

Can you do basic addition and subtraction problems?

Can you convert a fraction to a percentage?

Do you know how to take the average of a set of numbers? The median? The mode? Can you do it in your head?

Knowing my audience, a group of engineers and engineering enthusiasts, I suspect you answered yes to all of these questions. But that’s not the answer everyone would give—and that’s not just true of those with lower levels of education.

Recently, I’ve been hearing about the growing “numeracy” problem in our society. According to Alan Smith in his TED Talk entitled “Why you should love statistics,” numeracy is “the ability to deal with fractions, percentages, and decimals.”

Smith deals largely with England in his talk; however, he says numeracy is “not just an English problem,” with the United States leading the way with 40% of young people showing low numeracy skills in an Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) survey in 2016.

Now, researchers at the University of Miami are indicating that a poor understanding of ratios impacts everyday life. Evidently, consumers make “poor purchase decisions” when they need to use ratios to assess a product’s value.

One example ScienceDaily gives is that of consumers comparing fuel efficiency of two cars using the ratio miles per gallon prior to purchasing a car:

“They often flub the numbers by incorrectly assuming the mathematic equation to find miles per gallon would be to average the sum of the mileage of both cars and then divide by two, instead of using a more complex equation needed to accurately compare ratios.”

According to researchers, the example above results in only 25-30% of shoppers reaching the correct answer.

Michael Tsiros, a professor of marketing at the University of Miami School of Business Administration, suggests this issue could be resolved by consumers having “ready access to software that calculates ratios.”

Within the context of the numeracy problem, that seems like a cop-out: solving the immediate problem of ratio-calculating errors affecting individual purchases, but not addressing the question of how to make our population better at ratios.

Despite having taken higher level math courses, I can admit to moments of low numeracy—largely because I have access to my favorite “computational knowledge engine” and a calculator. Still, I can’t say I’m comfortable with the situation.

Have you noticed the numeracy problem growing? Or is it, as one reader of Alan Smith’s older reports joked, that this figure is only shocking to the 51 percent—or in the U.S., 60%—of the population with high numeracy?

Image Credits: Alan Smith/Ted and Lane Oak/Unsplash

56 comments; last comment on 06/28/2017

In Pursuit of a PE

Posted April 28, 2016 7:00 AM by cheme_wordsmithy

This Saturday will mark two weeks since the last "principles and practice of engineering examination" was administered by the NCEES to thousands of engineering professionals seeking certification. I am aware of this date partially because coworkers in my office have just taken the exam, and are awaiting their pass/fail results. But more so, I'm aware because I hope to take the exam in the fall of this year.

The professional engineering (P.E.) license is given by individual states to certify individuals as approved to practice engineering in said state. P.E.'s are needed in every discipline of engineering to sign off on designs and . But having a P.E. is more than just signing design documents - it is a recognition of competency, understanding, and responsibility for the demands and ethics that must accompany this field of work and service.

The process to this certification, however, does not start with the P.E. exam. It starts with the Fundamentals-In-Engineering (FE) exam. I took the FE in the spring of 2011, my senior year of college. At that time it was a paper and pencil test consisting of some 80 to 100 questions (I've long forgotten those details) over a grueling eight hours. The questions encompassed both a broad sweep of the different engineering disciplines, and my discipline of choice which at the time was chemical engineering. Today, the FE has morphed into a computer-based exam of 110 questions over 6 hours - whether that is an improvement I'll leave open to debate…

Once passed, I received my Engineer-In-Training certificate, allowing me to gain experience towards my license under engineers and other technical professionals in the disciplines and practice of engineering. This month will mark just short of 5 years of engineering experience, a majority of that work under the title of Environmental Engineer.

The next step in the process is an application, from which I must prepare a summary of my experience and contributions as an engineer-in-training, and provide references who will sign-off and certify my experience as adequate. Each state's application requirements differ, though most if not all require four years of approved experience for those with a bachelor's degree, and two years of approved experience for those with a master's degree.

My application, though not due until July, is nearly complete. It includes a fairly exhaustive list of my projects, and the engineering theory and design principles that accompanied my work. Once I submit my application, I will shortly be either approved (hopefully) or denied passage to sit for the principles and practice of engineering exam. And so will begin my review for the exam. More on that in an upcoming post…

I would welcome any insight and discussion from those who have obtained their PE license, and for those who, like me, are in the pursuit. I'm sure there are many joys and perils to talk about along the road.

15 comments; last comment on 11/22/2016

Student Finds Success with Online Engineering Program

Posted April 24, 2016 12:00 AM by Penn State

Contributed by Penn State World Campus

As an air force captain, a husband, and the father of a toddler, Neil Barnas realized that the best way he could pursue his goal of a master's degree in systems engineering would be to find a top-notch program online. "Systems engineering is a hot topic in the Air Force," Neil said, "and it's a discipline that has always made a lot of sense to me."

After looking at several programs, Neil chose the Penn State World Campus Master of Engineering in Systems Engineering program because he was impressed by Penn State's reputation for excellence: "I wanted a quality education that would make a difference in my career."

The duration of the program was an added benefit. "Many of my friends and co-workers have spent 3, 4, or 5 years completing their master's degrees," Neil said. "The Penn State World Campus 2-year schedule is more rigorous, but it has helped me to retain the material, allowing me to leverage it more effectively throughout the program."

Neil also had the distinction of being one of the first 27 working professionals from around the United States to complete the Penn State World Campus Master of Engineering in Systems Engineering program, which focuses on a holistic approach to managing complex engineering projects. Having recently taken on an assignment as an acquisition professional, Neil said that his newly acquired knowledge will benefit the air force.

Earning his master's degree was well worth the investment of time and effort, according to Neil: "The Penn State Systems Engineering Master's Program was the perfect avenue to fulfill my own interests and to help the USAF improve its acquisition processes."

Neil's advice for other service members is to continue their education and training, either by choosing an online degree program, as he did, or by selecting an on-campus program. "It's important to keep learning," he said. "I wanted a quality education that would make a difference in my career. And Penn State really sets itself apart in that regard."

Learn more about all of the Master of Engineering Degrees offered online by Penn State World Campus.

Editor's note: This is a sponsored blog post from Penn State.

1 comments; last comment on 04/24/2016

Earning a Degree Online — More Accessible Than You Think

Posted April 03, 2016 12:00 AM by Penn State

Contributed by Penn State World Campus

For some working professionals, the decision to reengage with higher education can feel daunting. While they may want to advance their careers by completing an unfinished degree, or pursuing a new degree altogether, they might wonder if they're prepared for the endeavor.

Common questions that you, as a prospective student, may ask:

"How will I find time in my busy schedule to engage in online learning?"

One of the primary benefits of pursuing an education online is the flexibility you'll enjoy. Many degrees, including the Penn State World Campus online graduate engineering programs are structured to accommodate even the most demanding schedules of working professionals. Learning at your own pace, on your own time, from almost anywhere, makes it easier than ever for employed adult students to acquire additional education.

"Will I have the opportunity to interact directly with my instructor and classmates?"

The best institutions of higher learning tailor their programs to allow students to communicate with their classmates and their instructor. Online communication tools like email and instant messaging give students the opportunity to participate in one-on-one dialogues, while blogs, message boards, and social media lend themselves to multiperson "classroom" conversations. Some professors even encourage their students to communicate with them during virtual office hours.

"Is pursuing a degree something that I can afford?"

Penn State World Campus will work to help address payment options and find financial aid, and in some cases, your employer may work to help you find the most cost-effective way to reengage your education. Additionally, a higher level of education can help open doors for you to advance to higher-paying opportunities in your current profession, or in a new profession altogether.

"Do I have access to the technology I'll need to fully participate in online learning?"

You might be surprised to discover just how low the technology threshold for a robust online education is. If you can send/receive email, browse the web, use social media, and stream videos, you most likely have the technology you need to pursue your education online.

What can Penn State World Campus do for you?

When you pursue an engineering degree through Penn State World Campus, you can rest assured that you'll be partnering with a well-respected institution that offers a high-quality education to help you advance your career and enrich your understanding of your field of choice.

Editor's Note: This is a sponsored blog post by Penn State.

1 comments; last comment on 04/08/2016

Posted December 06, 2015 7:00 AM by Purdue_MSE_Online

Applying to a graduate school program - traditional or online - can be stressful. Purdue Engineering Professional Education offers several different graduate programs, certificates, and professional development options. Therefore, we get A LOT of questions about what to include in an application. We sat down with our Graduate Admission and Enrollment Coordinator, Carrie Clark, to get some tips on what the admission committee looks for in an application and how to keep the process from being too demanding.

What advice do you have for students writing their Statement of Purpose?

The main goal of the statement is to detail why you believe you would be a great fit for the program. You are trying to sell yourself to the admission committee. Think of it as an interview. Describe your past/current jobs, skills and any awards you have received.

Regarding gathering letters of recommendations, what advice do you have for students who have been out of school for a bit?

Ask a recommender who can talk about different aspects of your abilities. They must be able to attest to your potential as a graduate student, as well as work performance. Academic references are not a requirement, simply a suggestion.

If an applicant is rushing to meet an application deadline, what advice do you have for them?

Don't rush. If the deadline is vastly approaching, think about starting out as non-degree seeking. If you want to apply to the degree program, contact the department you are applying too and see what they suggest.