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An Introduction to Student Development


Why We Do the Things We Do

Change is Needed

The shift to a global economy, the move to lean management structures, and the need to serve an increasingly diverse learning community requires a new approach to engineering education.  It requires a transformative curriculum that not only embraces the changing requirements sought by industry, it requires a model that develops the complex thinking skills required to help industries be successful in today’s global market place.  South Dakota is one of ten states to join the Partnership for 21st Century Skills, which stresses critical thinking, problem solving, communications, and technology literacy.  Most companies that come to SDSM&T to interview know that prospective hires have the technical skills that they need but technical skills are but one of 9-11 different metrics companies look at when hiring.  Companies now look for value added opportunities in business, management, leadership skills, the ability to work on multi-disciplinary teams, and creative problem solving. 

And industry isn't alone in this.  Calls for greater accountability in higher education are becoming more strident than ever.  Engineering Education is rapidly becoming a research discipline in its own right.  And, as this research develops, we are finding more and more that the traditional standards for engineering education simply are not going to develop the kinds of engineers needed for the 221st Century.  NSF is raising the assessment bar in all of its educational programs.  The American Board for Engineers in Training (ABET), which accredits university engineering programs, now insists on a rigorous program of continuous improvement that includes components of intellectual development and lifelong learning. 

The literature base is expansive and growing every day.  While the U.S. higher education system is one of the best in the world, there is room for improvement.  One of the clarion calls associated with 21st Century Skills is a need to ensure that students understand fundamental concepts and can transfer these fundamental skills to new technologies and to new problems for which a general theory may not yet exist.  While the literature is replete with examples across all disciplines, this is perhaps best exemplified in a recent study of Ivy League graduates. 

What Change is Needed

Very few companies stress only technical skills anymore.  Some companies stress corporate culture and the ability to work on multi-disciplinary teams.  Others focus on value added opportunities to understand the impact of globalization and lean enterprise management.  Still others focus on leadership skills or creative problem solving skills.  South Dakota currently has a focus on technology innovation, economic development, and critical thinking.  Regardless of the industry, almost all of the hiring metrics used by industry today can be restated within one or more frameworks for cognitive development.  The Industrial Engineering department has adopted an three tiered framework for cognitive development as a mechanism for bridging the needs of students, industry requirements, and the theoretical educational frameworks needed to bring these changes about.  We call this overall model the Holistic Learner Development (HLD) model which values

  • Alternative modes of intellectual inquiry

  • Social development

  • Intellectual development

  • Identity development

  • Learning neighborhoods

From these fundamental theoretical frameworks, we derive the basic philosophy and core values for the department. 


Summary of Educational Strategies

The implication for the students is relatively simple.  We recognize that students learn in different ways and, to the extent possible, we seek to provide a curriculum that embraces these differences.  At the same time, we recognize that challenge without support is likely to lead to retreat on the cognitive scale but that support with little challenge is likely to lead to stasis (no growth).  Finally, we recognize maximal growth is most likely to come from pedagogies of engagement which means fewer lectures, more active and cooperative learning, and a variety of real world projects that support intellectual diversity.  We provide more on the educational strategies at the close of this unit. 



Industrial Engineering Department, South Dakota School of Mines & Technology, Rapid City, SD  57701