In 2010, the MIT School of Engineering launched a degree option that responds to the evolving desires of our undergraduate students and to emerging changes in the engineering professions, while remaining true to the School’s tradition of rigorous technical education. Engineering today is characterized by increasing globalization, multidisciplinary practice, and connectivity with fields traditionally considered to be outside of engineering. The education MIT gives its engineers must suit this changing landscape.
A flexible engineering program has existed for some time in Mechanical Engineering (Course 2-A). Using the School's framework for a flexible degree option, Aeronautics and Astronautics and Chemical Engineering have mroe recently launched their own versions (courses 16-ENG and 10-ENG). In these programs, students satisfy department-based core requirements and declare an additional concentration, which can be broad and interdisciplinary in nature (energy, transportation, or the environment), or focused on areas that can be applied to multiple fields (robotics and controls, computational engineering, or engineering management). Students can also create their own concentrations under supervision from department faculty.
The result is a program that educates, to borrow a phrase from Charles Vest, “a nimble, new kind of engineer.” As President of the National Academy of Engineering and president emeritus of MIT, Vest has noted that the nation and world “will call on engineers to seize opportunities and solve global problems of unprecedented scope and scale.” He commissioned an NAE study, The Engineer of 2020: Visions of Engineering in the New Century, that envisions engineering graduates who are leaders capable of influencing industry and research organizations, informing public policy decisions, and helping their fields—and others—adapt to changes in global forces and trends.
The flexible engineering degree program resulted from a faculty-led, School-wide strategic planning effort initiated in 2007. The faculty investigated the emergence of similar (but not comparable) programs at peer schools, worked with educators around the Institute, and polled students and alumni to determine the viability and potential for this new offering. The need for a mechanism through which engineering students could create new, self-directed educational opportunities for themselves—within and across the rigor of their disciplines—emerged as a clear priority.
The precedent for the MIT flexible engineering degree program lies in the Department of Mechanical Engineering, which has been offering a flexible curriculum for interested students (Course 2-A) since 1934. 2-A students tailor their educational experience to their needs and interests, yet their training is grounded in mechanical engineering fundamentals. They can choose from such pre-approved tracks as biomedical engineering and pre-medicine, energy conversion, engineering management, product development, robotics, sustainable development, or architecture and building technology, or they can build their own concentration under guidance from a faculty member. Course 2-A has seen a steady gain in popularity, especially since its accreditation by ABET in 2002. Now more than half of all MechE students choose the 2-A degree option.