Several years ago, I worked with some fellow propellerheads to launch a nanotechnology initiative in my state. That is, engineering devices at the atomic and molecular level. There were several local companies already working peripheral technologies like MEMS (Micro-electro-mechanical systems) and plenty of interest in taking machines to their ultimate, small incarnations.
A natural component to our new society of industry, economic development groups and chambers of commerce was partnership with higher education. So we teamed up with local universities to encourage their offering related majors, with requirements in physics and chemistry. Industry envisioned expanding revenue, communities saw economic expansion, and educators saw funding opportunities.
But the lovefest among the dreamers came to an abrupt pause during one planning session. The state university was hosting a session of about 100 enthusiastic entrepreneurial spirits when one elbow-patched professor suggested that private industry require that all their new-hire engineers hold a new degree in nanotechnology.
Require? The response from one business operator went something like, “We like the idea of having higher-ed partners. But why would we limit ourselves to only hiring specialists with a particular degree?” The immediate and earnest response from the professor was, “How else will you know if they are qualified to perform the work?” The hushed reaction from everyone in the room was quieter than if Professor Patches had just farted in church. The small business CEO eventually broke the silence with, “This is our area of expertise. I think we will be able to assess whether an applicant knows the work.”
That awkward exchange provides a glimpse into the incestuous culture of education. And let me pause here to illuminate my support and enthusiasm for the business of education. I deeply value the quality of teaching that I personally received both in high school (at the prestigious Colegio San Antonio Abad – Go Hermits!) and my college alma mater where I am honored to serve on the Board of Trustees (Columbia College – Go Cougars!). But I will suggest in a most assertive way that teachers need to get out more.