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Developing Global Competence In Engineers: What Does It Mean? What Is Most Important?

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2009 Annual Conference & Exposition


Austin, Texas

Publication Date

June 14, 2009

Start Date

June 14, 2009

End Date

June 17, 2009



Conference Session

Global Engineering Education: Developments, Implementations

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Page Count


Page Numbers

14.455.1 - 14.455.13



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Paper Authors

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Alan Parkinson Brigham Young University

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John Harb Brigham Young University

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Spencer Magleby Brigham Young University

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NOTE: The first page of text has been automatically extracted and included below in lieu of an abstract

Developing Global Competence in Engineers: What Does It Mean? What is Most Important?

Abstract A number of recent reports on the future of engineering education recommend that engineers develop “global competence.” Although this term is becoming more widely used, it isn’t always clear what it means. In this paper, we propose and define 13 dimensions or attributes of global competence. We report on the results of a survey of engineering educators and industry representatives on the importance of these attributes. This survey was initially conducted as part of a National Science Foundation sponsored summit on global engineering education.

Introduction: Why Global Competence? In this paper we discuss what it means for engineers to develop global competence and why such competence is important. The globalization of engineering has been the result of a confluence of forces and changes taking place over the past two decades. 1 Perhaps ironically, technology developed by engineers has been a main driving force acting to change engineering practice. For example, advances in telecommunications now make possible inexpensive, real-time communication virtually anywhere in the world. Although now considered commonplace, this is a monumental achievement in the history of humankind. Worldwide communications have been accompanied by the development of low cost computing and the rise of the Internet as a means for organizing and sharing data.

Along with technology, major geopolitical and economic changes have also facilitated the globalization of engineering. The past 20 years have seen the dissolution of the Soviet Union, whereby the 15 member states declared their independence and moved toward open societies and market economies. The European Union was formed and has become one of the largest single markets in the world, with a combined $17 trillion economy.2 China and India, representing more than one third of the world’s population, have become important players in global markets and technology development. Across the world, free trade barriers have dropped, and the influence of multi-national corporations has increased.3

As a result of these changes, product design and manufacture often cut across national boundaries. It is not uncommon for companies to develop products with teams that include members located throughout the world. These teams may reflect high cultural and national diversity. The products they design will often be for sale in numerous countries and therefore must address customer needs in those countries. Products may be manufactured abroad, with raw materials or sub-assemblies coming from various parts of the world. These changes require that engineers be able to work in a diverse, multi-national and multi-cultural environment.

Besides these influences, however, perhaps the most compelling reason for global competence relates to the nature and scope of the problems faced by humankind. Recently, for example, the National Academy of Engineering issued a list of grand challenges for engineering. 4 Many of these are global in scope and relate to sustaining life on the planet, such as making solar energy economical, providing energy from fusion, developing carbon

Parkinson, A., & Harb, J., & Magleby, S. (2009, June), Developing Global Competence In Engineers: What Does It Mean? What Is Most Important? Paper presented at 2009 Annual Conference & Exposition, Austin, Texas. 10.18260/1-2--4846

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