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Review of Global Trends in Knowledge, Skills, and Abilities (KSA) Frameworks Applicable to Ph.D. Programs in Engineering

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2018 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


Salt Lake City, Utah

Publication Date

June 23, 2018

Start Date

June 23, 2018

End Date

July 27, 2018

Conference Session

Professional Skills for Graduate Students

Tagged Division

Graduate Studies

Tagged Topic


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Paper Authors


Eric Holloway Purdue University, West Lafayette Orcid 16x16

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Eric Holloway currently serves as the Senior Director of Industry Research in the College of Engineering at Purdue University, where he focuses on industry research in the College of Engineering.

From 2007-2013, Eric served as the Managing Director and the Director of Instructional Laboratories in the School of Engineering Education at Purdue University. As Director, he was in charge of the building and implementation of the Ideas to Innovation (i2i) Laboratory, which opened in August 2008 and houses classrooms and laboratories used by the 2000 students in Purdue’s First-Year Engineering Program. He oversaw the daily operation of the i2i lab, and was responsible for the personnel, logistics, and technology used in the classroom and labs. Eric also helped build and directed the College of Engineering sponsored Artisan and Fabrication Lab (AFL), which houses a machine shop, carpentry shop, and a prototyping lab used by all students in the College of Engineering for project work. In 2009, he received a New Employee Staff Award of Excellence from the College of Engineering for his work in launching the i2i lab. Eric has served as the university representative on the Haas Technical Education Council, which is committed to developing manufacturing expertise at the high school, trade school, and university level. He received a BSEE from Purdue University in 1992. He has over 15 years of industrial experience, specializing in manufacturing and electronic controls, for which he holds 3 patents. Eric’s industrial experience includes positions at Toyota, Cummins, Woodward, and TRW Automotive. He is currently pursuing his PhD in Engineering Education from Purdue, with an expected graduation date of 2020.

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David F. Radcliffe Swinburne University of Technology

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Dr. Radcliffe's research focuses on the nature of engineering; engineering habits of mind, how engineering knowledge is created and shared and how it is learned especially outside the classroom. Over the past 30 years, he has conducted field research on the practice of engineering design, new product development and innovation in variety of industries, in large and small firms with an emphasis on design thinking, most recently in relation to sustainability. He also studies engineering education as a complex system, and the design and evaluation of next generation learning environments. This research is intrinsically multidisciplinary and draws on methodologies from the humanities, social and behavioral sciences and involves collaboration with anthropologists, learning scientists, librarians, designers, and architects.

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Lists of desired knowledge, skills, and abilities (KSA) are widespread in undergraduate engineering programs (e.g., ABET Criteria 3; NAE Engineer of 2020 list of student attributes; ASEE’s TUEE report). In contrast, such KSA frameworks are less well developed in engineering graduate programs in the US. While some reviews of graduate education over the past decade have emphasized its traditional role of maintaining the pipeline of students for the professoriate, i.e., as future "stewards of the discipline," other reports have stressed the need to foster the development of broader professional skills in graduate students with a view to possible careers outside of the academy, especially in industry. This paper presents a critical review of the different ways these broader KSAs of Ph.D. graduates have been characterized and explores the potential application of such frameworks to engineering graduate programs. The paper draws on reports from Australia, Canada, Europe and the UK on the professional development of graduate students as well as some from the US. As occurs with KSA frameworks for undergraduate programs, the objective is to align expectations of all the stakeholders (e.g., students, industry, academics, universities, and government). However, in the context of graduate programs, these are presented in less prescriptive terms. Relationships between particular training programs and types of experiences as graduate students and the attainment of specific knowledge, skills, and abilities are less clear and reliable methods to measure the outcomes are still very much in their infancy. As most of the frameworks were developed for Ph.D.s in general, and in non-US settings, some adaptation is required when applying to local engineering graduate programs.

Holloway, E., & Radcliffe, D. F. (2018, June), Review of Global Trends in Knowledge, Skills, and Abilities (KSA) Frameworks Applicable to Ph.D. Programs in Engineering Paper presented at 2018 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition , Salt Lake City, Utah. 10.18260/1-2--30938

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