Goals of an Engineering Research University

I was curious what one would need to focus on if they were going to create an engineering research program. With this aim, I compared the Mission Statement of two electrical and computer engineering departments: Virginia Tech (Blacksburg, VA), and MIT (Cambridge, MA). Both are research universities, though Virginia Tech (VT) is a public university while MIT is private. VT has a much larger undergraduate base, while MIT has a larger research portfolio.

Virginia Tech
Undergraduates: ~23,000
Graduates: ~6,500
Endowment: ~$800 million

Undergraduates: ~4,500
Graduates: ~6,500
Endowment: ~$13.5 billion

Overall, both universities have similar tenets in their mission statement. Not surprisingly, both discuss research as an important part of the program’s structure. The department should perform cutting edge research, and provide these opportunities to the student.

Important traits of graduating students should be:

  • foundational knowledge in math, science, and engineering
  • ability to problem solve
  • ability to communicate
  • understand ethical concerns
  • have an appreciation for life-long learning

These traits were shared by VT and MIT. Virginia Tech in addition stressed the ability to design, to work in teams, and to understand modern issues and tools. In contrast MIT discussed more the path of a student in their program, starting with “foundation subjects”, selecting “header subjects” to focus on, and then concentrating further on their chosen “intellectual themes”. Here, MIT expresses the ability of their students to study what interests them most.

To achieve these various goals, both universities place an importance on recruiting skilled faculty. Professors and researchers are able to create and run labs, which allow them to produce research while also opening the door for students. Similarly, through courses skilled professors are able to help endow and inspire the desired knowledge, skills, and attitudes in graduating students.