In its recent report The Engineer of 2020: Visions of Engineering in the New Century, the U.S.-based National Academy of Engineering outlined the various fields in which students educated in engineering might go on to be leaders, including research, product and system development, business and even broader professions. The NAE concludes that:

“In preparation for this opportunity, engineers must understand the principles of leadership and be able to practice them in growing proportions as their careers advance. Complementary to the necessity for strong leadership ability is the need to also possess a working framework upon which high ethical standards and a strong sense of professionalism can be developed.”

Echoing that sentiment, in Spring 2006, a Massachusetts Institute of Technology Task Force on the Undergraduate Educational Commons stated: “A MIT education should be designed to encourage students to assume leadership roles in a global society.”

MIT's existing academic engineering programs provide a firm basis of disciplinary knowledge and the modes of thought critical to the particular field'principally problem solving and research for engineers; and courses in the humanities and social sciences offer other disciplines with new ways of thinking and experiencing the world.

We acknowledge, however, that while MIT produces some of the best-educated engineers in the world, many of our graduates do not possess strong leadership skills. We further acknowledge that we could do a better job of preparing our students in the broader array of personal and professional capabilities from which they will draw in life:

The Bernard M. Gordon-MIT Engineering Leadership Program responds to the calls of the engineering profession and seeks to fill the gaps in the traditional MIT education, helping to prepare our engineering undergraduate students for the leadership roles in life.

“In the Gordon-MIT Engineering Leadership Program, students develop their integrity, discipline and a stronger character and an understanding of other human beings,” says Program Benefactor Bernard M. Gordon (MIT '48, M.S. '49), whose Bernard M. Gordon Foundation donated $20 million to start the program. “These essential leadership qualities — along with their technical ability — will help them prepare for the real-life situations they'll confront in the competitive technical world.”

Housed in MIT's School of Engineering, the Gordon ELP aim is to transform today's engineering undergraduates into tomorrow's engineering leaders. The program strives to do so through a unique combination of project-based learning, extensive interaction with industry leaders, hands-on product development, engineering leadership labs, and authentic leadership challenges and exercises.

The program's educational objective is therefore to provide opportunities for all engineering students to further develop, deepen, and broaden their engineering leadership attitudes and skills.

In specially designed “short courses”, students accepted into the Gordon-MIT ELP are exposed to relevant frameworks, models, and cases. A select group of approximately 30 “Gordon Engineering Leaders” apply and practice the approaches gleaned through that exposure in weekly “Engineering Leadership Labs” (ELLs). Guided learning activities in the ELLs include role-plays, simulations, design-implement activities, and analyses of case studies, films, and books related to engineering leadership.

The program's engineering leadership lessons are delivered through an alliance of program faculty and staff, MIT departments, related MIT programs, MIT alumni, concerned industry representatives, all of whom interact synergistically with undergraduates.

Both at the introductory (freshman and sophomore) and advanced (junior and senior) levels, the Gordon-MIT ELP enhances current hands-on, project-based courses and inspires the design and development of new and authentic project-based courses throughout MIT's engineering disciplines.

“To my knowledge, this program is unique in what it's offering,” says Dr. Ruth Graham, whom the program commissioned to conduct a benchmarking study of engineering leadership education programs worldwide (see Materials Today, September 2008).

“Most programs I highlight in the report are extra-curricular and cater to only a small proportion of the engineering cohort. In contrast, the Gordon-MIT ELP is offered to all MIT engineering students and provides a range of curricular and extra-curricular experiences. It also has an aggressive external distribution objective, which will provide much needed support and information to other engineering schools interested in developing the leadership abilities of their students.” Finally, she adds, “Through the Gordon-MIT ELP, MIT is developing a model that others can learn from, and that will potentially contribute to developing the next generation of engineering leaders.”

“What's important in engineering education? Making universities and engineering schools exciting, creative, adventurous, rigorous, demanding and empowering environments is more important than specifying curricular details,” says Dr. Charles Vest, NAE President and former President of MIT. “The Gordon-MIT Engineering Leadership Program is an example of how MIT is working to empower today's engineering undergraduates with critical leadership skills that will help them to become tomorrow's engineering leaders.”

For more information, visit

Read full text on ScienceDirect

DOI: 10.1016/S1369-7021(09)70285-8