Engineering as a Career Choice? Stanford Engineering Dean Sounds Off

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Engineering as a Career Choice? Stanford Engineering Dean Sounds Off

At a recent SEMI HTU program at SEMI headquarters in San Jose, California, students gained valuable insights into pursuing engineering as a career. Jim Plummer, dean of the Stanford School of Engineering, presented and used the semiconductor industry as an example.

While he acknowledged that engineering has changed significantly over the years, he also pointed out three of the major changes that have occurred and dramatically impacted the field. According to his presentation, these changes include:

  • The advent and proliferation of the Internet and the ability to retrieve information from anywhere, at anytime
  • The global reach and unpredictability of careers, as well as the need for lifelong learning to remain viable
  • The rapid changes in technology and the continuing need for innovation.

Taking those three key points into account, Plummer discussed the critical skills undergraduate engineering students need to be successful in the field. In addition to the obvious need for technical depth of knowledge in the field, he emphasized the need for creativity, entrepreneurial outlook, good communications skills, and global knowledge and experience. Summing up the needs, Plummer explained that the ideal candidates for these positions are “T-shaped people,” or people that have both a breadth of knowledge entrepreneurship, creativity and innovation, and a depth of knowledge in a technical discipline.

“Since the inception of the HTU program, we have instilled this knowledge into our students, so to have Jim here to speak on behalf of academia was a great benefit for the participants,” said Lisa Anderson, vice president of the SEMI Foundation. “It is important that students come away from the program with a more holistic view of what they can expect when considering educational and career paths in high-tech.”

During the presentation, Plummer also discussed the proliferation of entrepreneurship programs, which are being established in many universities. Stanford University is among those who have such a program, and it has established the Stanford Technology Ventures Program (STVP), which is designed to provide its students with a comprehensive set of courses geared at developing the entrepreneurial outlook.

“Entrepreneurship is a mindset, and outlook that shapes the way you see the world and the possibilities that it holds,” said Plummer. “It is born of a basic dissatisfaction with the status quo, and it is the courage to say to yourself, ‘this could be better’.” He also elaborated on other program facets designed to instill students with skills that would allow them to work as parts of diverse teams, build global knowledge and experience, and develop more effective communications styles.

Plummer gave the students a more in-depth look at the current state of the semiconductor industry, and again emphasized the further need for innovation, pointing out that beyond 2020, new and currently unknown innovations will be required to continue scaling devices. He drew an important parallel between semiconductors and new energy opportunities, as he illustrated current world energy usage, and then projected demand for energy over the next 30 years. He observed that world energy demand could almost double in the next thirty years, and that basing the future energy on fossil fuels is not viable on either a supply basis or environmental basis. To present an alternative to the current energy regime and highlight some key opportunities, Plummer discussed the entrance of semiconductors into the solar cell business, and provided some insights into companies that had made the move.

“Jim’s presentation provided HTU students with a realistic view of the industry as it currently stands, and also an idea of where it is headed,” said Anderson. “What got us through the first 45 years, is not necessarily what is going to get us through the next 45 years, and that was a very important message to the participants. They understand that they could become the innovators of future technologies that could carry us well into the 22nd century.”

SEMI High Tech U is an industry-driven math and science-based career exploration program for high school students and teachers.

For more information on HTU, or to host, sponsor or volunteer for a program, please visit, or or call 408.943.7860.

March 3, 2009