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The Cinderella of the chemical engineering curriculum

A former president of the Institution of Chemical Engineers (IChemE), Professor Sir William Wakeham, is calling for the process systems engineering community to take a greater role in delivery of the chemical engineering curriculum.

Systems engineering is a discipline that has the widest possible application in designing, managing, controlling and operating complex plants and projects such as process plants, manufacturing systems, bridge building, spacecraft design and robotics.

Indeed, increasingly, systems engineering is the solution to the grand challenges that face society – which are large, complex and systemic in nature – and to which engineering can contribute.

However, in chemical engineering undergraduate courses, systems engineering is rarely used as the framework for the discipline. It is taught as yet one more topic, and introduced late in the course.

Professor Sir William Wakeham, a past president of IChemE, senior vice president of the Royal Academy of Engineering and former head of the Department of Chemical Engineering at Imperial College London, is calling for a change to the chemical engineering curriculum to give more emphasis to systems engineering.

Sir William said: “I would argue that for too long systems engineering has been somewhat of a Cinderella subject in the curriculum.

“However, when you look at the current modern role of chemical and process engineers, and their importance to society, it is clear that they are at the heart of many complex and fundamental activities.

“Chemical engineers are not just specialists, but they are also agents for change operating across boundaries – technical and organisational – in complex business environments.”

IChemE’s former president continued: “Systems engineering is often seen as peripheral or an add-on to other aspects of an undergraduate programme, but this may be inappropriate if we are to prepare students for a leading role in the complex world of modern engineering.

“Systems engineering should have an overarching and leading role in chemical engineering teaching today to ensure that chemical engineers fulfil their potential in areas such as energy, water, food and health.”

Sir William will be presenting his thoughts on the professional role of chemical engineers, the challenges for the modern chemical engineering curriculum to prepare students appropriately, and the central role that systems engineering have to play in a special IChemE online webinar called Process Systems Engineering: an enhanced role in the curriculum? on 3 February 2014, 10:00-11:00, GMT (9:00 pm – 10:00 pm AEST)

The role of chemical engineers in the health, water, food and energy sectors is explored in IChemE’s latest technical strategy, Chemical Engineering Matters.

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