Qatar will rely on strong leaders in engineering and science to address the nation’s future energy and environmental challenges, leading international experts said Sunday 9 November 2014 during the opening session of the Engineering Leaders Conference on Engineering Education.

John Lienhard, M.D. Anderson Professor of Technology and Culture and professor of mechanical engineering emeritus at the University of Houston, said:

Here in Qatar, one of the biggest challenges is providing clean water, for example. Other regions will have different priorities, but none of those challenges will be met unless high school students are drawn into the STEM — science, technology, engineering and math fields and ultimately equipped to deal with real human needs. These challenges, however, provide means to stimulate learning that will shape a better world.’

These findings came out of the conference’s opening panel discussion, which included three members of the elite US National Academy of Engineering. Dr M. Katherine Banks, a member of the National Academy of Engineering, and vice chancellor and dean of engineering at Texas A&M University in College Station, Texas, USA, said:

To prepare the next generation of engineers who will solve the grand challenges of today and those that develop in the future, we must begin educating our engineering students to be out-of-the-box thinkers who create rather than incrementally design. It is critical that we transform our educational practices today with experiential learning and leadership opportunities to foster keen appreciation for the interconnected nature of the world’s most daunting problems.’

The three-day Engineering Leaders Conference, organised by Texas A&M University at Qatar, brought more than 100 speakers and presenters from 25 countries on six continents to Doha to discuss education of engineers for the Grand Challenges for Engineering, a list of 14 global imperatives to be addressed by engineering disciplines in the 21st century. Lienhard, also a member of the National Academy of Engineering, said education should draw students into these real-world problems. He said:

We must make clear connections between the deep theoretical underpinnings of the STEM subjects and the invention of new technologies to meet the world’s grand challenges.’

Dr Mark H Weichold, dean and CEO of Texas A&M at Qatar, said the conference represents direct efforts to support Qatar’s human and social development, which, through engineers and scientists, will drive the country’s economic and environmental development. Weichold also thanked Maersk Oil Qatar, the conference’s exclusive sponsor and industry partner, for its visionary leadership in supporting the meeting of academics from around the world. He said:

Texas A&M at Qatar is grateful for the partnership and support of Maersk Oil Qatar for sponsoring the 2014 Engineering Leaders Conference on Engineering Education and for its assistance in helping engineer leaders who can address grand challenges. Through this collaboration and others like it, Maersk Oil Qatar and Texas A&M at Qatar are making a real difference in STEM education locally and in engineering the leaders of tomorrow. I would like to thank supporting industry and education attendees and speakers, as well as our visiting National Academy of Engineering members for their valuable input into discussions that will help shape the future of engineering education.’

Maersk Oil Qatar Managing Director Lewis Affleck said Maersk Oil’s sponsorship of the conference reflects the company’s strong commitment to supporting Qatar’s development of a knowledge-based economy. Speaking on the opening day of the event, Affleck said:

Maersk Oil recognises the importance of nurturing and developing local talent and we are pleased to work with Texas A&M University at Qatar on the Engineering Leaders Conference 2014, which will help to share good-practices in engineering education, and therefore benefit educational institutions — and future engineering students — here in Qatar. Our partnership with Texas A&M at Qatar, one of the world’s leading engineering institutions, shows how industry and academia can successfully work together to promote engineering education and build capacity in STEM disciplines for the benefit of society. We are proud of this collaboration and believe that it will bring real long-term value to Qatar, and beyond.’

Conference speakers are addressing globalisation of engineering, instructional technology, curriculum design and engineering ethics, among other topics. The conference also includes several talks about development in STEM disciplines among young people. Affleck added:

I am confident that the Engineering Leaders Conference will present a real opportunity for meaningful dialogue and transformative collaborations. The new student, educator and professional development streams in the conference this year also reflect an all-inclusive approach to building capacity and knowledge and furthering engineering education. And that’s great to see.’

Texas A&M University, recognised as having one of the premier engineering programmes in the world, has offered undergraduate degrees in chemical, electrical, mechanical and petroleum engineering at Qatar Foundation’s Education City campus since 2003, and graduate courses in chemical engineering since fall 2011. More than 500 engineers have graduated from Texas A&M at Qatar since 2007. In addition to engineering courses, Texas A&M at Qatar provides classes in science, mathematics, liberal arts and the humanities.