Creative Education
2012. Vol.3, Special Issue, 733-736
Published Online October 2012 in SciRes (
Copyright © 2012 SciRes. 733
Updating Engineering Education in the Southern Cone:
Creativity and Innovation
Ricardo L. Armentano1,2
1Favaloro University, Buenos Aires, Argentina
2National Technological Universi t y, Buenos Aires, Argentina
Received August 31st, 2012; revise d S e p t e mber 30th, 2012; accepted October 15th, 2012
Most of our secondary school graduates have poor skills in mathematics and sciences. This negative
handicap makes them refractory to study engineering or science, thus reaching a minimum of aspirants.
The innovation we foresee and wish to promote across our countries will undoubtedly require of the
alumni, who possess solid bases to design and create products with an important added value, in order to
satisfy demands and exceed the expectations in this era, where technology evolves very fast. Creativity
awakens the power of our numbed imagination; it is boldness, adventure, discovering and learning from
change. To provoke creativity, few things are as important as the time that is dedicated to the cross-pol-
lination with other fields. Many countries are revising the programs of scientific education and the appli-
cation of new pedagogic paradigms that tend to revert the downward trend of enrollments. We propose a
palliative measure, consisting of an introductory course that strives for the training of students in the
Stokes diagram, called Pasteur quadrant, seeking to concentrate the scientific task according to the exis-
tent knowledge concepts, in the fact that engineering is the motor of innovation, through increasing and
consolidating the creative process, teaching them to think and stimulating their critical mind by means of
peer teaching.
Keywords: Engineering Education; Teaching for Creativity; Innovation
That a nation needs to create wealth to be thriving is a truism.
Cartesian essays and exuberant speeches assert that such wealth
is reached through added value: integrating knowledge to
products and processes, which are later sold worldwide. How-
ever, the key question is: how does research in universities
contribute to the creation of wealth? The excellence in science
and engineering research in universities is linked to the creation
of wealth in the economy of a country in three ways:
by supplying students who graduate and add up-to-date
knowledge in the top areas of science and engineering, tak-
ing into account that their instructors are creators of
knowledge in those areas themselves;
through the establishment of joint research partnerships
between universities and businesses, to be able to develop
innovative products and processes, and guarantee their
rapid insertion into the markets;
through inventions developed by basic research, an indis-
putable element of innovation, which become commercial-
ized throughout the country.
Thinking linearly—and quite naively—a stronger R&D pro-
motion will result in more innovation in all areas of the regional
and national industry, with more international and regional
presence of these local innovations in goods and services. It
would undoubtedly strengthen prosperity by creating wealth,
both individual and collective, thus increasing investments in
support of our values: health, infant welfare, education, envi-
ronment, etc., achieving a higher standard of living in the coun-
try. But reality dictates that this trajectory is as linear and sim-
ple as whistling in the wind.
Bernardo A. Houssay, one of the three Nobel laureates of Ar-
gentina, warned about the three main factors that hinder pro-
gress (Houssay, 1952). He said the first and most powerful was
misoneism: the resistance to anything new, with eagerness to
avoid the innovation that inevitably comes from each scientific
advance. The second was the excessive concern for immediate
application, an idea common to backward societies, or a sign of
decadence in developed ones. Last was the local, professional
or nationalist pride; a mix of ignorance, immaturity and self-
defense of the mediocre.
The great challenge of the present University is to ensure a
microclimate where the best science and technology can be
exercised, and, at the same time, to conduct students to the
complete development of their potential as individuals, citizens
and workers; to put ideas into action; to generate new under-
standings concomitant to the use of technology, the paradigm of
the research oriented to innovation; to pursue the welfare of
society and to improve the life of people through a continuous
advance in quality, cost reduction and the conservation of the
environment. This endeavor is only possible when distin-
guished faculty and talented students are confined under ade-
quate pressure and temperature conditions, incorporating a
hallmark, mens et mania, acting as a catalyst in this reaction
(Keyser, 2011). And fundamentally, assuming individual and
institutional maturity to judge and appreciate a culture that
celebrates rareness, the ability to choose, independence, entre-
preneur spirit, concentration, creativity and passion (Keyser,
2011). But overall, to sustain this culture with a high degree of
tenacity, dealing with the undeniable truth: most of our second-
dary school graduates have poor skills in mathematics and sci-
ences, worsening the uncertainty of teenagers, the weakest link
in the social chain, but nevertheless the strongest in terms of
vital energy. Let us not forget that teenagers carry the troubles
of our civilization in a very intense manner (Morin, 2011). This
negative handicap makes them refractory to study engineering
or science, thus reaching a minimum minimorum of aspirants.
Whereas in China and Japan more than two thirds of university
students choose to study Science or Engineering, in the EU
36% of students do, and in the USA, 24%. According to unof-
ficial data, in Argentina only 8% of students choose Engineer-
ing, IT, Physics or Mathematics degrees, whereas 40% is en-
rolled in Social Sciences, Psychology or Philosophy degrees. It
is said that Argentina produces five times more psychologists
than engineers (Oppenheimer, 2011). In 2010, in Uruguay, 26%
of students chose Liberal Arts related degrees, 19% of students
chose Economics or Business Administration, and only 8.2%
techno-scientific degrees. China, as well as India, is creating a
techno-scientific globalized elite, capable of competing with the
most industrialized countries. Furthermore, there is a great
amount of Asian students in universities in Europe and the
USA. In the meantime, the number of South American students,
studying locally or abroad, is at a standstill or decreasing. It is
noteworthy that this reality occurs as all of the achievements of
the 20th century change our habitat. So many complex accom-
plishments have subliminally become a part of our daily lives,
that engineering and—above all—engineering research are taken
for granted and go unnoticed, although without them, we be-
lieve, the world would be less accessible, poorer and, above all,
less interesting.
Focus on Innovation
What do we understand by Engineering Research? It is sim-
ply the motor of innovation. In a global economy driven by
knowledge, technological innovation—the transformation of
knowledge into products, processes and services—is essential
for competitiveness, for long-term growth of productivity and
for wealth creation. The pre-eminence in technological innova-
tion requires leadership in all aspects of engineering: research
as a bridge between scientific discoveries and practical applica-
tions, the teaching of skills needed to create and exploit
knowledge and technological innovation, and the practice of
engineering to translate knowledge into innovation, competitive
products and services. By combining research with education,
we not only seize the creativity of the young, but also their
training in analytical thinking and in research methodologies,
and their solid knowledge of science and engineering, thus
tacitly generating brilliant young teacher researchers. This is
how we face the great threat of engineering: the aging of the
faculty members’ concomitant with the obsolescence of the
infrastructure. Engineering professors are rapidly aging, and
together with other factors such as the slim financial support of
the last years, the absence of long term commitments, the lack
of interdisciplinary research and curricular innovation, the vi-
cious circle that sets apart young people from engineering
schools strengthens. On the other hand, with the collaboration
of the industries and laboratories, universities can gather ex-
perts in several disciplines, in order to investigate and satisfy
the needs of a certain product or service with a high added
value. At the same time, university students can develop their
scientific thinking and simultaneously gain comprehension
about the forces of the markets through internships and in-
volvement in research projects, development and innovation.
The academia-industry interaction, as well as the support of
governmental agencies, can create enough resources for engi-
neering universities to be able to modernize their facilities, and
by this, making the specialty much more attractive to the new
generations, and to engage students to complete their degrees.
The installation of laboratories with state-of-the-art technology
can enhance the quality of engineering education to a great
extent, and create opportunities for thousands of young creative
people to contribute to the innovation process. The increase in
funding for research in engineering would also create opportu-
nities of attracting talented citizens from all over our countries,
as well as talented students from all over the world, to join our
doctorate programs. The innovation we foresee and wish to
promote across our countries will undoubtedly require of the
alumni, who possess solid bases to design and create products
with an important added value, in order to satisfy demands and
exceed the expectations in this era, where technology evolves
very fast. This is because they posses skills to develop them-
selves in domains that may have not existed at the time they
completed their degrees, and to face a context of global crisis,
but nevertheless of great opportunities.
Focus on Creativity
We are convinced that many findings in the field of Engi-
neering and Science in general, which have had great impact in
humanity, are the result of serendipity, i.e. the receptive ability
to discover, unexpectedly, something valuable. Creativity awak-
ens the power of our numbed imagination; it is boldness, ad-
venture, discovering and learning from change. Creativity may
seem to be magic, a supernatural power, denied to many mor-
tals and granted to a few, for them to imagine what has never
existed before. But creativity is not magical; it is not a genetic
attribute or a blessing of the angels, it is ability! Anyone can
learn to be creative and to benefit the most from it. The science
of creativity is a relatively new concept. Years ago, imagination
was compared to a superior act. To be creative meant to have a
direct link with the muses. Even in this modern era, scientists
have paid little attention to the sources of creativity; however,
during the last decade, it has started to change. Nowadays, the
word creativity is used as a generic term to name several cogni-
tive tools, each applying to certain issues, conditioning the
action in a particular way. New researches also suggest that
creative thinking is the best way of approaching the most diffi-
cult problems. We tend to assume that experts are creative gen-
iuses in their fields. However, the great advances often depend
on the naïve audacity of the profane. To provoke creativity, few
things are as important as the time that is dedicated to the
cross-pollination with other fields. Many countries are revising
the programs of scientific education and the application of new
pedagogic paradigms that tend to revert the downward trend of
enrollments. A key factor of this trend is the public perception
that science does not involve a creative effort. The attempts of
reformulating the public perception tend to center themselves in
the primary and secondary education, but they do little to face
the continuous drop in quality and originality of the intellectual
production further than secondary school (Schmidt, 2011). The
overcoming of the systematic devaluation of science requires
valuing the complex, dynamic and stochastic interaction of the
sociocultural, psychological and cognitive factors that drive
Copyright © 2012 SciRes.
human creativity. Looking at creativity from this point of view
highlights the constraint that exists between perception and
practice, which limits the opportunities for students, science
professors and scientists (Schmidt, 2011).
Techno-Economic Development vs. Prosperity
Let us agree that a new Trinity (Morin, 2011) governs the
social paradigm that welcomes our fresh graduates today: glob-
alization, westernization and development. The techno-eco-
nomic development is supposed to be the driving force of
prosperity and welfare, the general improvement of quality of
life, the reduction of inequalities, social harmony and democ-
racy. Growth is conceived as the evident and infallible motor of
development, and development is conceived as the evident and
infallible motor of growth (Morin, 2011). However, let us agree
that development is a complex, ambivalent process, both posi-
tive and negative. Its most irreducible defenders state that it has
drawn prosperity to diminished areas across the whole planet,
giving them access to the western life standards, allowing them
to have individual autonomy free from the unconditional au-
thority of family, access to marriage by choice and not by force,
freedom of sexual orientation, consumption of goods unknown
to them until then, all result of the approach of technology. On
the other hand, detractors of development state that the con-
sumer intoxication and the imaginary component of wishes
have grown, as well as insatiable needs are constantly renewed.
Undoubtedly, development has exacerbated the dark side of
consumerism: self-centeredness, self-justification and eagerness
for profit. Development establishes a way of organizing society
and minds, where hyper-specialization compartmentalizes peo-
ple; the whole, the global and solidarity are lost of sight. Fur-
thermore, hyper-specialized education replaces old ignorance
with a new blindness; it maintains the illusion that rationality
determines the development, which confuses technological
rationalism with human rationalism (Morin, 2011).
Current Paradigm of Engineering
The key is to adhere to the current paradigm of engineering,
where projects more than disciplines define the terms of the
engagement, and the limits between science and engineering
become fuzzy (Armentano, 2012). A big part of current biology
projects force biologists to think as engineers, testing systems
and mechanisms, worrying about quality control and building
large technical systems. This space is a circle of exchange, an
intermediate domain where procedures can be locally coordi-
nated and techno-science exchange is produced, eliminating
boundaries, developing interfaces and flowing in both direc-
tions. It is where discovering—the paradigm of science—and
solving problems—the paradigm of engineering—are blended,
fundamentally because the mission of engineering has been
transformed since the dominant issues do not involve conquer-
ing nature, but the creation and management of an already-
existing habitat (Armentano, 2012).
An important tool is the increasing role of information tech-
nology in the construction of a language, common to both dis-
ciplines. A large number of engineers work with symbols and
models, and currently machines work by processing informa-
tion rather than matter. Engineering is no longer an applied
science. It has developed its own theory, with practitioners who
never build objects and researchers who go further than the
usually known experiences. To be able to achieve this adapta-
tion, we engineers must reinvent ourselves to work in a hybrid
world where technology, science, humanism and other tenden-
cies fuse and interconnect. Consequently, engineering becomes
a profession whose limits are not specified, and where technol-
ogy becomes science, art and management, widening the scope
of its institutional mission (Armentano, 2012).
In order to strictly define the strategic ideas that have led to
innovation, we turn to the analysis of the upper-right quadrant
of the Stokes diagram, called Pasteur quadrant (Stokes, 1997),
seeking to concentrate the scientific task according to the exis-
tent knowledge, centered in innovative projects that reset the
paradigms and the manner of deal with the different disciplines,
i.e. to approach issues in a way that generates a new under-
standing as well as a new usefulness, which is how current
research engineering should be understood, as opposed to the
old paradigm of basic sciences vs. applied sciences. In this
master idea, innovation has a central dimension (Armentano,
2012). This is a holistic challenge, which consists in a new way
of learning, innovating, communicating and shearing with a
creative attitude that represents quality of perception; and intel-
ligent action that allows us to overcome conflicts with a rich-
ness of alternatives that each situation offers us.
Our ideas are summarized in Table 1. We are proposing to
modify the format of introductory courses, in strictly methodo-
logical terms, by making them more interactive than the regular
conference-like course (Mazur, 1997). This methodology has
been applied for the last 5 years during the initial or introduc-
tory courses, in which, through a neosocratic approach, fellow
students become professors (Mazur, 1997), who are encouraged
to develop their creative minds and are oriented towards inno-
vative thinking. The method is to teach asking rather than stat-
ing facts, because what is important is the reasoning that leads
to the answers. Students should be taught to think. Frequently,
the effort of retaining the words of the Master conspires against
analysis, logic and reasoning (Brahic, 2012). A university edu-
cation that does not stimulate the analytical mind and that does
not teach how to think is not higher education, but training to
Table 1.
Current methods in engineering and science teaching vs. proposed
modified format.
Current Method Proposed Method
Retaining words Analyzin g , using logic, reasoning
Conference-like courses Interactive courses
Stating facts Asking questions, reasoning the answers
Training to submit Teaching h ow to think
Memorizing equations Acquiring know ledge
Manipulating sym bols Understan ding the m eaning of symbols
Passing exams Learning
Copyright © 2012 SciRes. 735
Copyright © 2012 SciRes.
Any person who is formed in scientific education cannot be
sensitive to sectarian propaganda or to any kind of intolerance:
religious, political or administrative. In our short experience
and probably as a result of the reigning culture, most students
do not learn, they only memorize equations, data and proce-
dures. The essence is that students learn to manipulate symbols
but they do not know what they mean. They are not taught to
think, but to pass exams. We think that this is one of the most
important reasons of the crisis science schools in general and
engineering in particular are going through: low amount of
interested people and trouble in understanding and withholding
of the students. Professors blame each other. University tells us
to blame the Secondary School, Secondary School tells us to
blame Primary School. We all can and must contribute to mak-
ing education better.
We propose a palliative measure, consisting of an introductory
course that strives for the training of students in all of the
above-mentioned concepts, but mainly in the fact that engi-
neering is the motor of innovation, through increasing and
consolidating the creative process, teaching them to think and
stimulating their critical mind by means of peer teaching. They
should experience the most relevant aspects of the complemen-
tarity towards joint ef for t, under the precept th at each individual
uses a small part of their human potential. By approaching the
concept of creative society between peers at an early age, stu-
dents can expand, refine, change or rediscover their individual
means, under the umbrella of dignified interdependence. It is
true that some collaborations collapse under the weight of indi-
vidual habits (John-Steiner, 2006). Others bloom under the
dynamic and productive pressure of ideas.
I would like to thank Sandra Wray for her help in editing and
commenting upon this paper.
Armentano, R. L. (2012). Innovation in biomechanics oriented to tissue
engineering (Spanish ed.). Saarbrücken: Editorial Académica Españ-
Brahic, A. (2012). Science, an ambition for France. Paris: Odile Jacob.
Houssay, B. A. (1952). Ciencia e investigación. Science and Research,
8, 327.
John-Steiner, V. (2006). Creative collaboration. New York: Oxford
University Press.
Keyser, S. J. (2011). The MIT nobody knows. Cambridge, MA: MIT
Mazur, E. (1997). Peer instruction: A user’s manual. Upper Saddle River,
NJ: Prentice Hall.
Morin, E. (2011). The way for t h e f u tu r e o f h u ma n i t y. Paris: Fayard.
Oppenheimer, A. (2011). Cuentos chinos (Spanish ed.). Buenos Aires:
Schmidt, A. L. (2011). Creativity in science: Tensions between percep-
tion and practice. Creative Education, 2, 435-445.
Stokes, D. E. (1997). Pasteur’s quadrant: Basic science and techno-
logical innovation. Washington, DC: Brookings Institution Press.