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Strategic Plan: Environmental Trends

To position the Albert Nerken School of Engineering and our graduates for continued success it is useful to broadly consider changes in our world that will impact our organization, our disciplines, and our graduates. The following are offered as relevant environmental data 1 to inform the development and execution of our strategy for 2025.

The long-term global economic outlook predicts a shift of economic power to the developing world. China, India, and Brazil, as well as countries like Colombia, Indonesia, Malaysia, Mexico, Nigeria, South Africa, Turkey, and Vietnam will become more important in the global economy. India, China, Africa, and Southeast Asia markets together hold the potential for significant continued economic expansion. Analysts expect more than half of the global growth over the next ten years to come from these geographic areas.

The world’s population will add more than one billion people over the next decade reaching 8.5 billion by 2030. Projections estimate that this will grow to 9.7 billion by 2050 and exceed 11 billion by 2100. Most of the growth in the world’s workingage population will occur in India and the developing economies of Africa and South Asia, placing pressure on education and employment systems in these nations that are least capable of supporting this growth economically, politically, and environmentally. We’re witnessing increased urbanization as people move to cities—a trend that, for many nations, will continue throughout the next several decades. People will be more mobile in the future, changing migration patterns 2 worldwide as they more freely move about the globe. Economic migrants will be the fastest growing group of migrants as the demand for both skilled and unskilled labor increases. Ethnic and cultural diversity of national populations will increase, reshaping demographics as well as national values and attitudes in the decades ahead. We will see increasing participation of women in the world’s economy, and entry into the workforce by an entire generation of young people who grew up with computers, the Internet, mobile phones, texting, and social networking.

In 1990, there were ten “megacities” in the world, with 10 million inhabitants or more, which were home to 153 million people or 7% of the global urban population. In 2016, there were 31 megacities worldwide, home to 453 million people or about 12% of the world’s urban dwellers. Today there are 33 megacities, with that number projected to grow to 41 by 2030. Growing urbanization and megacities in both emerging and developed markets—reflecting shifting economic and demographic trends—will create enormous need for new infrastructure. Aging populations in Western Europe and Japan, for instance, will require additional healthcare facilities, while countries in Sub-Saharan Africa, the Middle East, and many parts of Asia-Pacific will need more schools. Worldwide investments in telecommunications, road, rail, water, electricity generation, and other energy-related infrastructure will need to increase.

The nearly nine billion people sharing our planet in 2030 will increase demands for food, water, energy, other natural resources, and infrastructure. Several of the underlying factors impacting the environment include population growth, polluting technologies, and unsustainable consumption-andproduction patterns. Other environmental challenges include climate change, degradation of air and land, water scarcity, deforestation, marine pollution, and a decline in biodiversity. In October 2018, the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change reported that if greenhouse gas emissions are sustained at the current rate, atmospheric warming will exceed 1.5°C over pre-industrial levels as early as 2030, resulting in far more dire consequences for human and natural systems than had previously been projected. The report urged “r apid, far-reaching and unprecedented changes in all aspects of society” and cited “acceleration of technological innovation” as an important measure for mitigating the environmental impacts of climate change. 3

The U.N. has also identified 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) including climate change, gender equality, affordable and clean energy, industry, innovation and infrastructure, sustainable consumption, and sustainable cities and communities, among other priorities. Being good stewards of our world and resources for future generations can be considered a megatrend that can be viewed through societal, economic, and governmental lenses. The need for societal and economic sustainability as well as global responsibility is critical.

The U.S. National Academy of Engineering (NAE), the Royal Academy of Engineering (RAE), and the Chinese Academy of Engineering (CAE) held a Global Grand Challenges Summit (GGCS) in 2017 to address some of the most pressing issues and promising innovations at the time. The challenges included virtual reality, AI, health care, climate change, and education of future engineers. The 2017 Summit was the third in a series that focused on the four themes of the NAE Grand Challenges for Engineering: sustainability, health, security, and joy of living, as well as education and public engagement related to the Grand Challenges.

In 2012, the American Society of Engineering Education (ASEE) supported in part by a grant from the National Science Foundation (NSF), published the report Innovation with Impact 4 which outlined changes to engineering professional practice and suggested corresponding changes required for engineering education. The report found that engineering careers had become increasingly collaborative, multidisciplinary, entrepreneurial, and global, and as the pace of change of technological innovation accelerated, the expectation for engineering education had expanded. To the foundations of mathematics, science, engineering fundamentals, disciplinary depth, and professional and ethical standards have been added interdisciplinary breadth; communications; teamwork; global economic, environmental, and societal contexts; ethical design; critical thinking; innovation; creativity; leadership; and the list continues to grow. Additionally, as faculties and student bodies become more diverse, there is a need to make engineering programs more engaging, relevant, and more welcoming, especially to groups traditionally underrepresented in engineering.


  1. Excerpts from “Change Drivers for IEEE,” John Keaton, 2017
  2. United Nations Research Institute for Social Development, Global Trends, Challenges and Opportunities in the Implementation of the Sustainable Development Goals, 2017
  3. IPCC, Special Report on Global Warming of 1.5°C (SR15), 2018
  4. “Innovation with Impact, Creating a Culture for Scholarly and Systematic Innovation in Engineering Education,” American Society for Engineering Education, 2012
  • Founded by inventor, industrialist and philanthropist Peter Cooper in 1859, The Cooper Union for the Advancement of Science and Art offers education in art, architecture and engineering, as well as courses in the humanities and social sciences.

  • “My feelings, my desires, my hopes, embrace humanity throughout the world,” Peter Cooper proclaimed in a speech in 1853. He looked forward to a time when, “knowledge shall cover the earth as waters cover the great deep.”

  • From its beginnings, Cooper Union was a unique institution, dedicated to founder Peter Cooper's proposition that education is the key not only to personal prosperity but to civic virtue and harmony.

  • Peter Cooper wanted his graduates to acquire the technical mastery and entrepreneurial skills, enrich their intellects and spark their creativity, and develop a sense of social justice that would translate into action.