Overarching activities on education

Educational restructuring at MIT
REMERGENCE (1980-present)

Einstein and Professor Cleary of Mechanical Engineering conceptualized the Resources Extraction, Materials and Energy, Reservoir, Geotechnical, Environmental and Construction Engineering Lab (REMERGENCE) as a common laboratory with equipment and space shared by all faculty, senior researchers, and students, interested in research topics related to the lab. The intent was that students could “look over each others’ shoulders” while working in the lab. The 1980 proposal had enthusiastic support from departmental heads Professors Sussman in Civil and Environmental Engineering and Wormley in Mechanical Engineering, and from Dean of Engineering Prof. Wilson who had just created his own Resource Development office. With help from the head of this office Eric Johnson and the MIT resource development office, as well as significant seed money from the Dean’s office, a major fund raising effort was started and resulted in a total of over two million dollars. The two departmental Heads agreed to an exchange and re-allocation of space, which was refurbished with funding by MIT (ca. $ 500,000). The REMERGENCE Lab was a great success among students from both departments who worked in the lab next to each other.

Mechanical Engineering students worked in the lab while Prof. Cleary was at MIT, but there was no other faculty champion after he left. In Civil Engineering, all geotechnical and some structural engineering faculty and students continued to work in the lab, which was based on departmental support and a fee structure. The teaching lab, conceived with REMERGENCE and realized in the context of the 2005 curriculum change (below), is still used and students doing research there see the work of others. However, the encompassing and integrated engineering lab environment does not exist any more due to a trend back to the traditional “each faculty has his/her own lab” leading to a regrettably missed interaction.

Within REMERGENCE Dean Wilson also envisioned a common lab for the entire School of Engineering. On behalf of Civil and Environmental Engineering, Einstein participated in a committee that developed the concept for such a common lab for everything from high-level research to students’ fixing bicycles and cars. The Engineering Council did not support the proposal due to lack of available space from all departments.

Athena (1983-1991)

Athena is MIT’s campus-wide distributed-computing environment for educational use. Project Athena was launched in 1983, and involved extensive research and development until 1991. Athena brought the use of computers into the daily life of students, and as of 2017, it is still in production use at MIT. Athena had a major impact on the activities of the Einstein research group by making it possible to develop several IT-based interactive learning tools, most of which involved innovative computer graphics and AI aspects.

iCampus (1999-2006)

The iCampus initiative enabled another major step in integrating information technology into teaching and learning at MIT. Professors Connor, Amaratunga, Peña and Einstein lead the efforts in Civil Engineering. Two particularly important  Ph.D. theses stand out among the research publications: one by Emma Shepherdson (Prof. Connor, supervisor), and another one by Carlos Regalado (Herbert Einstein, supervisor). Shepherdson (2001) investigated the fundamental approach with which structural design can and should be learned with IT support. Regalado (2004) used that as the basis for developing two specific learning modules: the Mechanics Module for structural mechanics, and the Stereonet Module for engineering geology and rock engineering. (See Development of Educational Technology and IT-based interactive learning tools for more details.)

Most importantly, as acknowledged by the iCampus leadership, the above was done on a sound and thorough educational basis. The participation of Dr. George Brackett of the Harvard School of Education in both doctoral committees ensured consideration of the fundamentals of knowledge acquisition and transfer. Equally important, the learning modules were tested and evaluated in the classroom at two different levels of knowledge: first by Wentworth and MIT, and later in classes taught by Professors Ochsendorf and Einstein. Similar sophisticated introduction of new learning approaches had already taken place in the context of Einstein’s involvement in the Athena development (above), as well as in other MIT departments: notably, Mechanical Engineering and especially Aeronautics and Astronautics on the largest set of subjects.

Civil engineering design curriculum (1990-present)

This section presents Prof. Einstein’s participation in the overall restructuring of civil engineering education at MIT. For specific design subjects he developed and taught see Subject Development and Teaching. For a summary of related research and publications see Design-Based Undergraduate Curriculum.

Einstein spent a significant part of his 1989/90 and 1996/97 sabbaticals thinking of engineering education. That included a month at E. Basler & Partners in Zürich (founded by Dr. Ernst Basler, an MIT graduate in Civil Engineering – Systems), which was reviewing its approach to internal communication and continued learning. An internal document was developed at the firm to reflect the advancement and exchange of ideas, which included strong use of Information Technology in civil engineering education.

In the context of ECSEL (below), it was evident that some unease about engineering education existed. Reaction to it had started earlier at MIT with the ideas of Woodie Flowers and colleagues, and a group of architecture and civil engineering faculty had begun meeting to discuss the role of design in engineering education; eventually, the desired changes were implemented with ECSEL and with curriculum development of Civil Engineering (1-C). Professors Madsen and Einstein led the effort and chaired the Undergraduate Committee which coordinated design-oriented curriculum development in 1-C. In summary:

•  In the late 1990’s a systematic evaluation, based on interviews with faculty and surveys among students, was conducted to determine what was taught, what should be taught, and how it should be taught. That evaluation identified the desirable subject matter and the desirable learning approach.

•  All 1-C faculty (Structures, Geotechnical, Transportation, Systems) met several times and discussed three options: (1) marginal change of a few subjects, (2) major development with a design emphasis, and (3) a completely different learning style in all design studios. Option (2) was selected.

•  A detailed, systematic process, involving 12 new subjects and strongly modified subjects, was initiated and implemented over three years. Every new subject and major subject modification received one full year TA support; some also had one semester full faculty support. The 1-C subject development was funded in equal parts by ECSEL, the Dean of Engineering, and the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering.

•  The major characteristic of the new 1-C was the design sequence: introduction to design in sophomore year; specialized design subjects in Structures, Geotechnical Engineering, and Transportation in the Junior Year and fall of Senior Year; and a capping subject in the spring of Senior Year. An original idea for a Theme Project through the course of these subjects was implemented, but only to a limited extent. The new design-oriented 1-C had four specialization tracks: Mechanics, Systems, Environmental, and Self Formulated.

•  A new Civil Engineering Materials subject with associated lab was created. It looked at all civil engineering materials in a unified manner: both from a mechanics point of view and in terms of design and application.

•  The new curriculum was a success with students and the ABET. The implementation of the curriculum and of additional subjects was evaluated by the undergraduate committee and educational professionals. The involvement of all 1-C faculty in the process was essential. This 1997 curriculum development is unparalleled to date as a systematic, thorough, feedback-based process and the subsequent educational success.

The success of the 1997 curriculum redesign of 1-C led to two related efforts: similar development of a design-oriented Environmental Engineering (1-E) and a new information engineering oriented program (1-I). The 1-E effort was initiated by the undergraduate committee and some 1-E faculty; other 1-E faculty questioned the capping subject and relevance of an engineering education for some 1-E students. The idea for 1-I was enthusiastically welcomed by the external IT community and some MIT departments, notably Mechanical and Ocean Engineering; however, it was not pursued due to opposition from other departments.

Within the new Civil and Environmental Engineering (CEE) Curriculum in 2005 with its main goal of a unified sophomore core, Einstein participated in development of the unified introductory design lab subjects in the sophomore core and the unified capping subject. He also collaborated with Prof. Bras and Dr. Ari Epstein in the later, design-oriented, stages of 1.101 Introduction to Civil and Environmental Design I.

Einstein was also involved in the 2013/2014 development of a design-oriented civil engineering track in the context of 1-Flex/1-Eng. He and Prof. Ulm co-chaired the Civil Engineering subcommittee, which initially included all Mechanics and Systems faculty in the department. The subcommittee planned a systematic and all-encompassing approach to 1-Flex/1-Eng, similar to that which developed 1-C in 1997. The plan was not fully implemented due to lack of time, but multiple attempts were made to develop an attractive new Civil Engineering program: first as part of 1-Flex/1-Eng, then as a separate 1-C track, then again as part of 1-Eng. Detailed records were kept, but an opportunity was missed to use the process of the late 1990’s and create a new, substantive, and fundamentally innovative track in Civil Engineering.


Einstein, H.H. (2013). Design education in civil and environmental engineering. In M.K. Thompson (ed.): Proceedings of the 2nd International Workshop on Design in Civil and Environmental Engineering, 28-29 June 2013, Worcester Polytechnic Institute, Worcester, Massachusetts, pp. 112-120.

Einstein, H.H. (2002). Engineering change at MIT. Civil Engineering, 72 (10), 62-69.

Einstein, H.H. (2000). The new engineering and science education: Past, present, and future in the MIT-CEE curriculum. White paper. In: New Millennium Colloquium on the Future of Civil and Environmental Engineering, 19-21 March 2000, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Cambridge, MA, USA.

Committee on Undergraduate Program (2005-2008)

Einstein served on the Committee on Undergraduate Program as Chair of the subcommittee on Freshman Spring Grading and Exploratory Sophomore Subjects. The subcommittee conducted discussions with the undergraduate committee chairs of all departments, focus groups with undergraduate students, and surveys developed by the student leadership and the subcommittee. Consequently the Freshman Spring Grading and Sophomore Exploratory Subjects were presented to the Institute Faculty who voted in favor of both.

National and international initiatives
ECSEL (1990-2000)

In 1990 the National Science Foundation sent out a Request for Proposals (RFP) to enhance engineering education. The goal was to increase enrollment and retention rate of women and minority students by making engineering education more relevant and attractive. A proposal centered on design-based education from the Engineering Coalition of Schools for Excellence in Education and Leadership (ECSEL) was one of two first proposals selected for funding. Participants in ECSEL were the University of Washington, University of Maryland, Howard University, Morgan State University, City College of New York, and MIT. Then Head of Mechanical Engineering Prof. Wormley led the initial effort, followed by Professors Bucciarelli (ME) and Wilson (Program of Science, Technology, and Society), and for the last five years by Prof. Einstein. Within the ECSEL initiative curriculum changes and subject development occurred across departments at MIT, including Mechanical Engineering (under Prof. Wallace) and Aeronautics and Astronautics (under Prof. Newman). Very important for the ECSEL effort was the systematic use of educational assessment by a group of educators at Penn State, who provided regular evaluations of all projects and the program in general; the evaluations were fed back into the projects/program and rechecked, based on classic educational learning assessment. Educational specialists at MIT were also involved. The ECSEL efforts were successful at MIT and at most of the other universities; industry partners also showed impressive interest in the new design-based education.

The new design-based civil engineering curriculum (above) was a major beneficiary of the ECSEL program. See Subject Development and Teaching and Design-Based Undergraduate Curriculum for details on the work in designed-based education by the Einstein group and related research publications.


Bucciarelli, L.L., Einstein, H.H., Terenzini, P.T., and Walser, A.D. (2000). ECSEL/MIT Engineering Education Workshop ’99: A report with recommendations. Engineering Education, 89 (2), 141-150.

Cambridge-MIT Institute

In addition to student exchange, the intent of the Cambridge-MIT Institute was for the two universities to learn from each other’s educational approaches. A subset of that was to look at design and lab education at the two universities, and to make and implement recommendations. For that purpose, a detailed study of the curricula and learning approaches at the two universities was conducted under the project title “Teaching and Learning in Engineering and Technology”, with co-Principal Investigators Professors Britter at Cambridge and Einstein MIT. Most of the study was based on interviews with faculty at both universities and with exchange students before, during, and after their move from one university to the other. An interesting aspect of the study was that an educational expert prepared the interviews, but many were conducted – after instruction and supervised practice – by MIT students. Given the different structure of the two universities, initially the study aimed at encompassing all engineering, but eventually both the study and related report were more narrowly associated with civil and mechanical engineering. Unfortunately, it was not feasible to fully pursue the original initiative to implement processes used at one university at the other one, and to test them. Nevertheless, it is important to note that the very strong Cambridge tutor system would be worth considering for MIT, especially in the context of today’s increasing use of remote learning. A strong tutor system would provide balance and ensure that the students benefit from residential education.


Britter, R.E., and Einstein, H.H. (2005). Teaching and learning of engineering and technology. Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Cambridge-MIT Institute report.

South African technicons

The South African education system before 1994 prevented or made very difficult for non-whites to have technical and scientific education. Within a two-level technical education system with universities and technikons, the latter being specialized technical schools usually with a three-year program, a few severely constrained “Minority” technikons provided technical education to non-white South Africans. Following the 1994 elections, an invited delegation of educators from MIT, Howard University, and the University of South Carolina visited several technikons and universities. While innovative approaches to learning by doing, e.g., flipped classrooms and simultaneous lecture-labs, were in place at some technikons, most “Minority” technicons lacked basic resources and had dismal facilities. After the visit, delegation members established contacts with several technikon leaders and obtained funding from the US State Department through USAID TELP (Technical Education and Linkage Program) to help the technikons develop modern resources.

The original idea under the USAID grant to make IT-based technical education available in remote areas and use it for hands-on learning ended with the statement by one of the technikon leaders: “I do not even have pencils for my students”. Not as far-reaching, but equally innovative effort then evolved: the South African technikon teachers were mentored by US colleagues to write textbooks. Professor Einstein mentored two textbooks on construction and one on civil engineering drawing, and co-mentored with MIT senior lecturer Amy Smith a textbook on mechanical engineering drawing. An independent evaluation of the program was conducted, as required by USAID, and concluded that textbook development had been a success.

Mentored books:

2000 Smith

Smith, P. (2000). Drawing for engineering. South Africa: Juta Academic. ISBN 978-0702144066 (Mentored by A. Smith, H.H. Einstein)

2000 Van Amsterdam

Van Amsterdam, E. (2000). Construction methods for civil engineering. South Africa: Juta Academic. ISBN 978-0702152160 (Mentored by H.H. Einstein)

2000 Van Amsterdam

Van Amsterdam, E. (2000). Construction materials for civil engineering. South Africa: Juta Academic. ISBN 978-0702152139 (Mentored by H.H. Einstein)

2000 Van der Westhuizen

Van der Westhuizen, J.A. (2000). Drawing for civil engineers. South Africa: Juta Academic. ISBN 978-0702152122 (Mentored by H.H. Einstein)