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Connecting What Engineers Do With How & What They Are Taught

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1998 Annual Conference


Seattle, Washington

Publication Date

June 28, 1998

Start Date

June 28, 1998

End Date

July 1, 1998



Page Count


Page Numbers

3.156.1 - 3.156.7



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Paper Authors

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John D. Whittaker

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Ted G. Eschenbach

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NOTE: The first page of text has been automatically extracted and included below in lieu of an abstract

Session 2642

Connecting What Engineers Do with How & What They Are Taught

John D. Whittaker Ted G. Eschenbach University of Alberta University of Alaska Anchorage Mechanical Engineering Dept. School of Engineering Edmonton, Alberta 3211 Providence Drive Canada T6G 2G8 Anchorage, AK 99508

Abstract. The traditional literature describes engineers as creative people who design artifacts. They use knowledge of nature’s physical laws and the properties of materials to create things that meet human needs and wishes. While accurate in an abstract sense, this description is discordant with the minutia of an engineer's daily work. When life is a series of inconclusive meetings, dangling conversations, and incomplete to-do lists, it is hard to remember that you are grappling with the physical laws of nature. Adapting industrial engineering work-study practices to the office, ten engineers in six organizations were observed for a continuous one-week period. The resulting activity breakdown revealed that communication, data collection, and historical research was much more prominent than calculation, experiment, and design. A synthesis of the data suggests that the appropriate descriptor might be that, "engineers orchestrate the production of things." This paper focuses on outlining the implications of these results for the education of engineers and of engineering managers. The paper also discusses the study methodology, and the results from the initial data collection. One goal is to present the methodology for comment that will help us improve it. A second goal is to identify colleagues who are interested in working with us to expand the range and number of engineers and organizations that are observed.

Engineers defined. In 1828, the British architect Thomas Tredgold defined engineering as “the art of directing the great sources of power in nature for the use and convenience of man. (Kirby, et al)” By the 1940’s the definition had evolved to a functional one, and Hoover and Fish in The Engineering Profession listed the engineer’s primary functions as: designing, constructing, producing, operating, and selling. Today, the Alberta Association of Professional Engineers Guide to Occupational Specialities in Engineering lists: research, design, development, testing, procurement, production, construction, operation, administration, and teaching as distinct fields of engineering practice.

Writers on engineering often equate engineering with design. It can be argued that design is the core activity, and that all other activities such as testing, procurement, construction, etc. are

Whittaker, J. D., & Eschenbach, T. G. (1998, June), Connecting What Engineers Do With How & What They Are Taught Paper presented at 1998 Annual Conference, Seattle, Washington. 10.18260/1-2--6981

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