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Engineering Leadership as Principled Nonconformity

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2015 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


Seattle, Washington

Publication Date

June 14, 2015

Start Date

June 14, 2015

End Date

June 17, 2015





Conference Session

Innovation in Engineering Leadership Education

Tagged Division

Engineering Leadership Development Division

Page Count


Page Numbers

26.631.1 - 26.631.7



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Paper Authors


Kathryn A. Neeley University of Virginia

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Kathryn Neeley is Associate Professor of Science, Technology, and Society in the Engineering & Society Department of the School of Engineering and Applied Science. She is a past chair of the Liberal Education/Engineering & Society Division of ASEE and is particularly interested in the role of liberal education in developing engineering leaders.

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Engineering Leadership as Principled NonconformityIn a series of provocative papers published between 1995 and 2000, Carol Steiner argued that theskills and attitudes required for leadership, innovation, and management, “are unlikely to bedeveloped in conventional engineering education because they fall outside of the engineeringparadigm” (“Educating for Innovation and Management: The Engineering Educators’ Dilemma,”1998, p. 1). Although Steiner has apparently not sustained her interest in the preparing scientistsfor careers in industry, her approach provides an interesting point of departure for taking aphilosophical approach to engineering leadership.Following Kuhn’s (1970) concept of membership in a discipline, Steiner defines competence “asbeing committed to the beliefs, practices, and values of one’s discipline” and accepting “one’sprofessional role and identity without challenge” (“Teaching Scientists to Be Incompetent:Educating for Industry Work,” 2000, p. 123). Following Heidigger, Steiner contrasts competencewith authenticity and individuality and suggests that “Authentic persons are nonconformists whorecognize their capacity to operate sometimes outside professional, cultural and socialparadigms” (2000, p. 129). If one accepts these claims, it follows that engineering leadershiprequires principled nonconformity to the “beliefs, practices, and values” that engineeringeducation is structured to inculcate.This paper develops the concept of principled nonconformity not in opposition to the paradigmthat engineering education aims to impart, but rather as an opportunity for engineers to developthe perspective required to judge when it makes sense depart from that paradigm. In particular, ithighlights the role of liberal education in exposing students to paradigms other than theengineering paradigm and in developing engineering leadership capability.

Neeley, K. A. (2015, June), Engineering Leadership as Principled Nonconformity Paper presented at 2015 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, Seattle, Washington. 10.18260/p.23969

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