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Getting Started, Surviving And Thriving: A Brief History Of The Division Of Technology, Culture, And Communication In The School Of Engineering And Applied Science

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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

3.301.1 - 3.301.3

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Ingrid H. Soudek

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

Session 3661

Getting Started, Surviving and Thriving: A Brief History of the Division of Technology, Culture, and Communication in the School of Engineering and Applied Science Ingrid H. Soudek Division of Technology, Culture, and Communication University of Virginia

The idea of professional engineers who are well-trained technically, humanistically oriented, and conscious of their social obligations, is not a new one, although there is much more focus on creating “well-rounded” engineers in present day engineering education. In the early twentieth century, deans and distinguished professors at the University of Virginia sought to broaden the education of engineers by creating an “Engineering English Division” in the Engineering School. This paper will give a brief overview of the history of the Division and how it managed to survive and prosper for the last sixty-plus years in spite of hard times and short-sighted critics.

The founder of the Division, Joseph L. Vaughan, Ph.D. in English from the University of Virginia, states in a hand written 1983 essay, “A Brief Account of the Origin of the Division from 1932-1966,” that already in 1905-6, there is a reference in the University Catalogue that all engineering students are required to write a senior thesis as independent study, but to be approved by the Dean and a designated professor in charge. Joseph Vaughan himself, from 1927- 1932 taught a first-year English course in the English department that was only for engineering students and emphasized communication skills with a focus on technical materials.

In 1932 the president of the University, John Lloyd Newcomb, and Dean of Engineering, Walter S. Rodman, formed a committee which recommended that English and Mathematics be brought into the “inner core” of the engineering curriculum. This meant that engineering students would be trained, for example, in technical report writing, oral presentations on technical subjects etc., all of which was not being taught in the College of Arts and Sciences. Joseph Vaughan became the founder and the first Chair of the Division, and hired more faculty from diverse backgrounds such as Philosophy, English, Engineering and Education, also History. This is faculty group designed courses that focused on technical written and oral communications skills as related to the intellectual interests inherent in engineering, including an emphasis history and philosophy of science and engineering. They also were put in charge of all senior theses, which meant that each student had a technical, as well as a humanities advisor for his independent senior thesis project. (Vaughan, p.3) The tradition of a required senior thesis for each UVa engineering student has continued to this day; in fact, in a 1987 Dean’s office survey of the class of 1977, the senior thesis was listed as the most valuable undergraduate educational experience.

The approach that Vaughan took in shaping the Division, then named “Engineering English,” later “Division of Humanities,” and now “Division of Technology, Culture, and Communication,” was broadly cultural: besides the training in communication skills, he placed a strong emphasis on “the role of the engineer in society” with a focus on the responsibilities of the engineering profession to society. In fact, the changing name of the Division reflects a full

Soudek, I. H. (1998, June), Getting Started, Surviving And Thriving: A Brief History Of The Division Of Technology, Culture, And Communication In The School Of Engineering And Applied Science Paper presented at 1998 Annual Conference, Seattle, Washington.

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