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Legitimizing Engineering Technology Education: Winston Purvine, OIT, and the Role of the ASEE, 1946-1991.

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2012 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


San Antonio, Texas

Publication Date

June 10, 2012

Start Date

June 10, 2012

End Date

June 13, 2012



Conference Session

Engineering Technology Curriculum Issues

Tagged Division

Engineering Technology

Page Count


Page Numbers

25.888.1 - 25.888.5



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Paper Authors


Mark Henry Clark Oregon Institute of Technology

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After receiving a B.S. in mechanical engineering at Rice University in 1984, Mark Henry Clark decided to pursue a career in the history of technology, earning a Ph.D. in the subject at the University of Delaware in 1992. Since 1996, he has been professor of history at the Oregon Institute of Technology. He has also been a visiting faculty member at the University of Aarhus and the Technical University of Denmark.

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Legitimizing Engineering Technology Education: The Role of the ASEE, 1946-1991.The standard model for the history of American engineering education in the Cold Warperiod (1945-1991) stresses the impact of Federal research spending in movingengineering schools in the direction of research-focused curricula. During World WarTwo, universities had begun to accept federal funding on a large scale as part of the wareffort, in contrast to a general unwillingness to take that money prior to the war for fearof potential federal control. Universities proved willing to continue to accept federalmoney in the post-war period, setting up graduate programs in the sciences andexpanding their research programs.As part of the larger effort to attract federal research dollars, engineering schools also setup and expanded graduate programs, particularly in the area of engineering science, andhired an increasing number of faculty with doctoral degrees. This, in turn, had an impacton undergraduate engineering education, which became more theoretical in focus so as toprepare students for graduate work and careers in research.This paper examines a lesser-known counter-trend that took place in engineeringeducation during the Cold War period, the rise of engineering technology education.Engineering technology had its origins in the demand by employers for engineers trainedto be private-sector job ready, rather than the research oriented engineers increasinglybeing turned out by mainstream universities. This ran counter to the primary trend inengineering education in the Cold War era, and so created a potential niche for thoseengineering educators willing to educate their students differently.This paper focuses on a number of engineering educators from this period who acted asentrepreneurs and set up engineering technology programs to serve the needs of industry.These men (they were all male) came from outside the mainstream of engineeringeducation, typically having experience with World War Two-era industrial trainingprograms and/or proprietary, non-accredited technical schools. Working largely at non-elite colleges and universities, they sought to define an alternate form of engineeringcurriculum that was grounded in practice, not theory.Supporters of engineering technology education used the ASEE as a platform to gainlegitimacy for their degree programs and create avenues for accreditation. As this paperwill show, they grounded their arguments for inclusion on the basis of fairness,equivalency, and the need to set standards. Over time, their arguments proved successful,and engineering technology achieved institutional legitimacy, most notably through anaccreditation process virtually identical to that for conventional engineering programs.At the same time, the need for institutional legitimacy also pushed engineeringtechnology programs to become more like those in conventional engineering in terms ofcurriculum and student learning outcomes.

Clark, M. H. (2012, June), Legitimizing Engineering Technology Education: Winston Purvine, OIT, and the Role of the ASEE, 1946-1991. Paper presented at 2012 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, San Antonio, Texas. 10.18260/1-2--21645

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