Asee peer logo

Making The Strange Familiar: Creativity And The Future Of Engineering Education

Download Paper |


2004 Annual Conference


Salt Lake City, Utah

Publication Date

June 20, 2004

Start Date

June 20, 2004

End Date

June 23, 2004



Conference Session

The Fundamentals of Fun

Page Count


Page Numbers

9.883.1 - 9.883.13



Permanent URL

Download Count


Request a correction

Paper Authors

author page

Brewer Stouffer

author page

Jeffrey Russell

Download Paper |

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

Session #1615

Making The Strange Familiar: Creativity and the Future of Engineering Education

W. B. Stouffer, Jeffrey S. Russell, and Michael G. Oliva

Civil and Environmental Engineering, University of Wisconsin-Madison


Why does the perception persist that engineers are uncreative, or worse, do not need to tap into creativity when most engineering projects demand creative or innovative approaches in the design of equipment, systems, and facilities? With the complexity surrounding every engineering project mounting as natural resources dwindle, the world population increases, and the global infrastructure and economy grow ever more intertwined, the creativity and innovation necessary to address the big issues facing civilization— maintaining the infrastructure; providing food, water, shelter, and power to the population; and growing sustainably and safely—will only increase in importance. But what is creativity and how can you teach it to engineering students? This paper examines these questions to make the case that fostering creativity knowledge, skills, and attitudes is vital for the future of engineering and engineering education. In so doing, the authors survey how creativity and innovation are approached (or not) in the classroom and offer strategies to make creativity a part of every engineering curriculum and course.

What is Creativity?

The late Dr. E. Paul Torrance, a pioneering creativity researcher for over 60 years, is widely considered the “Father of Creativity.” He made it his life’s work to study the nature of creativity and how it can be taught to students of all ages. Among his numerous contributions was groundbreaking research in educational psychology that led to a benchmark method for quantifying creativity. His “Torrance Tests of Creative Thinking” effectively debunked the common assumption that IQ alone determined creativity. It also led to the now accepted belief that creative levels can be increased through practice (Childs 2003).

Torrance defined creativity as “the process of sensing problems or gaps in information, forming ideas of hypotheses, testing, and modifying these hypotheses, and communicating the results. This process may lead to any one of many kinds of products—verbal and nonverbal, concrete and abstract” (Torrance 1963). This definition subsumes such creative “products” as works of art, but through the intentional use of scientific terminology (e.g., “hypotheses”), Torrance intended a more inclusive definition that included “inventions, medical discoveries, books, [and] monographs” (Torrance 1977). Clearly Torrance looked for creativity in science and engineering just as he did in theater and English departments.

“Proceedings of the 2004 American Society for Engineering Education Annual Conference & Exposition Copyright 2004, American Society for Engineering Education”

Stouffer, B., & Russell, J. (2004, June), Making The Strange Familiar: Creativity And The Future Of Engineering Education Paper presented at 2004 Annual Conference, Salt Lake City, Utah. 10.18260/1-2--13891

ASEE holds the copyright on this document. It may be read by the public free of charge. Authors may archive their work on personal websites or in institutional repositories with the following citation: © 2004 American Society for Engineering Education. Other scholars may excerpt or quote from these materials with the same citation. When excerpting or quoting from Conference Proceedings, authors should, in addition to noting the ASEE copyright, list all the original authors and their institutions and name the host city of the conference. - Last updated April 1, 2015