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Reel Engineers: Portrayal of Engineers and the Engineering Profession in the Feature Films

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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

Innovations in Promoting Technological Literacy II

Tagged Divisions

Liberal Education/Engineering & Society and Technological and Engineering Literacy/Philosophy of Engineering

Page Count


Page Numbers

25.1107.1 - 25.1107.17



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Paper Authors


Zbigniew J. Pasek University of Windsor

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Zbigniew J. Pasek is an Associate Professor at the Department of Industrial and Manufacturing Systems Engineering at the University of Windsor. He holds a Ph.D. in mechanical engineering from the University of Michigan. His research interests include manufacturing systems automation, risk management, health care engineering, and informal engineering education. He is a member of IEEE, ASME, SME, and ASEE.

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Portrayal of Engineers and Engineering Profession in the Feature FilmsPortrayal of certain professions in the popular media has a deep and lasting effect not only ongeneral public's understanding of these professions (with all potential misconceptions andattitudes), but also has an impact on future career choices of adolescents (teens and tweens).While movie screens and television shows put a spotlight on lawyers, doctors and policemen(and occasionally also on forensic scientists), they rarely (if at all) pick engineers as thecharacters of interest.This study has reviewed, catalogued, and classified a number of known and available portrayalsof engineers in feature films (with an effort to clearly distinguish between images of "engineers"and "scientists"). A brief selection of 10-12 is included.The paper also assesses specific character and professional attributes, stereotypes (profession-,ethnicity or gender-based) and attributes known to facilitate viewer's identification with on-screen characters, of engineering professionals portrayed in selected films. In particular, the keyresearch question of “How are engineer(s) and their work portrayed in the feature films?” wasbroken down to more detailed sub-questions: • What types of engineering work are represented? How is creative component of that work shown? How successful (or unsuccessful) are the outcomes? • Is the distinction between science and technology, and scientist and engineers depicted? • Are any characters females or minorities? • What are the artifacts (physical attributes) of the engineering endeavor? • What are typical professional and personal traits of the characters shown? • How overall depiction of engineers can be categorized (wizard/hero-tinkerer/mechanic- Frankenstein/villain)? • How are engineers/engineering depicted through dialogue? • Are any contributions to society shown or hinted?The results of such analysis are presented for 2 example films. Future work involves examinationof identification with specific attributes of engineer's portrayals in audiences consisting of highschool students and university freshmen, and attempting to correlate the viewers’ identificationwith attitudes towards science, technology, gender/ethnic roles in engineering, and futureinterests and attitudes towards engineering and science.

Pasek, Z. J. (2012, June), Reel Engineers: Portrayal of Engineers and the Engineering Profession in the Feature Films Paper presented at 2012 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, San Antonio, Texas. 10.18260/1-2--21864

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