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Responses to an Unfamiliar Thing: How Learning About a Structural Sculpture Can Make It More Appealing

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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

Hey You: Effectively Engaging Students in the Classroom

Tagged Division

Civil Engineering

Page Count


Page Numbers

25.1125.1 - 25.1125.22



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Paper Authors


Charles E. Riley Oregon Institute of Technology Orcid 16x16

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Charles Riley has a background in transportation structures and structural mechanics. He teaches across the curriculum from the interdisciplinary freshman experience through the mechanics sequence, project management, structural design, and into the senior capstone. His interests in engineering education are varied, but are ultimately focused on excellence in the classroom and student retention (both retaining them in the program and having them retain information!).

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Sean St.Clair Oregon Institute of Technology

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Sean St.Clair is an Associate Professor and Chair of the Civil Engineering Department at the Oregon Institute of Technology, where he teaches structural engineering courses and conducts research in engineering education. He is also a registered Professional Engineer.

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Responses to an Unfamiliar Thing: How Sculpture can be Used to Teach Social, Technical, and Environmental ConceptsA collaboratively conceived and designed engineering teaching sculpture was recently installed at asmall teaching-oriented engineering college. What began as an attempt to bring the AISC SteelConnections Teaching Sculpture to campus ultimately resulted in a unique structure that is acombination of a suspended place-based metaphor supported by cables and structural steel towerscontaining many of the connections from the original, oft-used AISC sculpture. The sculpture provides apoignant centerpiece for the civil engineering department as well as a platform for teaching structuralanalysis and design concepts throughout the curriculum. On the one hand, it is a practical teaching tool:providing a bold introduction to heavy steel construction, serving as an effective visualization tool forteaching three dimensional vectors and forces via the various cable supports, and presenting to thestudents the various types of steel connections in a highly specialized setting that encourages both thevisualization of and interaction with the steel connection elements. On the other hand, it contains aprofound metaphor for a bioregion grappling with scarce water resources and declining environmentalquality: a visual expression of consensus, of shared responsibility and balanced interests. It is a practicalpiece of art wherein water is precariously held both in equilibrium and a constant state of tension.This paper will present a study that aimed to determine whether this unique sculpture could be used todevelop in aspiring engineers a combination of social, environmental, and technical curiosity. In additionto its practical and obvious teaching possibilities toward the technical, could the sculpture—which is sostriking visually that one can’t help but ask questions such as “What is it?”, “Why is it here?”, and “Whatis it for?”—also be used to encourage the development of new, non-technical ideas that are social,environmental, or political in nature? To answer this question, the authors conducted a number ofsurveys to determine observers’ views of and attitudes toward the sculpture. Participants includedstudents of varying ranks and backgrounds, technical and otherwise. Students were initially surveyed todetermine their attitudes toward the sculpture (ranking it on aesthetics, appropriateness, practical useas a teaching tool, and the possibility of gleaning deeper meaning from it). Students were then given apresentation on both the technical teaching merits of the sculpture and the geocentric environmentalmetaphor. The same survey was conducted after the presentation to determine if an understanding ofthe artist’s technical and philosophical vision influenced attitudes toward the art. The results of thesesurveys, along with a detailed explanation of the sculpture’s inception, design, construction, and status,are presented in this paper.

Riley, C. E., & St.Clair, S. (2012, June), Responses to an Unfamiliar Thing: How Learning About a Structural Sculpture Can Make It More Appealing Paper presented at 2012 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, San Antonio, Texas. 10.18260/1-2--21882

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