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Reverse Engineering Modern Engineering Education and its Scientific Approach: What would Stephen Timoshenko Say about the Current Engineering Education?

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2011 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


Vancouver, BC

Publication Date

June 26, 2011

Start Date

June 26, 2011

End Date

June 29, 2011



Conference Session

Trends in Mechanical Engineering II

Tagged Division

Mechanical Engineering

Page Count


Page Numbers

22.1255.1 - 22.1255.26

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Paper Authors


Sergio Celis University of Michigan

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Sergio Celis is a doctoral student and research assistant in the Center for the Study of Higher and Postsecondary Education at the University of Michigan. His research interest are engineering education and methodologies of evaluation and assessment. He received a professional degree in Industrial Engineering from the University of Chile.

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Reverse engineering modern engineering education and its scientific approach: What would Stephen Timoshenko say about the current engineering education? One of the most profound transformations in engineering education may have occurredafter World War II, especially in the U.S. According to Jørgensen (2007), in the post war period,engineering education shifted from “encyclopedia stages” to “scientific stages.” Hence, whereinstructors were once mainly practitioners, since the 1970s the majority of faculty are academicscientists (Crawley et al., 2007; Seely, 1999), giving a higher status to analytical courses thanintuitive and practical-oriented courses (Ferguson, 1992). Along with this shift, the first concernsabout the lack of professional skills of the new graduates appeared in public opinion, concernsthat have strongly increased during the 1990s (Crawley et al., 2007). A further challengeresulting from this shift is that the design of new products and systems for new markets hasbecome the context of engineers, requiring skills such as teamwork, creativity, social contextunderstanding, environmental awareness, and competence in foreign languages (Ihsen, 2009;Lucena et al, 2008; Friedman, 2005). These “market world” and its new required skills seemconflict with the scientific and technical approach to engineering education (Boltanski andThévenot, 2006). Thus, nowadays, when the scientific approach seems to be in question, a closerhistorical analysis of the transformations prompted by Stephen P. Timoshenko, an engineer whowas called “the father of engineering mechanics in the United State” (Gere & Young, 1968,, might illuminate the current discussion and lead to better appreciation of modern engineeringeducation. Timoshenko was born in the Ukraine 1879 and studied engineering in the St PetersburgInstitute of Way of Communication, Russia. In 1922, Timoshenko moved to the U.S and in 1927became a professor at the University of Michigan. According to Seely (1999), Timoshenko wasone of the most important European engineers who arrived in the U.S. in the early twenties, andwhile at the University of Michigan he transformed engineering education through a rigorousmathematical approach, inspirational lectures, fundamental textbooks, and innovative initiatives,such as summer schools. Timoshenko left a huge legacy in mechanical engineering, specifically in relation totopics such as strength of materials and theory of elasticity, and much has been written andanalyzed about his contributions in this field. However, little has been said about his educationalapproach together with his vision of how engineering education should be. This paper makes acontribution in this direction through providing possible answers to questions such as: what wasTimoshenko’s general vision of engineering education? What made him a “brilliant lecturer” andan inspiration to new generations of engineers? Since this study is mostly based on historical books and documents, I follow ahermeneutical approach as a methodological tool to “speak” with the texts (Gadamer, 1975).Hence, in this study, the analysis of the texts written at the time of Timoshenko is similar to aconversation through which we bring our own current concerns and experiences to the authors’tradition at that particular historical moment. Consequently, I cover a body of literature thatbelongs to two traditions: texts and documents written by Timoshenko and his colleagues aboutengineering education at the first half of the twentieth century, and a selected corpus of currentreports and papers that argue the necessity of change in engineering education in the twenty firstcentury. In order to organize this “conversation” and to achieve the aims of this paper, I dividethe analysis into three general findings: The indissoluble union between science and engineering,the global impact of the engineering curriculum setting, and the vital interchanges betweenindustry and engineering colleges.ReferencesBoltanski, L., & Thévenot, L. (2006). On justification: Economies of worth (C. Porter, Trans.).Princeton: Princeton University Press. (Original work published 1991)Crawley, E., Malmqvist J., Ostlund, S., & Brodeur, D. (2007). Rethinking engineeringeducation: The CDIO approach. New York: Springer.Gere, M. & Young, D.H. (1968). Forewords in Timoshenko, S. As I remember: Theautobiography of Stephen P. Timoshenko; translated from the Russian by RobertAddis. Princeton, N.J.: Van Nostrand.Ferguson, E. S. (1992). Engineering and the mind's eye. Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press.Friedman, T. L. (2005). The world is flat: A brief history of the twenty-first century. New York:Farrar, Straus and Giroux.Gadamer, H. (1975). Truth and method (Barden and Cumming, Trans.). New York: SeaburyPress. (Original work published 1960)Ihsen, S., & Gebauer, S. (2009). Diversity issues in the engineering curriculum. EuropeanJournal of Engineering Education, 34(5), 419.Jørgensen, U. (2007). Historical Accounts of Engineering Education. In E. Crawley et al(Eds.), Rethinking engineering education: the CDIO approach (pp. 216-240). New York:Springer.Lucena, J., Downey, G., Jesiek, B., & Elber, S. (2008). Competencies beyond countries: The re-organization of engineering education in the United States, Europe, and Latin America. Journalof Engineering Education, 97(4), 433.Seely, B. (1999). The other re-engineering of engineering education, 1900-1965. Journal ofEngineering Education, 88(3), 285.

Celis, S. (2011, June), Reverse Engineering Modern Engineering Education and its Scientific Approach: What would Stephen Timoshenko Say about the Current Engineering Education? Paper presented at 2011 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, Vancouver, BC.

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