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The Grandest Challenge: Models for Communication Development in Technical Contexts

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2014 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


Indianapolis, Indiana

Publication Date

June 15, 2014

Start Date

June 15, 2014

End Date

June 18, 2014



Conference Session


Tagged Divisions

Multidisciplinary Engineering and Liberal Education/Engineering & Society

Page Count


Page Numbers

24.1221.1 - 24.1221.8

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Paper Authors


Julia M. Williams Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology

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Dr. Julia M. Williams is executive director of the Office of Institutional Research, Planning, and Assessment and a professor of English at Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology. Her research areas include technical communication, assessment, accreditation, and the impact of pen-based technologies on learning and teaching. Her articles have appeared in the Journal of Engineering Education, the International Journal of Engineering Education, IEEE Transaction on Professional Communication, and Technical Communication Quarterly, among others.

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Caroline Carvill Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology


Richard A. House Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology

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Richard House is a professor of English at Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology. He received a B.A. from Illinois Wesleyan University and M.A. and Ph.D. degrees from the University of California, Irvine. In addition to engineering communication and pedagogy, he has scholarly interests in sustainability and Shakespeare.

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Jessica Livingston Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology

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Jessica Livingston is an associate professor of English at Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology. She received a B.A. from the University of Georgia, an M.A. from the University of Kentucky, and a Ph.D. from the University of Florida. Her areas of interest include engineering communication and pedagogy, the intersections of gender and work in a global economy, and documentary film.

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Anneliese Watt Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology

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Anneliese Watt is a professor of English at Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology. She teaches and researches technical and professional communication, rhetoric and composition, medicine in literature, and other humanities elective courses for engineering and science students. Her graduate work in rhetoric and literature was completed at Penn State, and her recent research often focuses on engineering and workplace communication as well as medical humanities.

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The Grandest Challenge: Models for Communication Development in Technical ContextsAs engineering educators who teach communication, we are cognizant of the gap that exists betweenthe content and skills that are foundational to our courses and the technical content of the rest of theengineering curricula. That gap reinforces a misapprehension among students that the principles ofeffective communication—audience analysis, rhetorical awareness, and the like—are unrelated to thetechnical work of design. At our institution, we have recognized this challenge and have sought ways tobring communication content and technical content together in ways that are manageable by facultywho are not engineers. The required course in professional and technical communication at our collegeis required of all engineering and computer science majors and is usually taken in the junior year. Thecourse has undergone many transformations in content and focus since it was first developed in 1994.The latest iteration blends communication principles with technical projects that can bridge the divideand help students see how the two fields are intricately intertwined in the engineering workplace.This presentation is structured around four approaches to the task developed by four faculty. First, wediscuss how the blending of communication and technical content has been achieved through asustainable engineering project that functions as the centerpiece of the course. Then we will presentthree variations on that initial model: a project focused on the Keystone Pipeline; a project focused onthe work of our college’s Engineers Without Borders organization; and finally a project that blends theGrand Challenges for Engineering with outreach to middle schools. We believe that ASEE attendees willleave this presentation with a clearer understanding of the possible intersections betweencommunication and engineering and that they will be able to adapt our models to their own institutionalcontexts.

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: © 2014 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