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The Traditional Engineer vs. the Innovative Engineeer

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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

The Nature of Innovation and Entrepreneurship Session 4

Tagged Division

Entrepreneurship & Engineering Innovation

Page Count


Page Numbers

24.1247.1 - 24.1247.19



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Paper Authors


Daniel Michael Ferguson Purdue University, West Lafayette

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Daniel M. Ferguson is the recipient of three NSF awards supporting research in engineering education. Prior to coming to Purdue he was Assistant Professor of Entrepreneurship at Ohio Northern University and Associate Director of the Inter-professional Studies Program and Senior Lecturer at Illinois Institute of Technology. His research interests include engineering innovativeness, entrepreneurial engineering, teamwork, and mindset changes and learning strategies of both engineering students and practicing engineers. Prior to his University assignments he was the Founder and CEO of The EDI Group, Ltd. and The EDI Group Canada, Ltd, independent professional services companies specializing in B2B electronic commerce and electronic data interchange. The EDI Group companies conducted syndicated market research, offered educational seminars and conferences and published The Journal of Electronic Commerce. He was also a Vice President at the First National Bank of Chicago, where he founded and managed the bank’s market leading professional Cash Management Consulting Group, initiated the bank’s non-credit service product management organization and profit center profitability programs and was instrumental in the breakthrough EDI/EFT payment system implemented by General Motors. Dr. Ferguson is a graduate of Notre Dame, Stanford and Purdue Universities and a member of Tau Beta Pi.

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Senay Purzer Purdue University, West Lafayette Orcid 16x16

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Şenay Purzer an Assistant Professor in the School of Engineering Education at Purdue University. In 2011, she received a NSF CAREER award, which examines how engineering students approach innovation. She is also a NAE/CASEE New Faculty Fellow. Purzer conducts research on aspects of design education such as innovativeness and information literacy.

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Matthew W. Ohland Purdue University and Central Queensland University Orcid 16x16

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Matthew W. Ohland is Professor of Engineering Education at Purdue University and a Professorial Research Fellow at Central Queensland University. He has degrees from Swarthmore College, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, and the University of Florida. His research on the longitudinal study of engineering students, team assignment, peer evaluation, and active and collaborative teaching methods has been supported by over $12.8 million from the National Science Foundation and the Sloan Foundation and his team received Best Paper awards from the Journal of Engineering Education in 2008 and 2011 and from the IEEE Transactions on Education in 2011. Dr. Ohland is past Chair of ASEE’s Educational Research and Methods division and a member the Board of Governors of the IEEE Education Society. He was the 2002–2006 President of Tau Beta Pi.

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Kathryn Jablokow Pennsylvania State University

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Dr. Kathryn Jablokow is an Associate Professor of Mechanical Engineering and Engineering Design at Penn State University. A graduate of Ohio State University (Ph.D., Electrical Engineering), Dr. Jablokow’s teaching and research interests include problem solving, invention, and creativity in science and engineering, as well as robotics and computational dynamics. In addition to her membership in ASEE, she is a Senior Member of IEEE and a Fellow of ASME. Dr. Jablokow is the architect of a unique 4-course module focused on creativity and problem solving leadership and is currently developing a new methodology for cognition-based design. She is one of three instructors for Penn State’s Massive Open Online Course (MOOC) on Creativity, Innovation, and Change, and she is the founding director of the Problem Solving Research Group, whose 50+ collaborating members include faculty and students from several universities, as well as industrial representatives, military leaders, and corporate consultants.

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The Non-Innovative EngineerMany of the existing studies on innovators are not specific to engineers. Those that focus onengineers aim to characterize innovative engineers. The purpose of this paper is to describe thenon-innovative engineer.We conducted a large-scale interview based study to understand what characteristics constituteinnovative or non-innovative behavior in engineers. The overall purpose of this study was todevelop socially accepted descriptions of these phenomena. More specifically, the researchquestion examined was: “What are the characteristics or knowledge, skills, and attributes thatenable or inhibit engineers from translating their creative ideas into innovations that benefitsociety?”This study was set in an interpretivist framework and developed a socially co-constructeddescription of engineering innovativeness or the lack thereof. The data were collected throughinterviews with 45 experienced and recognized engineering innovators who described engineerswho were innovative or non-innovative including themselves.A grounded theory analysis approach for integrated data collection and analysis was used toconstruct and test models of engineering innovativeness. After construction of a codebook andcoding reviews with research collaborators, interviews were coded until theoretical andcategorical saturation was achieved.Non-innovative engineers were described by engineering innovators in this study as: people whofail to challenge the status quo and who are not collaborators. They were seen as someone whominimized risk, as not persistent, thinking short-term and focused on a narrow domain ofknowledge or expertise rather than a more diverse knowledge and skill base.There is a paucity of published research on the characteristics of non-innovative engineers.However, a grounded theory interview-based study of 117 new product development staff in 17innovative and non-innovative companies found: “non-innovative organizations restrict [innovative behavior] by framing knowledge as separate, bounded subsets of operations, and defining their links in terms of the optimization of ongoing operations. [They] limited to new knowledge to that which improves existing operations; [or] confirms or ratifies current operations.” (Dougherty, Borrelli, Munir, & O’Sullivan, 2000)Non-innovative engineers were profiled by engineering innovators as the source of many of thebarriers that they had to overcome in developing an innovation. Pointing out what not to becomeor what traits to build in engineers to move them along the scale toward becoming moreinnovative will be useful to practicing engineers, engineering managers and engineeringeducators.Dougherty, D., Borrelli, L., Munir, K., & O’Sullivan, A. (2000). Systems of organizational sensemaking for sustained innovation, Journal of Engineering and Technology Management, 17, 321-355.

Ferguson, D. M., & Purzer, S., & Ohland, M. W., & Jablokow, K. (2014, June), The Traditional Engineer vs. the Innovative Engineeer Paper presented at 2014 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, Indianapolis, Indiana. 10.18260/1-2--23180

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