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Torquing Engineering: Historical and Contemporary Challenges to the Technical Core via Internationalization

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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

Integrating Engineering & Liberal Education

Tagged Division

Liberal Education/Engineering & Society

Page Count


Page Numbers

24.1265.1 - 24.1265.11



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Paper Authors


Brent K. Jesiek Purdue University, West Lafayette

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Dr. Brent K. Jesiek is Assistant Professor in the Schools of Engineering Education and Electrical and Computer Engineering at Purdue University. He is also an Associate Director of Purdue's Global Engineering Program, leads the Global Engineering Education Collaboratory (GEEC) research group, and is the recent recipient of an NSF CAREER award to study boundary-spanning roles and competencies among early career engineers. He holds a B.S. in Electrical Engineering from Michigan Tech and M.S. and Ph.D. degrees in Science and Technology Studies (STS) from Virginia Tech. Dr. Jesiek draws on expertise from engineering, computing, and the social sciences to advance understanding of geographic, disciplinary, and historical variations in engineering education and professional practice.

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Torquing Engineering: Historical and Contemporary Challenges to the Technical Core via InternationalizationUndergraduate engineering education has historically emerged and evolved around a solidtechnical “core” that is mainly concerned with foundational mathematical and scientific topics.This core has remained largely impervious to change, even amidst ongoing efforts to transformengineering curricula to cultivate a wider range of global and professional capabilities amonggraduates. Implementation of the ABET EC2000 accreditation criteria over the last decadepotently exemplifies how reform movements that seem to have transformative potential oftenresult in only incremental changes largely on the margins. The reasons for these stunted reformsare many, including a change-averse engineering professoriate, policy documents with a greatdeal of interpretive flexibility, and a policymaking environment tilted toward neoliberal values.Also of note is a tendency in many formal and informal discourses to adopt and project a kind ofsocial-technical dualism, where the technical dimensions of engineering education and practiceare viewed as both separable from and superior to social considerations. As a consequence, mostgraduates enter the profession unprepared for the sociotechnical realities of their work.These challenges are especially evident in ongoing efforts to “internationalize” engineeringeducation. To begin, ongoing efforts to prepare engineers for the global realities of their workoften potently reflect how boundaries are created and maintained between the technical core ofengineering and most everything else. In addition, a growing body of engineering studiesscholarship reveals that the technical core of engineering is perhaps not so solid or fixed whenviewed in cross-national comparative perspective, with partially distinct epistemological,ontological, and cultural characteristics defining engineering practice in different locales.Building on these themes, this paper begins with a review of current literature on the relation ofthe social and technical in engineering education and practice, both in general and in relation todifferent understandings of global competency in engineering. The paper then turns to two kindsof examples to discuss how ongoing efforts to internationalize engineering education havelargely failed to challenge social-technical dualism. The first set of cases provides a historicalexamination of discourses on global and international trends and issues in engineering educationover the span of more than five decades. More specifically, critical analysis of both primary andsecondary source materials helps show that despite longstanding acknowledgment of the potentsociotechnical realities involved with practicing engineering across nations and cultures, suchconsiderations are often trumped by imperatives to protect the technical core of engineering.The second type of case presented in the paper is more personal, describing the authors’ ownefforts to create and introduce a global engineering course at a large U.S. research university. Bycritically reflecting on his experiences, the author highlights how a variety of both implicitassumptions and explicit policies at multiple levels can powerfully call into question and thwartchallenges to social-technical dualism. The author in part describes his efforts using Downey’sconcept of “scalable scholarship,” which helps capture how academic teachers and researchersmight critically and creatively participate in worlds of practice. Yet Bowker and Star’s notion of“torque” is also introduced to help capture how change agents who try to defy hegemoniccategories and boundaries often live this experience through a disruptive sense of bending andtwisting at the hands of more powerful actors, policies, and institutional structures. The paperconcludes with a meditation on current challenges and opportunities associated with turningengineering education toward a more holistic, integrated, and sociotechnical approach that betterprepares graduates for effective professional practice and more engaged kinds of citizenship.Keywords: engineering education, global engineering, history, internationalization, reform,scalable scholarship, sociotechnical dualism, technical core

Jesiek, B. K. (2014, June), Torquing Engineering: Historical and Contemporary Challenges to the Technical Core via Internationalization Paper presented at 2014 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, Indianapolis, Indiana. 10.18260/1-2--23198

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