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What Is Global Engineering Education For?: The Making Of International Educators

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2010 Annual Conference & Exposition


Louisville, Kentucky

Publication Date

June 20, 2010

Start Date

June 20, 2010

End Date

June 23, 2010



Conference Session

Normative Commitments and Public Engagement in Engineering

Tagged Division

Liberal Education

Page Count


Page Numbers

15.1368.1 - 15.1368.24



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Paper Authors


Gary Downey Virginia Tech

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Gary Downey is Alumni Distinguished Professor of Science and Technology Studies and Affiliated Professor of Engineering Education, Women and Gender Studies, and Sociology at Virginia Tech. He teaches the undergraduate course Engineering Cultures, an approach to international education for engineers at home. It is designed to help engineering students learn to work more effectively with people who define problems differently than they do, including non-engineers, by critically examining their own identities and predispositions. Current Chair of the ASEE Liberal Education Division, he is also co-founder of the International Network for Engineering Studies ( and co-editor of its journal Engineering Studies (

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NOTE: The first page of text has been automatically extracted and included below in lieu of an abstract


religious missionary views, is all they need to try to solve other people’s humanitarian and development problems. Juan Lucena (Colorado School of Mines) bucked family tradition on his father’s side by eschewing law and medicine for education and an identity in aeronautical engineering. Yet he found himself unwilling to contribute to what he has seen as Cold War or post-Cold War militarism, as well as to the spread of free-market ideology across Latin America. Shifting his educational focus from engineering to interdisciplinary science and technology studies and struggling to transport the Engineering Cultures course from Virginia Tech to Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University and Colorado School of Mines, he now works through a variety of teaching and research projects to help engineers and engineering students recognize and critically analyze the politics of engineering. 7. Integrating critical identity work—Gary Downey One night in eleventh grade, I had had a dream entirely in Spanish. I had been studying Spanish since the seventh grade and would be approaching working fluency when I finished high school. I experienced the dream as a wholly altered reality. I had joined a different world. People and things were different when I engaged them through the lens of Spanish. At the time, I was mostly proud I could have the dream at all. I was gaining mastery of the language. But it also triggered a developing interest in perspective and point of view. What most struck me is that the language itself seemed to have a point of view. My curricular work began to step beyond Engineering Cultures and dive deeper into the heart of engineering curricula in 2004 when I was invited to deliver a keynote address to the World Congress of Chemical Engineering on engineering education. In preparing this address, it suddenly occurred to me that while the practices of collaborative problem definition emphasized in my course may be supplemental to practices of mathematical problem solving, they were not supplemental to everyday engineering work. Indeed, problem definition was both an essential part of engineering practice and upstream of problem solving. In the same way that I had decided to contest the meaning of global competency, I decided to contest the core of engineering curricula, arguing that the core practices should include collaborative problem definition alongside mathematical problem solving. Gary Downey (Virginia Tech) presents a trajectory that locates his work in international engineering education alongside other teaching and research designed to integrate into engineering education practices of critical self-analysis. Feeling “confined by the requirements of my curriculum [in mechanical engineering]”, he sought graduate training in anthropology to learn how to analyze conflicting perspectives in technological controversies. Moving into science and technology studies as a faculty member offered both the freedom to develop a variety of curricular interventions in engineering education and the constraints of peripheral location--all the courses have been electives. This work has led in turn to efforts building an academic field of “Engineering Studies” that would place special emphasis on examining the normative commitments of engineers and engineering and to research examining practices of “problem definition and solution” in engineering pedagogy and the engineering workplace.

Downey, G. (2010, June), What Is Global Engineering Education For?: The Making Of International Educators Paper presented at 2010 Annual Conference & Exposition, Louisville, Kentucky. 10.18260/1-2--16433

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