May 31, 2009

Designing Engineers

I've been on the road a lot this month. First an NSF proposal review panel then a meeting of the EE departments that were awarded NSF Department Level Reform grants. After a short visit home it was off to an NSF Engineering Research Center site visit and I'm writing this just before a workshop in Baltimore at the CLEO conference on lasers. While I would love to be able to get a lot of work done from the road, I am never very efficient while I'm traveling so I tend to take books or articles instead. The type of reading that falls in the important but not urgent category, reading I don't get done in the office. By reading I both kill the tedious hours of air travel and assuage the Protestant guilt that comes with idleness.

On this trip I am reading Louis Bucciarelli's excellent book "Designing Engineers". I chose this book since my attempt to carve out a niche for myself in engineering education requires identifying a set of important problems; understanding the creative act of design overlaps my interest and experience. This book is blowing me away!

Through examples at three companies the book provides insights on the engineering design process and clearly illustrates how design is as much social as it is technical. The process of negotiation is shown as key to design as is how engineers represent themselves to their peers and managers. I debated requiring the book in my capstone design course, but on reflection realized that most engineering seniors probably don't have the base of experience to really draw insights from the book yet.

It has actually been nearly a month since I started this post, but got hung up in politics and getting ready for the ASEE conference. This weekend I ran into one of my former students at the wedding of another student and she was interested in teaching a course on success in engineering careers. So maybe I can incorporate this book in a way to help students succeed in their careers...

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