The Art of Engineering

By Panitz, Beth | ASEE Prism, February 1998 | Go to article overview

The Art of Engineering


Panitz, Beth, ASEE Prism


If at first glance the works of Rembrandt, Claude Monet, and Georgia O'Keefe appear to have little connection to engineering education, take another look, recommends Ann Brown, a director of the Writing Assistance Program at North Carolina State University (NCSU)'s engineering college.

Rembrandt's pre-industrial depiction of a windmill, Monet's impressionistic representation of the Waterloo Bridge, and O'Keefe's aweinspiring painting of a skyscraper are all discussion topics in Brown's English composition course for engineering freshmen. In fact, Brown uses these and other artistic portrayals of technology to help students gain a historical sense of engineering and an understanding of engineering's role in society.

Brown explains that her course, along with a complementary introductory engineering laboratory courseboth funded by NSF's SUCCEED Coalition-aim to give freshmen "a sense of identity as engineers." She notes that often engineering students are not exposed to their chosen field until they're juniors. By providing freshmen with a course where they gain hands-on experience dissecting and piecing together common technological devices as well as a composition course where they read about, write on, and discuss engineering topics, NCSU hopes to improve student retention.

For the most part, Brown works toward this goal by focusing her course on historical readings related to engineering and technology and requiring students to write journal entries that describe their thoughts about these readings. Students also write six formal papers regarding engineering-in one they analyze an advertisement, article, or editorial related to engineering; in another, they critique and edit the engineering and science lab manuals they use in other courses.

Looking for a way to occasionally break up the 90minute class period, Brown decided that interjecting technology-related art would offer a needed change of pace as well as another means of introducing students to engineering. About once in every four class sessions, she spends approximately 15 to 20 minutes showing a series of slides and overhead transparencies depicting artwork that captures the essence of technology. …

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