PRISM Magazine Online - March 2000

Calling for Inclusiveness

Calling for InclusivenessRobert Weatherall's call to engineers to think more about their own image of engineers and engineering ("Let's Stop Selling Ourselves Short," January 2000) is very much on the mark. To exclude from the ranks those who build on their engineering education to excel in leadership positions is to miss a great opportunity.

There once was an unfortunate phrase in some organizations to the effect that "engineers should be on tap, but not on top." On the contrary, we need to honor those engineers who have reached the top and encourage their successors. Who better than young men and women with a fine education from one of our many engineering colleges to lead a variety of organizations in the millennial age of technology?

As engineers, we need to be inclusive of excellence whether it is in research, teaching, design, policy, or team leadership. We must value the engineer who is deeply knowledgeable of a research topic or an area of practice, to be sure. But the engineering graduate who develops the depth and breadth needed to lead a team of engineers as well as other talented people with a broad range of skills deserves no less our admiration and inclusion in the society of engineers.

The many engineers who have reached leadership positions in the private and public sector form an impressive group. I encourage Prism to present these individuals to us from time to time in profiles that will make us all aware of the success that engineers, broadly defined, can enjoy.

Earl Dowell
Duke University

Classified Overload

I thoroughly enjoy reading Prism each month. Having said that, I must state that I am troubled by a disturbing trend: the huge number of professional ads. In the January 2000 issue, 32 of the 76 pages were dedicated to these ads. I'm happy with my current job. If I were not, I'd seek out positions using the Internet. I fear that the large volume of professional ads is taking away valuable space that could be used for further discussion on engineering education.

Being a true engineer, I will not bring up a problem without viable solutions. Consider separating the professional ads from the rest of Prism. Either attach these professional postings as a supplement or create a separate publication. Another possible solution is to market more sophisticated Internet job-search tools (like online posting of positions and resumes using ASEE's Web site).

I'm interested in the feelings of my fellow ASEE members on this subject. Other than this one issue, the material and the format used by Prism is outstanding.

Glenn Oliver
Central Carolina Community College

ASEE Executive Director Frank Huband responds:

    We feel that the Professional Opportunities section provides an invaluable service to our members who are seeking new positions or simply want to keep abreast of current job market trends in engineering education—an impression that is frequently reinforced by reader surveys. For ASEE, the ads are an important revenue source that allows us to bring you Prism and other member services while keeping dues low.

    The January 2000 issue was a record month for these ads, but January is always a heavy month as schools look to fill vacancies for the coming year. And while we appreciate and share your desire for ever-more discussion of issues, I can assure you that the space devoted to classified ads is separate, and will never supplant editorial content in Prism.

Patent or Perish

"The Paper Chase" (Briefings, December 1999, p. 10) discusses the "publish or perish" requirement in academia while suggesting that additional computational artifacts (software, chips, etc.) have worth. Unfortunately the article did not cover patents. They are published and represent creativity to an extent often missing in published scholarly articles.

Donald G. Wilson
San Diego State University

Metric Matters

Classified OverloadIn the January 2000 issue of Prism, you brought into focus a festering problem inherent in engineering education in the U.S. when you alluded to the recent cause of the Mars Climate Orbiter failure ("Metrics Made Easy," p. 32). When are educators going to see to it that American engineering students are proficient in the system of measurement that is used on the rest of the globe?

You also cited an effective teaching approach by which one minimizes converting from one system to another and instead describes objects in their metric dimensions in the first place. While teaching at the University of Massachusetts-Amherst, I had horizontal lines painted across several classroom walls, together with the length of those lines expressed in meters. The students may never have bothered to guess the width of the walls in feet, but they sure got a reminder each time they came to class as to how many meters represented an identifiable object. Incidentally, the lines are still there.

May your comments help academia recognize the need for a switch to the metric system.

Klaus E. Kroner
University of Massachusetts-Amherst

Metric Matters My compliments to all who are involved with Prism for producing an excellent magazine. I enjoy reading it!

"Back to the Future" by Henry Petroski (January 2000, p. 31) is a fine reminder of how educators can use artifacts with which they are familiar to help their students build "bridges of understanding" between the known and the unknown.

"Metrics Made Easy"(p. 32) is also a fine example of how to help students think in the metric system by linking metric measurements to commonplace objects. In the last paragraph, however, there is also an error that is, unfortunately, made all too frequently. The megapascal is not a unit of force; it is, as correctly stated in the next-to-last paragraph, a unit of pressure. To say ". . . experience a force of approximately one megapascal . . ." is simply wrong.

It would be correct to say "Similarly, one can experience a force of approximately 1 newton by sticking one end of a toothpick into one small apple, and balancing the apple by placing the end of the toothpick (broken off if necessary to ensure that the area is 1 square millimeter!) on the end of one's finger." But this statement is not all that useful, because one can also experience a force of approximately 1 newton simply by balancing the apple itself on the end of the finger, or holding the apple in the palm of the hand. The force doesn't change, one is simply supporting the force of 1 newton on different surface areas.

Donald E. Hegland
Assembly magazine

Tenure-Track Consulting

Tenure-Track ConsultingI was catching up on my Prism reading over the recent semester break and was interested in the "Out and About" article written by Douglas M. Green (October 1999, p. 32). I agree with almost everything in the article. Consulting can be very rewarding and an asset both to teaching and research. I would, however, like to disagree with the author when he says that he does "not recommend part-time consulting for untenured faculty members!"

When I started my career in academia as an assistant professor, one of the first things I did was find a company that would let me hang around for one day a week. I wanted to get good ideas about industrial-relevant research topics, and it wasn't long until I found some interesting problems. The company hired me to work on one as a small consulting project, and because I produced good results, they soon gave me a research grant. More funding followed once I had established my credibility, and I used my research record at the company to help bolster my chances with my NSF Career application—an award I'm happy to say I won. As it turns out, I was tenured and promoted the following year.

I'm not saying that all consulting projects for new faculty members will have the same outcome as mine did. However, I am saying that in my case, and in the case of other untenured faculty I know, the initial industrial consulting project helped me as a new faculty member to establish a long-term relationship that has paid very good dividends through the years—dividends that are consistent with tenure-track faculty responsibilities.

Russell D. Meller
Virginia Tech

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