Skip to Content
ASEE PRISM
  American Society for Engineering Education
American Society for Engineering EducationOCTOBER 2007Volume 17 | Number 2 PRISM HOMETABLE OF CONTENTSBACK ISSUES
FEATURES
COVER STORY: BANGALORE-JOLT - INDIA’S RAPID HIGH-TECH GROWTH HAS FUELED A HUGE DEMAND FOR WELL-TRAINED ENGINEERS. STARTUPS, INDUSTRY, RETURNING EXPATRIATES AND EVEN A SPIRITUAL LEADER—THE ‘HUGGING SAINT’—OFFER INNOVATIVE WAYS TO FILL THE VOID. BUT ARE THEIR EFFORTS ENOUGH? BY LUCILLE CRAFT
FEATURE: 2 FOR 1 - IN PUTTING ITS BUSINESS AND ENGINEERING SCHOOLS UNDER ONE ROOF, PENN STATE BEHREND AIMS TO FOSTER CREATIVE TEAMWORK WHILE MAKING ITS STUDENTS ATTRACTIVE TO INDUSTRY.  BY MARY LORD
FEATURE: EDUCATOR FOR THE REAL WORLD - JIM MELSA WANTED TO CHANGE HOW ENGINEERING IS TAUGHT, EVEN IF IT MADE HIM ‘A PAIN IN THE NECK.’ BY PIERRE HOME-DOUGLAS

DEPARTMENTS
COMMENTS
CONTRIBUTORS
BRIEFINGS
DATABYTES
REFRACTIONS: LAUNCHING A CAREER - BY HENRY PETROSKI
CLASSIFIEDS
LAST WORD: Saving the Marriage - BY PAUL PEERCY

TEACHING TOOLBOX
Walking the Line - Ethics courses give students an understanding of the dilemmas they will face in the workplace—and the confidence to make wise choices. BY ALICE DANIEL
JEE SELECTS: The Case for Inductive Teaching - BY RICHARD FELDER AND MICHAEL PRINCE
ON THE SHELF: Stunning Growth, Stubborn Problems - BY ROBIN TATU


BACK ISSUES







 
REFRACTIONS: LAUNCHING A CAREER - BY HENRY PETROSKIHenry Petroski
 


It was exactly half a century ago this month that American engineering and science experienced a rude awakening. On Oct. 4, 1957, the Soviet Union launched the first artificial Earth satellite, thus beating the United States into space. As Sputnik orbited the planet, emitting radio signals that today might evoke the sounds of a digital alarm clock, American citizens lay awake stunned and scared.

Within days of the shock, there were calls for accelerated efforts to catch up and surpass the Soviets. This was to be accomplished in part by encouraging more students to study mathematics, science and engineering, and there was to be increased funding for education and research and development.

I was beginning my junior year in high school at the time but had not yet given much thought to college, let alone to what I might study there. But high-school advisers had been quickly sensitized to the country’s newly realized need for more scientists and engineers, and so I and my classmates who, by grades and standardized tests had demonstrated talent in math and science, were directed toward those fields. By my senior year, it was a foregone conclusion that I would seek admission to an engineering school.

Since I not only excelled in math and science but also enjoyed those subjects, it should have come as no surprise that I enjoyed the courses I took as a college freshman. That is not to say that I excelled in them initially. College social life was a strong competitor for my time and attention. First-year calculus, chemistry and physics required more studying than I was giving them, and my first midsemester grades provided a personal wake-up call. I had not been doing my part to beat the Soviets, and I resolved to be a better student.

The first true engineering course was Engineering Measurements, taken at summer camp at the end of freshman year. In the sophomore year, all engineering students took Statics and Dynamics, Electric Circuits and Engineering Drawing and Descriptive Geometry. I especially enjoyed the first two courses, mostly because they relied heavily on math and science concepts.

My introduction to real-world engineering came through summer jobs, one involving a fallout-shelter survey and another traffic-signal layouts. In each case, the work was largely routine and required little of what I was learning in college. What was remarkable to me was that the older engineers with whom I worked were uniformly bitter and disgruntled, with little good to say about engineering as a profession. Of course, they were not doing much more than a college student could do and seemed to be without hope or motivation for advancing their careers.

Such experiences did make me wonder whether engineering was for me. I soon learned that other engineering students had similar concerns, and we debated whether to switch majors to science or math. But any doubts that I had were dispelled by my junior-year courses, which were taught by accomplished engineers who conveyed a sense of excitement and pride in what they were teaching and doing. They were real-world designers, and they brought their experiences into the classroom. I am grateful to them for their enthusiasm.

President 
Kennedy pledged that Americans would set foot on the moon within the 
decade.It had been near the end of my sophomore year that President Kennedy pledged that Americans would set foot on the moon within the decade. Scientific and engineering manpower was growing at a rate three times faster than the population, and I was part of that growth. Although I would not be involved in the Apollo program, I would be part of the profession that would put the United States on the moon first.

Henry Petroski, the Aleksandar S. Vesic Professor of Civil Engineering and a professor of history at Duke University, is the author of more than a dozen books on engineering and design. His latest, a technical and cultural history of the toothpick, is being published this month.

TOPˆ

 

 


ADVERTISEMENTS
Learn about diversity at ASEE
ASEE would like to acknowledge the generous support of our premier corporate partners.

   

American Society for Engineering Education