Tech prof offers inside look into engineer’s mind

Kali Katerberg/Daily Mining Gazette Engineering professor William Bulleit discusses the idea of engineering as a way of thinking at his Michigan Tech talk.

HOUGHTON — In a quickly evolving world, typical engineer problem-solving methods could prove necessary for the wider public and require an evolution of their own.

A professor at Michigan Tech’s Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering, William Bulleit, proposes that engineers think a little differently, “or at least people seem to think we do,” he said.

Bulleit sees a distinction between engineering and science and other disciplines commonly grouped with it.

In engineering, you use rules of thumb, safety rules and approximations. Failure will occur and advances will come from those failures.

Since engineering is based on creating in the real world, it doesn’t deal with the optimal solutions of a pure science, Bulleit explained. Learning is not just knowledge for the sake of knowledge — the application is key and what makes engineering distinct.

Bulleit would like to see engineering incorporated into learning. As he sees it, to help society everyone will have to know a little bit about engineering, he said.

Ideally, Bulleit would see the incorporation of engineering principles into general education classes from early education to college.

“It really ought to be clear or at least clear to the student that it might prove useful in the future,” Bulleit said. “There should be some relatively clear connection, even if it’s very loose with what you might have to do with it in the future.”

“It’s at least now evolving into K through 12, slowly but surely, at least in Michigan,” Bulleit said. “It’s still being taught under science, which I don’t really care about where it’s being taught right now as long as they’re starting to think about engineering as something that’s out there that people need to know about.”

To make this incorporation possible, engineers would need to develop programs and help students get a taste of what engineering means.