What is engineering?

A graphic essay of tech and philosophy

  • Mel Chua



Point of view:  I'm a contagiously enthusiastic hacker, scholar, and teacher with an industry background in Free and Open Source Software (FOSS) communities. As a teenager at the Illinois Math and Science Academy, I loved storytelling and cinematography and wanted to major in the arts. That wasn't an option for my family of immigrants, so I took up electrical and computer engineering at Olin College (BS), where I arrived thinking that a breadboard was for baking (it's for electronics). I am Deaf and have always been a strong visual thinker; this piece was written and drawn during my first semester as a PhD student in engineering education at Purdue University. I’m intrigued by how multiple interacting curricular cultures in higher education can deconstruct our notions of engineering, education, and just about everything else.

Value: This work is a playful contribution to engineering education ontologies (as a subset of philosophy), which explores questions of reality and being - what "is." It challenges the high consensus culture of engineering, especially the tendency to seek clearly defined and fixed meanings for terms. In this case, the notion of "engineering" itself is called into question. It also explores what graphical/non-textual scholarship in and about higher education might look like.

Summary:  This graphic essay was made when I was a first-semester engineering education graduate student. This past self was naive regarding "scholarly" and "academic" writing conventions, and frustrated both by the limitations of text as a standalone medium and the engineering disciplinary tendency to seek clearly defined and fixed meanings for terms rather than exploring their possibilities. I am now a slightly more seasoned scholar seven years down the line with a desire to engage in discussion and revision of the piece.

Note to readers:  This document consists of a comic submission which is meant to be experienced visually: What is Engineering?. Each page of the comic is presented separately here, followed by text descriptions for that page. Text descriptions are provided for acces.