To Engineer is Human

by Kathleen McCoy  |   

Lecture will explore engineers essential contributions to society and culture

The University of Alaska Anchorage (UAA) School of Engineering will host Dr. Henry Petroski of Duke University as part of the Ralph & Betty George Engineering Ethics Speaker Series on Monday, April 9 at 7 p.m. in the Wendy Williamson Auditorium.

Dr. Petroski's lecture, entitled "To Engineer is Human," will explore how engineers make essential contributions to society and culture, but sometimes make errors and their plans go awry.  How engineers deal with their professional obligations makes the difference between whether their works are praised or damned.  In this lecture, the joys and sorrows of engineering will be discussed through case studies of success and failure.

Henry Petroski is the Aleksandar S. Vesić Professor of Civil Engineering and a professor of history at Duke University.  He has written broadly on the topics of design, success and failure, and the history of engineering and technology.  His dozen or so books on these subjects include To Engineer Is Human, Design Paradigms, and Engineers of Dreams, all of which deal with large structures like bridges.  

He has also written about small, common things in his books, The Pencil, The Evolution of Useful Things, The Book on the Bookshelf, and Small Things Considered.  His next book will be a technical and cultural history of the toothpick.  A memoir about delivering newspapers in the 1950s and about what predisposed him to become an engineer is entitled Paperboy.  His most recent book is Success through Failure: The Paradox of Design.  

In addition to his books, Petroski has written many general-interest articles and essays for magazines and newspapers, including the New York Times, Washington Post, and Wall Street Journal, and he writes regular columns for both American Scientist and ASEE Prism.  Also, he lectures frequently to audiences in the U.S. and abroad, and has been interviewed on radio and television.  He has been profiled in the New York Times, Smithsonian, U.S. News and World Report, and many other newspapers and magazines.

Before moving to Duke in 1980, Henry Petroski was on the faculty of the University of Texas at Austin and on the staff of Argonne National Laboratory.  He is registered as a professional engineer in Texas and a chartered engineer in Ireland.  He is a fellow of the American Society for Civil Engineers, whose History and Heritage Committee he chairs, and the American Society of Mechanical Engineers.  He has held fellowships from the Guggenheim Foundation, the National Endowment for the Humanities, and the National Humanities Center and is the recipient of four honorary degrees.  Among his other honors are the Washington Award from the Western Society of Engineers and membership in the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, the American Philosophical Society, and the U.S. National Academy of Engineering.
The School of Engineering is the recipient of a generous bequest establishing an endowment that will fund the ongoing Ralph & Betty George Engineering Ethics Speaker Series, which is designed to enhance ethical practices in engineering.  
The speaker series will help raise public awareness of UAA's engineering program, enhance the UAA School of Engineering's reputation, imbue students with critical ethical decision making skills, and improve ethical practices within the industry.  The ethical engineers who graduate from UAA will become ethical leaders in our local, state and national communities, and in the engineering community, as well.  

For more information on UAA's School of Engineering and Dr. Henry Petroski's upcoming lecture, contact 786-1900 or

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