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Thinking about Maintenance and Maintainers in Engineering Education

Lee Vinsel Seminar Poster

Abstract: We live in a culture that is obsessed with "innovation," yet most human activity is aimed at using, maintaining, and repairing technologies, not introducing new ones. Nowhere is this irony starker than in engineering. Engineering societies and departments cast engineers as inventors, innovators, and creators, but most engineers - probably around 70% - focus on maintaining and operating existing systems in their daily work. How then can we reorient the image of engineering and the education of engineers around this reality? I will begin this talk by briefly examining the history and ideology of "innovation-speak" and how it has gotten us into so much trouble. I will then examine how a focus on maintenance, repair, and use can shift thinking about engineering and engineering education in three ways: by creating new social scientific examinations of what engineers do all day, by teaching engineering students how to think about maintenance, and by challenging engineering ethics' focus on design rather than operations. 

Biography: Lee Vinsel is an assistant professor of Science, Technology, and Society at Virginia Tech. Previously, he received a PhD in the history of technology at Carnegie Mellon and did a postdoc at Harvard University and professed at Stevens Institute of Technology for five years. Two years ago, he co-founded The Maintainers, an international, interdisciplinary research network dedicated to the study of maintenance, repair, and ordinary work with technology. His work has appeared or been covered in the New York Times, The Atlantic, Freakonomics Radio, the Guardian, Le Monde, and many other outlets around the world.