Gary Downey, of Blacksburg, professor of science and technology in society Virginia Tech's College of Liberal Arts and Human Sciences, will deliver a keynote address at the 7th World Congress of Chemical Engineering in Glasgow, Scotland, in mid-July.
With the Congress’ focus on interdisciplinary links, Downey, who also is an affiliated faculty member of the Department of Engineering Education in Virginia Tech’s College of Engineering, is a perfect fit. Congress organizers invited Downey to present on critical issues in engineering education, challenging him to be provocative. His title is “Are Engineers Losing Control of Technology?: From ‘Problem Solving’ to ‘Problem Definition and Solution’ in Engineering Education.”
His address outlines four contemporary challenges to a common practice among engineers in different countries of identifying engineering with technology and then using this link to justify a core emphasis on technical problem solving in engineering education. He suggests that responding successfully to these challenges will require abandoning the oft-stated alternative of broadening engineering education in favor of redefining its core to include problem definition alongside problem solving. He analyzes four characteristics of a model of engineering as Problem Definition and Solution and three types of strategies for helping engineering students learn how to work with people who define problems differently than they do.
His keynote will be published in a commemorative issue of Chemical Engineering Research and Design, the lead journal of the European Federation of Chemical Engineering. The Congress, which meets every five years, will have more than 2,000 presenters from 54 countries. The event is sponsored by The Royal Society, The Royal Academy of Engineering, and The Royal Society of Edinburgh. According to the Congress website, the meeting will be "Europe's largest ever stand alone meeting of chemical and process engineers."
Downey is the author or co-author of three books, 17 refereed journal articles and nine book chapters, and has been principal investigator on externally-funded research projects totaling $650,000. He is the 2004 recipient of William E. Wine Award for career teaching excellence at Virginia Tech and a member of the Virginia Tech Academy of Teaching Excellence. He was elected a Fellow of the American Anthropological Association in 1993.
Downey teaches the award-winning course Engineering Cultures, and is credited for helping students to develop concrete strategies for understanding cultural differences and engaging in shared problem solving amidst differences. One student recently wrote, “Engineering Cultures changed my life. I walked into the first class wondering how, as an engineer, I could fulfill my dreams of serving society in a meaningful way. I walked out of the last knowing exactly what I needed to do to be happy, satisfied, and successful as an engineer.”
Downey received a bachelor’s from Lehigh University, and a master’s and Ph.D. from the University of Chicago. Named a Boeing Company Senior Fellow in Engineering Education by the National Academy of Engineering (NAE), Downey is a member of the Society for the Social Studies of Science, American Anthropological Association, Society for Cultural Anthropology, and American Society of Engineering Education, as well as the honorary fraternities Phi Beta Kappa in the liberal arts, Tau Beta Pi in engineering, Sigma Xi in the sciences, and Pi Tau Sigma in mechanical engineering. Three times he has received the Certificate of Teaching Excellence, and he has received the XCaliber Award for instructional technology and the Diggs Teaching Scholar Award. He also is adjunct professor in Women’s Studies and in Sociology.