C. Brandt1, D. Prescott2

1Petroleum Institute (UNITED ARAB EMIRATES)
2American University of Sharjah (UNITED ARAB EMIRATES)
Considerable emphasis is currently being placed on the need to complement the technical discourse of engineering with social, educational and cultural discourse on professional engineering-related themes. The impetus for these changes come from professional engineering institutes such as the European Federation of National Engineering Associations (FEANI) and the Institution of Civil Engineers (ICE); from accreditation boards like the Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology (ABET), Engineers Australia and the Engineering Council (UK); from academic initiatives such as The Natural Edge Project (TNEP) in Australia, and programs such as those at Arizona State University College of Technology and Innovation and Carnegie Mellon University Department of Engineering and Public Policy.

This new emphasis encompasses themes such as the communication needs of engineers, ethics in engineering, (re)-educating engineers, engineering and gender, and induction into the engineering workplace. Technical knowledge alone, no matter how excellent or extensive it might be, is not sufficient for contemporary engineers if they are to contribute meaningfully to society as accomplished members of their profession. Extensive, up-to-date knowledge of engineering principles and a clear understanding of science and mathematics fundamentals are still the foundations of an engineer’s professional credibility, but without the complementary soft skills that enable effective functioning in the twenty-first century workplace, the knowledge will be largely ineffective.

Reading is an example of one such soft skill that is of particular value to engineers. Research has indicated that engineers spend a significant amount of their professional time reading and that they rate it of high importance in their professional lives. It also appears to be related to professional success. While it clearly plays a key role in the capture and transfer of technical knowledge for engineers, it can also provide engineers with access to the range of newly-emphasized themes referred to above, which can help to expand their knowledge of the world, understandings of other cultures, creative thinking and problem-solving abilities, vocabulary size and writing competency, for example.

Addressing the need therefore for engineers at various stages of their careers to cultivate a diverse professional reading habit, in this paper we present the rationale for a successful approach to reading material design that complements the technical discourse of engineering with social, educational and cultural discourse on engineering-related themes. Recognizing the pluralism that is often characteristic of such themes, different perspectives on each theme are offered, representing distinct worldviews and contexts, with the specific aim of promoting pleasure, interest and ability in reading widely and critically within the field of engineering and related areas. The application of the approach, its target audience and its benefits are discussed, and we conclude by examining the extent to which the rationale may be applied to other disciplines.