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ENE Memo: February 6, 2012

From the Head: 2/6

The Courage to Engineer

Roger Boisjoly, a mechanical engineer who worked at Morton Thiokol, passed away in January, although news of his death did not reach the mainstream media until a few days ago. Why is this significant? Roger Boisjoly exemplifies the moral courage that it takes to be an engineer. Based on his technical expertise and supporting evidence, he became concerned that the seals on solid booster rockets, made by Morton Thiokol, and which power the space shuttle on take-off, might fail in very cold weather. He strenuously warned his management and that of NASA of the possible consequences if the Challenger was launched in the very cold conditions that prevailed on the morning of January 28, 1986. His warning was not heeded, and we all know what happened.

But rather than being seen as a hero who tried to sound the alarm, Boisjoly was ostracized and suffered significantly as a result of being a true professional. A recent article in the NY Times outlines some of the pressure he endured.  

Engineering is not just applied mathematics and science; it a deeply value-laden enterprise that involves choices that have real consequences for people and the planet. Decisions we make as engineers about what we choose to work on and how we choose to do things have an unavoidable moral and ethical dimension. I recommend you explore this case of an engineer who had the moral courage to stick by his professional opinion and hang the personal or social consequences.

In a famous minority opinion to the official report on the Challenger disaster,  Appendix F, Nobel Prize-winning physicist Richard Feynman concluded with the following statement: “For a successful technology, reality must take precedence over public relations, for nature cannot be fooled.”  Even if we have a perfect set of calculations, if these do not model the actuality of nature, then there could be dire consequences. To engineer is to have the courage to make critical judgment calls.

Even if we are not called upon to display the moral courage shown by Roger Boisjoly in raising the alarm about the Challenger, we all have a role to play. In the NY Times article, Douglas Martin recalls that Boisjoly “was sustained by a single gesture of support. Sally Ride, the first American woman in space, hugged him after his appearance before the commission.” “She was the only one,” he said in a whisper to a Newsday reporter in 1988. “The only one.”

Food for thought and cause for deep reflection on what it takes to engineer.


News and Information: 2/6


...there will a Town Hall Meeting for the graduate student body: February 9, 3:30pm, Forney G124.  Dr. Radcliffe will review the feedback from the Advisory Board visit and will host a Q&A following the review.  The ENEGSA will then provide and overview of updates of the January Town Hall Meeting.


Mel Chua and Velvet Fitzpatrick have combined powers to create our very own ENEGSA (that is, an all-ENE student) web page at If you have any questions about or recommendations for the web page, please contact Mel at

The ENEGSA is now featuring ENE students of the month. A link is available through the ENEGSA web page or via the following URL: For anyone who has not replied to Julia Thompson's e-mail -- “What? Who is that? Is he in ENE? I never met her?" -- please do so as soon as possible. This information will be the core when YOU are featured as ENEGSA's person of the week. For any questions, please contact Julia at

For those who haven't heard, the ENEGSA is now hosting a T-shirt design contest TODAY through February 29, 2012. Be sure to create your designs in the interface and have your designs submitted on time. Voting for this contest will place from March 1-7, and the winner of the contest will win a free T-shirt. Please see Justin Hess at for details.

Lastly, there will be a Jewelry Making Party Saturday 2/25 at 6:00 PM at Robin's. All are welcome to come, even if they aren't inclined to make some jewelry. This will be a potluck event, and you can bring a yummy dish, something to "drink" or even contribute some supplies! Hope to see you all there! For more details please contact Brianna Dorie at

For any general questions or concerns, please contact the ENEGSA at Thank you.


The Purdue University Consulting Club is holding its first callout for all university students. This event:

  1. Will give you insights into what the club has in store coming forward.
  2. Is a great opportunity to connect with some of the smartest people across Purdue who are also interested in consulting. 
  3. Will provide free pizza!

Please find the callout details below:

- Date: February 6, 2012
- Time: 5:30pm – 6:30pm
- Location: KRAN G016



Calendar: 2/6

Spring 2012

Kudos: 2/6

…to Matt Ohland and Russell Long, who, with co-authors Drs. Catherine E. Brawner, Michelle M. Camacho, Richard A. Layton, Susan M. Lord, and Mara H. Washburn, have been selected to receive the William Elgin Wickenden Award from the American Society for Engineering Education for the article “Race, Gender, and Measures of Success in Engineering Education,” which appeared in the April 2011 issue of the Journal of Engineering Education.

…to Paul Birkhimer, recipient of the prestigious (if difficult to pronounce) "ENEy" award.

"Paul is a great asset to the FYE academic Advising office. We have had several new staff come on board in last 8 months and Paul is always available to answer questions, explain policy, how things are done or why, and anything else new staff may want or need to know. His patience and willingness to drop what he is doing and answer our questions has eased the transition for several of us in this office. Paul is also a key player in the formal training of new staff. Again it’s his patience and friendly attitude to answer all of our “newby” questions that has made him so much appreciated."

Nominators: Rose Redington & Randy Fonner

…to Carla Zoltowski, Bill Oakes, Monica Cardella for the paper entitled “Students' Ways of Experiencing Human-Centered Design,” published in the Journal of Engineering Education, 101(1), 2012, pp28-59.

…to Scott Schaffer, Xiaojun Chen, Xiumei Zhu, and Bill Oakes for the paper entitled “Cross-Disciplinary Learning in Project-Based Teams,” published in the Journal of Engineering Education, 101(1), 2012, pp82-94.

…to Mel Chua on being featured in Purdue's "5 Students Who Are Example Makers." She was also cited in President Cordova's February "Message From the President." (Little-known fact: Mel's hometown, she says, is "the internet.")

…to Tamecia Jones on receiving a Jhumki Basu Equity Scholars Award from the National Association for Research on Science Teaching. This award recognizes Tamecia's work as well as her promise as a scholar who will continue to contribute to science (and engineering) education research, scholarship, and leadership. The award funds her travel to attend the 2012 NARST Annual Conference in Indianapolis. Note: Tamecia will also be presenting her work at NARST in Indianapolis on March 25. If you have not attended NARST in the past, you might consider this as an opportunity to check out this conference and/or show support for Tamecia.

…to Julie Russell on today's "Thumbs Up" recognition in *Purdue Today*.

When the administrative assistant to the head of the School of Engineering Education was out of the office unexpectedly, Julie Russell stepped up to the plate to make sure everything ran smoothly. She has a full plate, but with the grace we have learned to expect she has accepted all the extra requests with a smile on her face. Thanks Julie, for going the extra couple of miles. — Loretta McKinniss (School of Engineering Education)

To suggest content for future issues of ENE Memo, contact David Radcliffe or Lisa Tally by midday Friday for the following week's issue.