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Teaching engineering: then and now

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By John Bartlit

Public discourse is a strange thing. It clanks, whirrs and blows steam. As it hacks and grinds away, making an assembly line of ideas to choose from.

     Discourse operates this way on any topic worth our time. Take for example the discipline of engineering.

     Engineering does things to the air and water, some for better and some for worse. Practices have changed in recent decades. At the same time, the old principles apply even more in new situations.

     An insight can be found in an old work problem assigned to student engineers in the years before clean water was valued.

     My bookshelf still holds chemical engineering books I used at Purdue, Class of ’56. My senior year I took the course “Process Engineering Economics,” using a textbook of the same name.

     Flipping to the table of contents, I see that Section 7-4 explains the fine points of “Nonproductive Investments and Taxes.” An accompanying example (pp. 184-87) illustrates how engineers were trained in the 1950s.


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