Gary Downey

Professor Gary Downey

Last name: Downey

First names: Gary

Academic title: Professor

Host department at TU Darmstadt: Fachgebiet Thermische Verfahrenstechnik am Fachbereich Maschinenbau

Period of stay: October – December 2016

Focus in teaching: Engineering cultures in Korea, Japan, U.S., France, and U.K.

Focus in research: Social studies of engineers and engineering

Home university: Virginia Tech

Academic stops: Also National Taiwan U, Tapere U, and Yonsei U, Seoul National U, and KAIST (Korea)

What can students expect in your course?

The main goal of Engineering Cultures is to help engineering students learn to work better with people who define problems differently than they do, especially engineers from other countries.

It traces how contrasting infrastructures of engineering education and work have emerged over time in the United States, United Kingdom, France, Japan, and Korea. It explores how these infrastructures have challenged students and working engineers to value different forms of knowledge and expertise, embrace different images of progress, and accept different positions in the workplace and society.

The course offers a method for engaging in shared problem solving in the midst of those differences.

Each student takes an initial step toward becoming a “global engineer” – a critically self-reflective engineer who is prepared to work with others who define problems differently, including both engineers and non-engineers.

On successful completion of this module, students should be able to:

  • Describe how contrasting infrastructures of engineering education and work have emerged across five countries: United States, United Kingdom, France, Japan, and Korea
  • Describe how participating in different infrastructures of engineering education and work have challenged students and working engineers to accept and value different forms of knowledge and expertise, positions in the workplace and society, and images of progress.
  • Describe how individual engineers respond differently to the challenges of participating in infrastructures of engineering education and work
  • Describe three episodes in the emergence of one German infrastructure of engineering education and/or engineering work, showing how that infrastructure challenged engineers to accept specific knowledge, positions, and commitments (exam students only)
  • Describe cultural differences as differences in dominant images that challenge people (rather than shared beliefs and values, or other formulations)
  • Anticipate differences among engineers and ask intelligent questions of those who are challenged by different images
  • Work better with both engineers and non-engineers who draw boundaries around problems differently than they do
  • Understand and critically assess how you position themselves in a world of contrasting perspectives
  • Practice the most important leadership skill: listening to perspectives other than their own, with the expectation that they have value
  • Figure out how and where to locate engineering problem solving in their lives while also holding onto their dreams

What do you consider most important in teaching?

Listening—matching learning challenges to the career trajectories of students

TU Darmstadt has a particular focus on internationalisation – which aspects do you consider especially vital for a successful integration of international students and professors?

It is important for TU Darmstadt students to learn to examine and critically assess how they position themselves in a world of contrasting perspectives. They can then practice what I call the most important leadership skill: listening to perspectives other than their own, with the expectation that they have value

Taking a glimpse into the future: in which country or region would you like to spend some time teaching and/or researching? Why?

Tanzania and East Africa: I am interested in how the Chinese government is using engineers to build many infrastructures across East Africa, with the goal of extracting natural resources and delivering manufactured goods.

What do you expect to take home with you from TU Darmstadt?

I gained a greatly enhanced understanding of the daily lives and challenges faced by students at a prominent German technical university. I will remember the many pathways that brought them to TU Darmstadt and the many trajectories they are now following.