I was very impressed with the fall 2008 issue of Mines magazine. Reading through the magazine, I felt that Mines was a school I was proud to have attended. From Obama’s visit, to the numerous job ads (hopefully these are continuing), and programs such as the participation with NREL, the geobiology symposium, and other public lectures, it is obvious that Mines is a school that is going places. Even colleagues that did not attend Mines were impressed with what they saw in the magazine. The grants and donations the school is receiving are notable.
With a daughter graduating this spring in petroleum engineering, I must admit that I do not agree with those who think the school has dropped its standards. From what she has gone through, the school is still quite a challenge.
I also think the value of the EPICS program cannot be overstated. I never thought I would be putting the technical writing classes I took to use when I was at Mines, but as vice president of a consulting company doing business around the world, if I cannot communicate my points and concerns clearly and concisely, then it really doesn’t matter how insightful I am … In an era of increased competition for shrinking budgets, the managers/engineers who write the best proposals will typically be rewarded over those who do not. The strong economic background and other relevant technical programs give Mines graduates an edge in the workplace. My company hires Mines graduates for this very reason.
Lance Hardesty ’83
Letters on “Writing”
Editor’s Note: Both in volume and strength of feeling, the response we received to Larry Borrowsky’s article, “Writing,” that appeared in the winter issue eclipses any feedback I’ve received since becoming editor in early 2007. It clearly struck a chord. Thank you to all who wrote; unfortunately, there was not room for all your responses.
Thank you for the recent article on writing, by Larry Borrowsky… After graduating from Mines, I would write letters home. My dad, a mining executive, and at that time the director of the Mines Research Foundation, would return the letters marked up with a red pencil. Obviously, I had a ways to go in spelling, grammar and sentence structure. Since that time, I’ve made a career for over 35 years writing technical patent applications filed in the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office … Mines students, particularly if they plan to go into law and pass bar exams, will be well-served to write often, be thorough and express themselves with clarity.
Edwin H. Crabtree ’60
Your article on the importance of writing couldn’t be more true. Professionals are judged every day by the way they communicate: speaking, writing and presentations. Over the last 25 years, I’ve given blood, sweat and tears to develop a capacity to write effectively.
Failing the freshman English entry exam was an epiphany. Prior to this moment I had no idea of the importance of writing effectively … But, English 101 (“Bonehead English”) provided the basic skills to get me through the rest of my time at Mines … I’m now an officer in the U.S. Army. Daily, I’m faced with a variety of writing requirements: Evaluations, advancement and rewards all depend on my ability to concisely tell the world how great someone else performed. Bonehead English lessons remain a foundation I lean on even today…
Write and write well young engineers. Your future depends upon it.
Joe Staton ’89
Thank you so much for your article about writing in the winter 2008 issue of Mines. It brings back the memory of the first time that my parents and I came to Mines for a parent orientation event. The day was full of useful information on how a student at Colorado Schools of Mines would become a great master of math and engineering skills. When it was time to ask questions, my mother raised her hand and asked, “What about English? How will my daughter be mastering her writing skills?” You could have heard a pin drop ... Even the student giving us the orientation let out a bit of a sigh before answering. The student explained how every class, not just the engineering introductory courses, would be a lesson in communication, including the written form.
Since graduation from Mines, I have come to realize that communication is one of the most important, if not the most important, skill in any job setting. Of course… I may be biased, because not only did my Mines education make my mother proud, but it gave me the groundwork for my career as a technical writer.
Dawn D. (Smith) Gaynor ’99
As a member of two Mines visiting committees from 1989 to 1999 (McBride Honors Program; LAIS), the article “Writing” was of special interest. During our visits, we were asked to suggest ways to improve the perception and content of the honors program and to do the same for the core courses offered by LAIS. For the latter there was an additional request to recommend how to achieve the goal of having the courses more acceptable in a Mines culture devoted to science and engineering.
During our many visits, we interviewed students and faculty to be sure we were receiving well-rounded opinions. One of our first suggestions was to improve the writing skills of students, a subject not dear to the heart of many engineers. For example, interviews with students revealed that it was possible to go through the entire junior year and not write a single paper. The Writing Center was established and it was recommended that writing become a requirement for all degree-granting departments. The rest is history and WAC is now institutionalized, hopefully resulting in well-rounded graduates able to describe the fruits of their labor.
A brief comment to set the record straight on the [Challenger] example … It may well have been that the Thiokol engineers’ report was not very clear; however, that was not the reason the accident happened. There had been 14 previously reported solid rocket booster (SRB) O-ring problems. One that occurred during the launch of STS41D resulted in a blow-by past the primary O-ring and came within a few seconds of causing a similar disaster before the SRBs separated (Riding Rockets, Mike Mullane, Scribner, 2006, p. 228). The problem was well-known; the SRBs were recovered and always carefully examined after each flight. NASA managers just chose to ignore the problem. A lesson for all engineers?
Don Beattie ’58
I have read your article on “Writing” by Larry Borowsky, and am in fact in total agreement with the importance of clear technical writing. In fact I continually tell students that the most important subject that they take in school is English.
I confess, however, that I tend to disagree with Professor Dorothy Winsor who places blame on the engineers at Morton Thiokol for not communicating effectively their conclusions that the O-rings on the shuttle’s solid rocket boosters were susceptible to failure. To the contrary I would place primary blame on their supervisor, who if he did not understand the intent or conclusions of their report, should have taken it back to them and asked for an explanation. Why does the supervisory position exist if not to review work done on down the hierarchy and make sure it is clarified for further reporting up the hierarchal ladder? Presumably supervisors achieve their position because of their skill in being able to communicate data up and down the line, and they should know the focus and direction of all the work being down under their supervision.
In the past I have communicated with former President Trefny on this subject and was pleased to discover that he was a driving force in establishing the Writing Across the Curriculum committee. Hooray for Dr. Trefny, and English is still the most important subject in school.
Weldon G. Frost ’52
I wanted to thank you for the latest edition of Mines magazine, and in particular, the article entitled “Writing.” I believe that too many engineers consider such skills to be optional… I have been a patent attorney for nearly 20 years, having attended law school upon graduation from Mines. Obviously, writing and speaking are of paramount importance in my line of work.
Corky Klett ’87
Let me applaud the Mines program Writing Across the Curriculum as described in the winter 2008-09 issue of Mines magazine. In my experience effective written communication is a must for practicing engineers and scientists, unless they are determined not to progress.
I am a bit surprised that the idea of WAC seems new to Mines. In the curriculum of the ’50s we were all taught technical writing by a wizard professor in the English department, Anton (Tony) Pegis. He made it plain that a failure to communicate in writing was as serious as making bad technical errors. Reports and theses that we wrote for the Geology department (and probably other departments) received two grades: one from a geology professor and one from the English department, usually provided by Tony. I know it was at Mines that I learned good written communication. I and three classmates of mine worked for and became partners in a well-known international engineering consulting firm. The four of us were head and shoulders above other graduates when it came to report writing.
Dick Lea ’59