Technology’s Poet Laureate

Friday, June 23, 2023

Dedicated students, distinguished colleagues and dear friends,

Happy Friday!

Gerald FordHenry KissingerColin PowellCondoleezza RiceMargaret ThatcherItzhak PerlmanWynton Marsalis and Yo-Yo Ma are just a few of the notables who traveled to Rolla and spoke at S&T. And then came Henry Petroski.

I was saddened by the news of the recent passing of Dr. Petroski, a longtime professor of engineering and history at Duke University and a prolific writer who, in addition to hundreds of articles, op-eds and essays, published 20 books at the intersection of engineering, technology and history. One book in particular, To Engineer is Human, had a profound impact as “a sharp, succinct look at the importance of engineering” and “its crucial role in improving the world,” as I detailed in one of my previous Friday emails.

Known as “America’s poet laureate of technology” while continuing a successful career at Duke as the Vesic Professor of Civil and Environmental Engineering, Dr. Petroski wrote about engineering and inventions large and small, from bridges to pencils to toothpicks, and, as he explains in his own words, the importance of engineering and innovation as it relates to public policy.

Dr. Petroski visited S&T twice in 2011: first to deliver a lecture titled “Success and Failure in Engineering: A Paradoxical Relationship” and then to deliver the commencement address to our May 2011 graduates and receive an honorary doctoral degree from S&T, which he proudly highlighted.

Dr. Petroski also wrote about our name change from the University of Missouri-Rolla to Missouri University of Science and Technology in his “Refractions” column in the October 2011 issue of ASEE Prism magazine. In that article, titled “How the Rolla campus became Missouri S&T,” he concluded: “Changing the name of an institution is never easy, but Missouri S&T has provided a model for how to do it successfully.”

On a personal note, I had the pleasure of hosting and flying Dr. Petroski to lecture at one of my previous organizations. I remember how impressed I was with his depth of understanding of “engineering” and his ability to delineate and explain the achievements of engineering. I also remember his displeasure of hearing successes described as “scientific achievements” while failures were always called “engineering failures”!

Dr. Petroski, thank you for your dedication to engineering, to engineering education and to educating engineers. Thank you for a life lived well, for your graceful demeanor, and for all your contributions.

Rest in peace, sir. You will be missed.



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