Atsushi Akera – 2016 Sterling Olmsted Awardee

The 2016 Olmsted Award goes to Atsushi Akera, Associate Professor of Science and Technology Studies at Rensselaer for outstanding research, teaching, and service advancing historical understandings of and contemporary practices supporting the liberal education of engineers. While I’ve had the opportunity both to read Atsushi’s meticulous scholarship on the history of engineering education reform and to observe his teaching in the interdisciplinary design program I direct, I want to draw attention here to that aspect of his work that everyone in LEES knows so well: His unflagging service to the LEES Division, to Union’s Engineering and Liberal Education Symposium, and to the broader cause of liberal education within and across ASEE. In addition to moving through the leadership ranks of the LEES Division—tomorrow he closes out his tenure as Past Chair—Atsushi has:

  • Advocated cross-divisional activities both from below and above—below through extensive lateral communication with other divisions and above by working closely with ASEE leadership to put in place structures conducive to inter and cross-divisional efforts.
  • Spearheaded the remarkably successful Town Hall meetings over several years—this year on proposed changes to ABET’s engineering program accreditation requirements, which was exemplary engagement and reflective of Atsushi’s skills in this space. The meeting addressed squarely and fairly a contentious yet critically important decision facing all of us as engineering educators. In his characteristic style, Atsushi played a moderating role, which itself is important, but which also tends to hide the more progressive achievement of putting this issue at the top of the agenda for many ASEE participants via the Town Hall. Many of us left this year’s Town Hall both energized and encouraged about the engagement of our peers around this timely issue.
  • Played a central role in mediating divergent voices around ABET changes within ASEE prior to and beyond the Town Hall, including through direct engagement with ASEE leadership as well as through coordinating collaborative scholarship in response to these challenges.
  • Articulated a vision for ASEE that returns the organization to its former standing as preeminent voice in engineering education policymaking, at least in the US context. His scholarship on the history of organizational transformation informs his tireless pursuit of ASEE’s organizational transformation in the present in a way that benefits all of us.

The awards committee considered thoughtfully the tradeoffs around making the award to our own immediate Past Chair. We discussed the importance of casting a wide net, of identifying scholars beyond the LEES community. There were several candidates for whom a strong case was made. Ultimately, however, Atsushi rose to the top of our list, and this was due primarily to the scope and impact of his many contributions to LEES, to ASEE, and to the liberal education of engineers broadly.