"To Serve, Not to Advertise Self…"
Twenty-four years after the 1891 founding of the School of Engineering, five KU engineering students, led by editor-in-chief W. Arthur Stacey, put out the first issue of the annual Kansas Engineer on May 26, 1915. Its debut was delayed for more than a month due to some contributors’ slowness in submitting their promised articles, yet what finally appeared, according to the Kansan, was “a substantial volume of 132 pages, … full from cover to cover of well written and practical articles on Engineering subjects, making it a book of real value to members of the engineering profession.”
It was a highly technical journal featuring scholarly essays contributed not only by students themselves, but also by faculty members and professional alumni. The Engineer provided a forum in which to publicize research, postulate theories, and exchange ideas with people from a wide variety of fields, from electrical to chemical to mining engineering and beyond. But most of all, the journal stressed its Kansas connection and devoted itself to “the technical problems of Kansas.” In its opening editorial, it observed, “many problems are being worked out in the state. Progress in municipal and sanitation matters, in the development of public utilities, in highway construction, in oil, gas, and salt production, and in manufacturing, calls for attention.” The journal promised to do all it could to promote and advance technical knowledge and application in Kansas: “To serve, not to advertise self, is our ambition.”
The premiere edition featured essays by a number of KU engineering professors, including mining engineering Prof. Erasmus Haworth’s piece entitled “Coal Mining with Steam Shovels in Southeastern Kansas” and architectural engineering Prof. Goldwin Goldsmith’s article on “Campus Planning.” Other essays covered such diverse themes as sewage disinfection in El Dorado, Kansas, the strength of certain types of cement mortar, and the performance of synchronous motors. Three engineering students also had articles published in the pages of the Engineer. In addition to the scholarly focus, the journal also featured a great deal of information on various aspects of student life, with special emphasis on activities and organizations that might appeal to engineering students. Information on campus engineering societies, alumni and faculty news, and special messages from the dean’s office were among the features of Kansas Engineer. Its reporting on Engineering alumni showed, according to the Kansan, that “recent graduates … are scattered [all] over the globe, from South America to Belgium, from Africa to the Philippine Islands.”
The journal intended itself to be “the connecting link between the school [of Engineering] and its students and the engineers of Kansas.” By reading (and subscribing to) the Kansas Engineer, “You students of today will find a view of the world of real engineering, for which you are preparing. You practicing engineers,” it continued, “the students of other days, will find here something that you may be able to use, and many ideas that will bear thinking about – and talking about for the good of the common cause.” The journal was, in short, designed for both “the present and future” Kansas engineer.
Published originally by the Associated Engineering Societies of the University of Kansas, issued annually, the Engineer soon became the official quarterly publication of the School of Engineering and Architecture. The articles remained of high scholarly quality even as the student authorship of them increased and the journal adopted a less rigidly academic appearance, punctuated by more advertisements and the inclusion of humor sections, much of it the self-deprecating sort that many engineers find irresistibly amusing.
As the Engineer approached its fiftieth anniversary, it was clear that not only had engineering at KU advanced a long way since its 1890s origins, but so too had the field in a national and international context. No longer was the journal’s subject matter focused almost exclusively on engineering in Kansas, nor even was it confined to the United States. For instance, the November 20, 1965, edition featured an article on the rebuilding of a bridge across Lake Maracaibo in Venezuela and advertisements from such corporations as General Electric, Union Carbide, Boeing, and IBM, all hoping to recruit top KU engineers upon graduation. In another indication of how far technology had progressed since the early days of the Kansas Engineer, in the November 1965 edition the super-secret National Security Agency promised KU grads the chance to work on “high-speed computers” and in such fields as cryogenics and other space-age disciplines.
In 1965, too, the Engineer aimed to retool its focus slightly and make a greater effort to recruit prospective engineering students to the University. In an editorial entitled “Goals for the Future,” the Engineer vowed, above all, to “present a good image of Kansas University to all our readers. This is very important since many future college students read this magazine in their high school libraries. By trying to sell KU and the Engineering School to these prospective students,” it added, “the Kansas Engineer justifies its existence.” It also promised to “represent the entire Engineering School” by offering a “well-diversified arrangement of subject matter.” In the editors’ opinion, the journal needed to broaden its audience by being less of a “technical journal, which must be read with diligence,” and instead give readers “a magazine that [they] can not only use to gain knowledge, but to read for enjoyment.”
Three years later, however, it seemed the Engineer had not achieved its goal, at least to the satisfaction of the new editor, Coffeyville senior, Kyle Van. “The average student will be able to read and understand this year’s magazine,” he told the Kansan on September 30, 1968. In the past, he allowed, “Perhaps it was too well written, too articulate [and solely] aimed at the technical person.” As a change, Van promised to include more general interest articles and subject matter that could appeal to engineer and non-engineer alike.
In 1984, the Engineer shrunk to a biannual publication and its modern incarnations have indeed taken on a decidedly more popular feel as the articles (and the journal as a whole) have become shorter and less technical, essentially aiming to make engineering research and advances accessible and relevant to a more general audience. Articles, for instance, have covered such topics as alternative energy sources; analyses of the structural damage from the 1994 San Francisco earthquake and the 1991 destruction of KU’s Hoch Auditorium by fire; and a most interesting piece on how teams of international firefighters battled burning Kuwaiti oil wells in the wake of the Persian Gulf War.
Indeed, the Engineer’s quality and professionalism have been confirmed over the years by having received a number of writing, photographic, and layout awards from annual competitions sponsored by the Engineering College Magazine Association (ECMA). And along with these accolades and throughout the decades, the journal has still retained its sense of humor. In its Spring 1992 edition, for example, among the “Top 10 Uses for the Engineering Fee” were “hammocks in the library”, a “dating service for lonely and desperate engineers,” and a “four-year supply of pocket-protectors for all engineering students.”
Today’s Engineer is still published on a biannual basis and its content remains the exclusive product of KU engineering students, although the University’s ARTS Group assists with layout and artwork. According to Anthony Abbott, the journal’s co-editor from 1998 to 2001, “Writers can write about anything they chose -- from technical documents on current research to student life -- the only condition here is that the article must in some way relate to engineering.”
Due to budgetary constraints and the difficulty of finding sufficiently dedicated undergraduates, the journal’s staff is perennially small and its reach is limited primarily to the alumni, students, faculty and staff of the School of Engineering (though a number of other universities nationwide receive copies through the ECMA.) Yet, insisted Abbott, “I was always proud to distribute our magazine because I knew that only engineering students put in the time and effort to write on something they cared about.”
John H. McCool
Department of History
University of Kansas