First-Hand:ASEE Fellow History - Dyrud


History of an ASEE Fellow

Marilyn A. Dyrud

As of September 18, 2017

Birthplace: Pomona, California

Birth date: January 25, 1950


My mother’s family came to the US from England in the 17th century and settled in Mecklenburg, NC; one of those relatives was a signer of the Mecklenburg Declaration, a precursor of the Declaration of Independence. James K. Polk, the 11th president of the US, is a distant relative. In the 1900’s, the family moved to Joplin, Missouri, where my grandmother is buried. I never knew my grandfather, as he died before I was born. During the Depression, they moved to Southern California.

My paternal grandfather immigrated to the US in 1905, from the tiny town of Omice, Moravia, Czechoslovakia. My grandmother was also Czech, but she was born in the US. After their marriage, they moved to Brainard, Nebraska, which was home to a rather large Czech community. I always viewed my grandma as exotic, as she spoke with the heavy Czech accent and even subscribed to a Czech newspaper!

My grandfather’s story is classic Horatio Alger; he worked hard and eventually owned a string of banks in Omaha. They returned to Omice in the 1920’s, and he bought bells for the local church; they were destroyed by the Nazis in World War II. During the Depression, which resulted in the family moving to Southern California, he owned a hardware store and died in 1953. My grandmother, however, lived to the ripe old age of 102! My father, the youngest of eight children, died last year at the age of 100.

I have been married to David Dyrud since 1976, and we have three children: Andrew, who lives in Minneapolis; Claire, in Los Angeles; and Jon, in Brooklyn, Cleveland, Boise, and Lake Tahoe (he is a professional actor who works in three venues). David retired from teaching at Oregon Institute of Technology in 2003; I followed his lead this June.


I attended public schools in Pomona, California, and graduated from Ganesha High School in 1968. My senior English teacher was a profound influence; she fostered a love of literature that has lasted to this day.

My undergraduate years were at Callison College, one of the cluster colleges at the University of the Pacific, in Stockton, California. UOP is the oldest university in the state and began as a music conservatory. Callison was the latest addition to two existing cluster colleges. It focused on international relations and featured a required sophomore year abroad in Bangalore, South India. Although, in retrospect, I wish that I had been older and smarter at the time, it was a life-changing experience, one that flits across my mind frequently.

From sunny California, I migrated to Purdue University, receiving my MA in 1972 and my PhD in 1980, both in literature.


I have spent my life in academia, first at Purdue, as a teaching assistant in the English Department, and then as an adjunct at OIT. When a position opened in the Communication Department in 1983, I applied and was hired as an assistant professor.

Initially, I taught composition, technical writing, and public speaking. However, after hearing a presentation by Roger Boisjoly, one of the whistleblowers for the Challenger disaster, at an ASEE conference, I developed an intense interest in ethics, which, of course, leads squarely into engineering. I have taught ethics classes for nearly 20 years.

In 2000, I was asked to join the teaching team for the civil engineering senior design project, and I readily agreed. This has been particularly satisfying and has led to developing and teaching a graduate course in thesis writing.

Research and Scholarship

I am eclectic in my research interests. Currently, my passion is examining the role of engineers in the Holocaust, as I firmly believe that this horrific event could not have happened without the complicity of engineering professionals to design and construct the entire infrastructure. This, of course, leads to the role of corporations, specifically IBM and the Ford Motor Company. I am proud to say that my paper on Ford won best ETD paper for the 2015 CIEC conference.

I am also interested in electronic communication and how it is reshaping our personal and professional relationships. Indeed, the entire Internet is redefining who we are as people and as a culture.

I have published a number of papers related to technical communication and professional ethics, especially cases, in conference proceedings and professional journals.

Philosophy of Engineering Education

I was raised, intellectually, in a humanities environment; I always pictured myself snuggled in a cozy, small liberal arts college teaching literature. But that all changed when I found myself at OIT.

Even though I attended graduate school at one of the nation’s premier engineering institutions, I managed to keep that topic at arm’s length, being immersed in another field. When I started teaching budding engineers/engineering technologists, however, I had to face the fact that I was ignorant about all things engineering and proceeded to learn something about that very alien field.

But teaching engineering students is no different from teaching students in other fields, at least when it involves communications. The key is doing, for a piece of writing does not exist until someone produces it: actually sits down, puts hands on a keyboard, and punches buttons. As sports columnist Red Smith quipped, “There’s nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and open a vein.”

In addition, writing has power to illuminate, persuade, and manipulate. Our students must always remember that someone is on the receiving end, whether it is a piece of academic writing or an email. So fostering ethical behavior becomes a major goal.

ASEE Activities

I joined ASEE in 1983, and at my first conference found myself deluged with acronyms—it was a different language! Fortunately, I was with another faculty member from OIT who managed to make sense of things. He also, I should add, knew where all the free receptions were, so I had virtually no food expenses that first year.

In the years since, I had become very involved; I have always been the ETD’s “token liberal arts” person, but that led to the position of communications editor for the Journal of Engineering Technology, a time-consuming but very illuminating experience.

I have served as Pacific Northwest section chair, Zone IV chair and subsequently on the ASEE board of directors, member at-large for the Engineering Technology Division, chair of the Engineering Ethics Division, to name but a few positions. This year I am program chair for ETD.

I am able to use my communications expertise to benefit the society; for example, I wrote the first approved draft of ASEE’s plagiarism policy and have served on several society committees, including the Prism advisory committee.

Of the several professional organizations that I belong to, ASEE has offered the chance for significant professional involvement, and many of those conference attendees have become good friends. ASEE has changed me for the better, and I hope that I have been able to contribute to the organization in some small degree.

Other Professional Activities

In addition to ASEE, I am active in three other professional organizations: Association for Business Communication (currently, vice-president for the West region and board of directors member; presenter; chair of the Teaching Committee for 14 years), Association for Practical and Professional Ethics (presenter and session moderator), and International Association of Journals and Conferences (conference proceedings editor; presenter).