Discourse Communities are Groups of People

Ferruccio Lamborghini was one of the wealthiest men in Italy in the 1950s. Born into a family of farmers, Ferruccio was more drawn towards farming machineries rather than farming itself. His engineering knowledge led him to create a tractor company, Lamborghini Trattori in 1948.

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As an automobile enthusiast, he owned a number of high end sports cars including a Ferrari 250GT, which consistently broke down because of its faulty clutch system. Dissatisfied with Ferrarir’s after sales team, Ferruccio took the issue to il Commendatore himself, Enzo Ferrari. An argument broke out between the two, with Ferruccio listing ways to improve the carr’s clutch and Ferrari dismissing them. Sensing an opportunity, Ferruccio started his own high end sports car company, Automobili Lamborghini. Today, Lamborghini and Ferrari are giants in the sports-car world, and their rivalry has lead to newer and better engineering technologies being developed with each model year. Be it Ferrari vs. Lamborghini, Tesla vs. Edison or Apple vs. Windows, opposing viewpoints within the engineering community have always lead to the creation of newer and better technologies.

Discourse Communities are groups of people who share a common goal or passion and use a specific set of discourses to effectively communicate ideas. As I mechanical engineering major, I have become part of a few professional discourse communities including the American Society of Mechanical Engineers (ASME) and the Society of Automobile Engineers (SAE). As the name suggests, ASME is professional discourse community for individuals that share a passion towards machines and their workings. ASME at UT Tyler is a student organisation that devotes itself to the advancement and dissemination of the theory and practice of mechanical engineering. The members get together once every week to engage in activities that improve our critical thinking abilities and hands on experience.

Baja SAE, the student SAE organisation at UT Tyler, is a group of individuals that that share a passion towards automobiles. They focus primarily on designing and constructing an off-road vehicle that can compete against teams from all over the country. ASME and SAE are very similar to each other since they operate under the mechanical engineering division. The core values for both organisation include teamwork, professionalism and ethics. The language of communication is also very similar since many technical terms are used in daily conversations. However, since SAE is based on automobile engineering, they use some some terms that are not used at ASME. Words like suspension geometry and NVH (Noise, Vibration and Harshness) bear no meaning at a regular ASME meeting, but are extremely important at SAE. It is interesting to note that even though SAE is a subset of mechanical engineering, the terms used there are a superset of the ASME terminology.

Arguments due to opposing points of view are not uncommon at ASME or SAE, and they are solved by the use of facts and figures. Arguments at ASME are mostly about how a project should be designed. These arguments are very civilised and non- aggressive. One such argument erupted during the early planning stages of a robot that can collect different sized balls from the ground. One group of people supported a design which basically brushes the ball into a box, while others wanted to make a robot with a hydraulic arm made from plastic tubes and syringes. After careful consideration of each idea through a debate, the brush robot idea was finalised. However, the ideas that were developed on how to build a hydraulic arm were too good to be dismissed, and a larger hydraulic claw was built during the next week’s meeting. A smaller version of this arm was incorporated into the robotr’s brush to provide better grip. Therefore, an opposing idea resulted in both the improvement of the robot and an entirely different machine.

Another discourse community in which I actively participate is Pirates of the Harvey Lake(PHL). PHL was formed as a result of a project for the freshman Introduction to Engineering class, where groups of 5 members have to design and construct a canoe made entirely out of cardboard and duct tape, and race it against other teams in timed runs. The mission is weirdly similar to that of SAE, just that the off-roader is replaced with a cardboard canoe. The biggest challenges faced by the group was time management and preventing water from entering the boat without using waterproofing coatings. As the group leader, I decided that the communication ideas must not be through texting as they can easily lead to misunderstandings. As a result, communications between the group members were verbal, and texting was only used to plan meeting times and to sent photographs and drawings. Special terms related to boats, including bow,stern,hull,keel etc. were used on a daily basis. Triangular beams that were fixed onto the boat throughout its base were called the triangles.

Majority of the disagreements in the cardboard canoe group were about the design of the boat, mainly on how to keep the boat from collapsing from the bottoms and the sides. One option was making the base of the boat as thick as possible by stacking large sheets of cardboard. This would have used up the permitted amount of cardboard meaning there wouldnt be any more cardboard to reinforce the sides to the base. Another idea was to integrate a structural frame into the hull of the boat in such a way that it would bear heavy loads easily, but it means there wouldnt be enough cardboard to waterproof it. After a huge discussion, we figured out a way to weave the structural frame through multiple layers of cardboard in such a way that it can support the structure of the boat while providing enough thickness to minimise water damage. The boat, christened Valkyrie, was extremely durable and still maintains most of itr’s strength even after 2 hours of rough paddling.

Compared to the professional discourse communities like ASME and SAE, PHL was very informal and the language used between us reflects that. Most dialogues were friendly banter and many ideas were communicated through pop-culture references. SAE and the cardboard canoe group are similar in its origin and function, yet it feels very different. One was very formal and professional, perhaps due to its leadership by hardened graduate students, while the other hardly felt like we were working even though it was one of the mot stressful projects I have ever worked on.

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