English Language and Literature ETDs

Publication Date

Summer 7-29-2017


This dissertation draws from a three-year study of writing and rhetorical engagement in an engineering student organization at a university in the southwestern United States. I describe how students in the organization use writing to undertake a water quality program in an indigenous territory in Bolivia. I describe the student organization as a boundary-zone activity between its parent organization, the college of engineering, and its community and non-governmental organization partners. I provide a narrative of the organization as a site of rhetorical engagement, from the beginnings of the water quality program in 2007, through a 2014 partnership with a capstone design course in civil engineering, to a 2015 assessment trip to Bolivia. Employing expansive developmental research, an interventionist methodology derived from cultural-historical activity theory, I analyze observation notes, interview transcripts, and textual artifacts. The textual artifacts include the student organization’s correspondence, reports, field books, journals, promotional materials, websites, and informational architecture. I also analyze curriculum maps, the capstone course’s syllabus and assignment guidelines, and all of the correspondence and assignment drafts produced by the capstone team. I describe the manner in which writing both requires and facilitates the internalization of social motive, or a conceptualization of the contradictions within an activity system and between it and its neighbor activities. This conceptualization functions in effect as a recognition of rhetorical exigence. I further describe how students, faculty, and professional engineers must internalize the need to vertically and horizontally integrate the boundary-zone activity of the student chapter through explicitly intentional dialogic writing activity. Through my research, I work with the students to reinterpret obstacles as opportunities for building partnerships across and beyond the curriculum toward a more holistic approach to rhetorically engaged learning aligned with the aims of a twenty-first century liberal education. Based on my findings, I recommend that even within a curricular environment not immediately amenable to vertical and horizontal integration, the associated contradictions can be treated as exigences for writing-intensive, rhetorically engaged learning.

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Level of Degree


Department Name


First Committee Member (Chair)

Charles Paine

Second Committee Member

Tiffany Bourelle

Third Committee Member

Cristyn Elder

Fourth Committee Member

Natasha Jones




rhetoric and composition, writing across the curriculum, writing in the disciplines, rhetorical genre studies, technical communication, engineering education

Document Type


Available for download on Tuesday, July 29, 2025