University of Strathclyde



This case study examines the data (coursework’s and questionnaires) collated from an innovative undergraduate (n=428) assessment (2010-2015). The first-year students were required to select and read six inaugural addresses by former ICE presidents (2 from the 19th century; 2 from the 20th century and 2 from the 21st century) and use these as a catalyst for writing their own ICE student president address (circa 2000 words) whilst keeping an eye towards 2050.

The coursework required the students to write in first person and to consider the relationship between civil engineering and society. Emphasis was put on looking backwards and forwards to enable the students to speculate on the role of civil engineering in the UK and abroad towards 2050.

The students who receive the top five grades for their coursework are invited to present (now 2nd year students) an abridged version (10mins each) of their address to the new first-year students during the following academic session. These new fresher students are asked to vote on their preferred candidate to become the Strathclyde ICE Student President. The voters are informed that their selection criteria should be based on (1) confidence in delivery / communication (2) visionary ideas towards 2050 (3) quality of information on the slides used.

The winner receives a trip to London (sponsored to £300 by an engineering company) to visit the ICE HQ and a prestigious civil engineering project and for the past three years we have also toured landmark Scottish bridges.


Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering 

Faculty of Engineering

Contact Details

Dr Michael Murray

(Teaching Fellow in Construction Management)




A coursework assessment contributing 15% weighting towards a 20 credit module (CL120 Construction & the Environment). The coursework constitutes an ‘assessment for learning’ (AfL) to support and promote learning (see McDowell, 2014).

Fresher civil engineers are most likely to enrol at university with a relatively narrow understanding of their chosen career path. The provision of scholarly research and writing activities in connection with the history of the ICE can help to develop a student’s anticipatory socialisation of the civil engineering profession.

Sir Isaac Newton’s  17th century dictum ‘if I have seen further it is by standing on ye shoulders of giants’ finds no better home than when associated with the 150 distinguished Institution of Civil Engineers (ICE) Presidents who have held office since Thomas Telford’s investiture in 1820. The inaugural addresses of the presidents constitute a living history that charts the scientific and technological innovations in civil engineering over the past 194 years. These transcripts provide a longitudinal body of historical engineering knowledge that illuminates past achievements whilst offering the potential to inspire today’s engineers. They allow the reader to gain a unique understanding of the purpose and history of the ICE.

  • McDowell L (2014) Assessment for Learning, Chapter 6, In: Lynn Clouder, Christine Broughan, Steve Jewell and Graham Steventon (Edits) Improving student engagement and development through assessment, Special Indian Edition, India, Routledge, India, pp73-85


Results can be found in the published output (please see below).

The results reveal that the ICE addresses helped disclose the real world of civil engineering and provided the students with a ‘broad and deep’ knowledge of their chosen profession.

A content analysis of the student address titles (n=428) shows a propensity for ‘the future’ (n=127) with a dominant paly to global, environmental and infrastructure issues. A common theme in the student addresses (and reflecting contemporary concerns by many commentators) was that career advisors in schools need more assistance to promote civil engineering as a possible course of study and future career.

Selected verbatim from two of the “I’m the Strathclyde Student President of the ICE “competition (see attached document) winners:-

I felt fortunate to be chosen as one of the candidates for the Strathclyde Student President of the ICE. It was a huge surprise to be selected as the winner and I am grateful for being given the opportunity to deliver my speech. I have always been nervous about presenting in front of large crowds and this opportunity has helped me gain confidence in doing so. Meeting Prof. Barry Clarke was a big honour and he had some invaluable advice to give to each of us. If any students next year have the chance to do this project, I would recommend that they should certainly do it. (Megan Greig, 2012 )

Writing and presenting my Student ICE speech gave me a greater insight into the workings of the Institution and the role it plays in progressing civil engineering. Reflecting on the speeches of past Presidents, I was able to take inspiration from their way of thinking in order to create a realistic vision, as the institution progresses towards 2050. The thought of presenting in front of such a large audience appeared a daunting prospect, however it was extremely enjoyable and improved my confidence with public speaking. (Aaron Wyllie, 2015)

Lessons Learnt

I made the ICE president addresses (n=150) available to the students by placing these in my ‘L’ drive folder. Whilst the UOS library provides electronic access to the ICE Proceedings (starting around the mid 19th century) I found my own search to retrieve all of the addresses was often problematic. Whilst our first-year students are encouraged to familiarise themselves with electronic resources I felt that the provision of all the addresses in one location would encourage browsing and prevent potential discouragement and stress related to the amount of time they were prepared to devote to this coursework.

Whilst the coursework assesses the students ability to research and prepare a piece of structured writing (and demonstrate imaginative, creative and innovative thinking) the five students with the top grades are also given the opportunity to engage in public speaking amongst peers. Whilst all of our students have this opportunity (4th year dissertation poster talk is compulsory) during their course of study it would be preferable if more time was made available to allow first- year  students to engage in this activity.

One solution could be that each student presents an abridged version of their address to a small number of peers in an informal focus group type scenario. This could be undertaken with several groups in parallel and it may be possible to encourage the students to provide a constructive critique of each presentation to encourage reflective learning. 


No significant challenges other than the time required to gather together all of the addresses. This also involved contacting the ICE library for some addresses that were only available in a hard copy format and notifying the ICE librarian of the electronic copies that were missing pages to enable these to be replaced.


This is an individual coursework with an average of (n=85) students each year. Marking the coursework is enjoyable given that the students are adding a personal perspective and 10-20% of the student addresses can be considered to be inspirational.

Suggestions for Transferability

This coursework could be replicated in any vocational oriented course where a professional institution has relevance to the students career.


MM ICE Strathclyde Student President 2010-2016.pdf

Published Output

Murray, M and Tennant, S (2016) Standing on ye Shoulders of Giants: promoting a social systems engineering education using ICE President Addresses (1820 - 2014).Civil Engineering and Environmental Systems.

DOI: 10.1080/10286608.2016.1233400. (Published online 20/09/2016).