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Ann-Perry Witmer

Ann-Perry Witmer
Ann-Perry Witmer

Ann-Perry Witmer

  • Applied Research Institute

For more information


  • Ph.D. Agricultural and Biological Engineering, University of Illinois, 2018
  • M.S., Civil Engineering (SRIS), University of Illinois, 2016
  • B.S., Civil/Environmental Engineering, University of Illinois, 2002, highest honors
  • B.A., Art History, Boston University, 1982, Magna Cum Laude
  • B.S., Journalism, Boston University, 1982, Magna Cum Laude


Ann-Perry Witmer is a Visiting Research Scientist at the Illinois Applied Research Institute. After earning her undergraduate degree in Civil and Environmental Engineering at the University of Illinois, Dr. Witmer designed drinking-water systems throughout the Midwest as a professional consulting engineer for more than a decade. During that time, she also became involved in humanitarian engineering work, ultimately helping to create service organizations that designed and installed engineered infrastructure with communities in Central America and the Caribbean. Dr. Witmer returned to the University in 2013 as a lecturer in the Grainger of College of Engineering and continued to teach while earning her doctoral degree in Agricultural and Biological Engineering, focusing her studies on the effectiveness of engineering design for non-industrialized societies. She continues to teach courses in international engineering design and acts as faculty advisor to Engineers Without Borders-UIUC, and her project travels have taken her to Central America, Africa, Asia and South America, where she’s developed a deep understanding of the relationship between technical and social considerations that must be co-evaluated for under-resourced communities. Many of her insights were gleaned from a first career in journalism, during which time Dr. Witmer built a robust understanding of the relevance of context to applied efforts in government, industry, and the environment.

Today, her research effort focuses on the refinement of the Contextual process methodology, in which user conditions are incorporated into the design process to produce a more sustainable outcome. Her methodology has been applied to engineering design processes for infrastructure and products, as well as to entrepreneurial pursuits and business management practices.

Academic Positions

  • Lecturer, Engineering, 2013-2020, Illinois Engineering First-Year Experience
  • Lecturer, ECE, 2020-present, Context in Power Systems
  • Lecturer, CIMED, 2018-present, Global Immersion
  • Lecturer, ABE, 2018-present, Contextual Engineering
  • Visiting Research Scientist, 2020-present, Applied Research Institute


Other Professional Employment

  • Project Manager, Foth Infrastructure Inc., Madison, WI 2012-2014
  • Project Manager, Crispell-Snyder Inc., Madison, WI 2007-2012
  • Project Engineer, Strand Associates, Madison, WI 2002-2007
  • Freelance Writer, self-employed, Illinois, 1991-2001
  • Editor/Reporter, Peoria Journal Star, Peoria IL, 1985-1991
  • Editor/Reporter, Bethlehem Globe-Times, Bethlehem, PA 1982-1985

Professional Registrations

  • LEED AP BD+C, United States, current
  • Professional Engineer, Minnesota, current
  • Professional Engineer, Wisconsin, current
  • Professional Engineer, Illinois, current

Resident Instruction

  • ABE199 International Engineering Service project Management
  • ABE 469 Industry-Linked Design Project
  • ABE451/LAST441/LAST550 International Water Project II

Course Development

  • Title VI funding for development of interdisciplinary course to be offered Spring 2020: Technology and Art in rural vs urban Sierra Leone

Student Organizations

  • AWWA/WEF UIUC chapter
  • Engineers Without Borders UIUC chapter

Research Interests

  • Parsing the urban-rural divide to address health needs in agricultural communities
  • Leveraging context in addressing interactions between land, people, and environmental practices
  • Applying context to engineering processes in the industrialized world - finding the nuances of societal differences in rural America
  • Measuring context using observation-based tool - best practices for using the Contextual Tool
  • The infrastructure client experience in non-industrialized societies - enthographic evaluation of the indigenous society experience
  • Learning from a society's innovative self-sufficiency to build a robust and sustainable technical infrastructure
  • Humanitarian v. Contextual Engineering project inception - do practitioner objectives and motives affect outcome?
  • Context and entrepreneurship - when does user context begin to influence product development?
  • Contextual Engineering application to remote power systems design
  • Can big data be used to predict contextual conditions for rural societies?
  • Building a contextual understanding among engineering students through project-based learning
  • The impact of rurality and indigenous identity on technical decision-making in non-industrialized societies

Chapters in Books

  • "Women in Engineers Without Borders" in Women and Ideas in Engineering: Twelve Stories from Illinois, ed. Hahn, L. and A. Wolters, University of Illinois Press, 2018

Selected Articles in Journals

  • "Making the Case for Food Security Through Contextual Engineering", 2019, Journal of Agriculture and Horticulture Research
  • "Contextual Engineering Assessment Using an Influence-Identification Tool", 2018, Journal of Engineering, Design and Technology
  • "Contextual Engineering to Address Preservation of Rural Societies, 2018, Journal of Academic Perspectives
  • "The Influence of Development Objectives and Local Context upon International Service Engineering Infrastructure design, 2018, International Journal of Technology Management and Sustainable Development
  • "An Ethnographic Justification for Establishment of a Contextual Engineering Discipline", 2019, Journal of Engineering, Design and Technology
  • "Contextual Engineering leverages Local Knowledge to Guide Water System Design," July 2020, Journal AWWA.

Articles in Conference Proceedings

  • "Understanding and incorporating stakeholder perspectives in international engineering: a phrase mining analysis", 2019, proceedings of ASABE Annual International Meeting
  • "Drawing Upon Non-Engineering Disciplines to Research Sustainability of Engineered Infrastructure in South America", 2016, proceedings of American Society for Engineering Education annual conference
  • "Bringing a Cross-Disciplinary, Contextual Approach to International Service Engineering Learning", 2016, proceedings of American Society for Engineering Education annual conference

Pending Articles

  • "Cultivating the Assimilative Perspective in Contextual Engineering - Knowing What You Don't Know," 2020, Journal of Humanitarian Engineering.
  • "Exploring Context in Engineering Infrastructure Design: A Comparison of six Gravity-fed Water Distribution Systems in Rural Honduras", 2020, Systems Engineering

Invited Lectures

  • The Importance Of Context In Drinking Water System Design
  • Letting Go for Success in International Service
  • Considering Context in Engineering Design
  • The Intersection of Education and Service in Sub-Saharan Africa
  • Bringing Social Context to International Engineering Design
  • Contextual Engineering for Sustainability and Robust Design
  • Meeting Communities' Needs through Contextual Engineering
  • The Role of Context In Engineering Design
  • The Role of Context in Infrastructure Design for Non-Industrialized Communities

Magazine Articles

  • If Not Now, When? Civil and Environmental Engineering Magazine, Illinois, 2009
  • Geothermal Technology: A Green Hornet's Nest for Drinking Water Suppliers, Wisconsin Water Association Magazine, 2010

Professional Societies

  • Chair, Wisconsin Section American Water Works Association, 2014
  • Public Affairs Council, American Water Works Association, 2012-2016

Service on University Committees

  • Advisory Committee member, Center for African Studies
  • iCAP Education SWAT Team member, Institute for Sustainability in Energy and Environment, University of Illinois

Service on College Committees

  • Advisor, Engineers Without Borders-UIUC Chapter

Other Outside Service

  • Ex-officio Board Member, Akelos, Illinois
  • Vice Chair, World Water Alliance of Florida
  • Chair, Board of Governors, University YMCA
  • Technical Review Committee, EWB-USA Community Engineering Corps
  • ICP Guru, Engineers Without Borders USA
  • Domestic Application Review Committee, Community Engineering Corps


  • Leon Smith Award, Wisconsin Water Association (2008)
  • Harvey Jordan Award, Engineering at Illinois (2002)
  • William McKay Award, CEE at Illinois (2002)
  • Phi Kappa Phi (2002)
  • Keystone Press Award, Pa. Newspaper Publishers Association (1984 )
  • Pi Sigma Alpha (1982)

Teaching Honors

  • Honoree, 150 for 150: Celebrating 150 Years of Women at the University of Illinois (2017)
  • Engineering Council Award for Excellence in Advising (2017)
  • List of Teachers Ranked as Excellent (S2020, S/F2019, S/F2018, S/F2017, S/F2016, S/F2015, F2014 )

Research Honors

  • Illinois International Graduate Achievement Award (2017)

Public Service Honors

  • Public Service Award, Isaac Walton League of America (1990)
  • J. Frederick Miller Award, University YMCA (2017)

Courses Taught

  • ABE 199 - Intl Engrg Service Proj Mgmt
  • ABE 450 - International Water Project I
  • ABE 469 - Industry-Linked Design Project
  • ABE 498 - Context in Int'l Interventions
  • ABE 498 - Contextual Engineering
  • ABE 498 - International Water Project I
  • ABE 498 - Technology & Art: Sierra Leone
  • AFST 495 - Context in Int'l Interventions
  • AFST 495 - Special Topics
  • ENG 177 - Inspiring Interacting Informng
  • ENG 177 - Introduction to Sustainability
  • ENG 177 - Strategies for Intl Developmnt
  • ENG 198 - IEFX Professional Development
  • ENG 198 - Inspiring Interacting Informin
  • ENG 198 - Introduction to Sustainability
  • ENG 198 - Renaissance Engineer
  • ENG 198 - Strategies for Intl Developmnt
  • ENG 398 - Engineers Without Borders
  • ENG 398 - Honduras Water Project
  • ENG 398 - HWP Implementation Trip
  • ENG 398 - Independent Study
  • ENG 440 - Honduras Water Project I
  • ENG 440 - International Water Project I
  • ENG 441 - Guatemala Water Project II
  • ENG 441 - Honduras Water Project II
  • ENG 498 - ISID Travel
  • ENG 598 - Honduras Water Project
  • ENG 598 - HWP Implementation Trip
  • ENG 598 - Sust Int Devt Seminar
  • GLBL 499 - ISID Travel
  • LAST 440 - Honduras Water Project I
  • LAST 440 - International Water Project I
  • LAST 441 - Honduras Water Project II
  • LAST 441 - International Water Project II
  • LAST 550 - Honduras Water Project I
  • LAST 550 - Honduras Water Project II
  • LAST 550 - International Water Project I
  • LAST 550 - International Water Project II
  • UP 494 - ISID Travel