Ann-Perry Witmer, PhD, P.E.

Ann-Perry Witmer came to engineering in midlife when she enrolled in the University of Illinois’ College of Engineering after a successful career in newspapering. After graduating with honors and becoming the first civil engineering major  to win the prestigious Harvey Jordan Award from the College of Engineering, she became a practicing professional engineer in Wisconsin, designing water systems for communities throughout the Midwest. She also served as chair of the American Water Works Association’s state section and continues to play a leadership role in the international AWWA organization. Ann holds Professional Engineer licenses in Wisconsin, Illinois, and Minnesota, and is a LEED Accredited Professional.
While working in consulting, Ann helped to create organizations that work directly with communities in Central America and the Caribbean to provide engineering assistance for disadvantaged communities in need of safe, sustainable drinking water, which led her to her current role at the University of Illinois. In addition to teaching senior design and contextual engineering courses in the Department of Agricultural and Biological Engineering, Ann leads the robust Contextual Engineering Research Group and acts as faculty advisor to Engineers Without Borders-UIUC and AWWA/WEF student chapters. Her service 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 design effectiveness.
In addition to her B.S., M.S. and Ph.D. degrees from the University of Illinois, Ann also holds degrees in journalism and art history magna cum laude from Boston University. Her research focus is on investigating the relationship between technical design and non-engineering considerations such as politics, culture and economics.

Research Topics

  • Identification of community context for the purpose of informing technical, organizational, and/or business practices to better meet community need
  • Relationship between technical design/implementation/operation and non-technical variability of societal constitution
  • Application of contextual analysis to design processes for the purpose of improving design sustainability and applicability


  • Witmer, A., Andino Martinez, J.G., Coiado, O.C., Mingee, J.M., Andrade, F., and Pollack-Lagushenko, T., (2021) Building STEAM for Global Engineering through Collaboration with the Social Sciences and Humanities during the COVID-19 Pandemic,  American Society for Engineering Education Annual Conference & Exposition, Long Beach, CA
  •  Chattopadhyay, A., Witmer, A., and Sauer, P., 2021, The Need for Teaching Place-Based Contextualization for Sustainable Power System Infrastructure Design, IEEE Transactions on Power Systems, In press.
  • Witmer, A., (2020) Cultivating the Assimilative Perspective in Contextual Engineering – Knowing What You Don’t Know, Journal of Humanitarian Engineering, 8(1). Doi:10.36479/jhe.v8i1.173.
  • Witmer, A., (2020), Contextual Engineering Leverages Local Knowledge to Guide Water System Design, J Am Water Works Assoc, 112: 42-50. doi:10.1002/awwa.1535
  • Witmer, A. (2019) An Ethnographic Justification for Establishment of a Contextual Engineering Discipline, Journal of Engineering, Design and Technology, doi 10.1108/JEDT-11-2018-0211
  • Witmer, A. (2019) Making the Case for Food Security through Contextual Engineering, Journal of Agriculture and Horticulture Research, Vol 2, Issue 1, 1-4.
  • Witmer, A. (2018). Contextual Engineering To Address Preservation Of Rural Societies. Journal of Academic Perspectives Volume (3), 1.
  • Witmer, A. (2018) Contextual Engineering Assessment Using an Influence-Identification Tool, Journal of Engineering, Design and Technology, Vol. 16, Issue 6, pp. 889-909.
  • Witmer, A. (2018), The Influence of Development Objectives and Local Context Upon International Service Engineering Infrastructure Design, International Journal of Technology Management, Vol. 17, Issue 2, pp. 135-150.
  •  Witmer, A. Women In Engineers Without Borders. Women And Ideas In Engineering: Twelves Stories From Illinois. Laura Hahn and Angie Wolters. Champaign, IL: University of Illinois Press, 2018. Print.
  • Witmer, A. (2017, October), “Considering Context In Engineering Design” presented at 2017 Engineers Without Borders-USA National Conference, Milwaukee, WI.
  • Witmer, A., & Jahnke, K. (2016, June), “Drawing Upon Non-Engineering Disciplines to Research Sustainability of Engineered Infrastructure in South America” presented at 2016 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, New Orleans, Louisiana. 10.18260/p.26868
  • Jahnke, K., & Witmer, A., & Tan, M., & Witmer, G. F. (2016, June), “Bringing a Cross-Disciplinary, Contextual Approach to International Service Engineering Learning” presented at 2016 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, New Orleans, Louisiana. 10.18260/p.26395
  • Witmer, A. (2015, April) “Letting Go For Success in International Service” presented at TEDxUIUC Conference, Urbana, IL.


  • Ph.D. in Agricultural and Biological Engineering, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, 2018
  • M.S. in Environmental Engineering, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, 2016
  • B.S. in Civil and Environmental Engineering, highest honors, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, 2002
  • B.S. in Journalism, magna cum laude, Boston University, 1982
  • B.A. in Art History, magna cum laude, Boston University, 1982


  • Peter J. Bosscher Award for Outstanding Faculty Advisor, Engineers Without Borders-USA, 2020
  • Illinois International Graduate Achievement Award, 2017
  • J. Frederick Miller Award for distinguished volunteer service, University YMCA, 2017
  • Leon Smith Award for outstanding service, Wisconsin Water Association, 2008
  • Harvey Jordan Award, University of Illinois College of Engineering, 2002
  • Public Service Award, Isaac Walton League of America, Illinois Division, 1990
  • Keystone Press Award, Pennsylvania Newspaper Publishers Association, 1984


  • Research Scientist, Applied Research Institute
  • Lecturer, Department of Agricultural and Biological Engineering
  • Lecturer, Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering
  • Lecturer, Carle Illinois College of Medicine
  • Chair, Global STEAM Working Group of the Illinois Global Institute
  • Illinois Water Scholar, Institute for Sustainability, Energy and Environment
  • Faculty, Center for African Studies
  • Faculty, Center for Latin American and Caribbean Studies
  • Faculty, Center for Global Studies