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Engineering and Social Justice: In the University and Beyond

Caroline Baillie
Alice L. Pawley
Donna Riley
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  • Book Info
    Engineering and Social Justice
    Book Description:

    An increasing number of researchers and educators in the field of engineering wish to integrate considerations of social justice into their work and practice. In this volume, an international team of authors, from a range of disciplinary backgrounds, invite scholars to think and teach in new ways that acknowledge the social, as well as technical, impact engineering can have on our world and that open possibilities for social justice movements to help shape engineering/technology. The book examines three areas of an engineering academic’s professional role: teaching, research, and community engagement. Some of the authors have created classes to help students think through their roles as engineering practitioners in a changing society, and present case studies here. They also explore questions of access to engineering education. Others contributors are focusing their research on improving the lives of the marginalized and powerless. Yet others are engaging local groups and exploring ways in which universities might serve their communities and in which academic institutions can themselves be more socially just. The contributors take a broad social and ecological justice perspective to critique existing practices and explore alternatives. The result is a handbook for all scholars of engineering who think beyond the technical elements of their field, and an essential reader for anyone who believes in the transformative power of the discipline.

    eISBN: 978-1-61249-156-1
    Subjects: Technology, Education

Table of Contents

  1. Foreword Reflections on engineering and social justice in teaching, learning, and research
    (pp. vii-xii)
    Karl A. Smith

    Engineering and engineering education in the United States have undergone tremendous changes since Thomas Jefferson signed the legislation establishing The United States Military Academy in 1802. Colonel Sylvanus Thayer served as Superintendent from 1817 to 1833 and made civil engineering the foundation of the curriculum. The first civilian engineering school, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (RPI), opened in 1824 and granted the first engineering degrees in 1825. Many of the changes are documented in a long series of reports conducted under the auspices of the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching, the American Society for Engineering Education, and the National Academy...

  2. Introduction In the university and beyond
    (pp. 1-8)
    Caroline Baillie, Alice L. Pawley and Donna Riley

    Many of us who have had the occasion to describe to others the work we do at the intersection of engineering and social justice have often received a surprised response: “Oh! I hadn’t thought of those two as related before.” Or more bluntly, “Isn’t that a contradiction in terms?” Why is engineering seen by so many as either having nothing to do with justice, or worse, as related in some way to injustice? Perhaps it is not surprising when the daily news brings stories of unnatural disasters, of human and ecological tragedy facilitated by technological failure, or even by technological...

  3. Teaching and learning:: Bringing social justice into the engineering classroom

    • Chapter 1 Developing human-centered design practices and perspectives through service-learning
      (pp. 11-30)
      Monica E. Cardella, Carla B. Zoltowski and William C. Oakes

      Engineering students (and practicing engineers) can fall into the trap of either imagining that they themselves can accurately and adequately represent their end-users’ needs and wishes, or forgetting the end-user entirely. As engineering students and practitioners focus on the technical, logistical, and economic aspects of their design, they can not only neglect their users and clients, but also ignore the greater social context and ramifications of their work. Students and practitioners cannot promote social justice in their engineering design work if they do not consider people’s needs and lived experiences throughout their design process. The focus of this chapter is...

    • Chapter 2 An ethnographic study of social justice themes in engineering education
      (pp. 31-56)
      George D. Ricco and Matthew W. Ohland

      Theodore von Karman situates the engineering discipline, saying, “Scientists study the world as it is; engineers create the world that has never been.” This is a widely accepted characterization of the engineering discipline—the pursuit of reinventing the world for the benefit of humanity. This view of engineering embodies two assumptions—first, that the current state of things is not ideal, and second, that the work of engineering results in improving the current state of things. For instance, the Engineer of 2000 is followed by the Engineer of 2020. What I endeavored over the period of nearly one and one-half...

  4. Research:: Developing projects and outcomes that promote social justic

    • Chapter 3 What counts as “engineering”: Toward a redefinition
      (pp. 59-86)
      Alice L. Pawley

      Women’s persisting underrepresentation in engineering disciplines, at all academic and professional levels, is determined to be a considerable problem for engineering education. Alarmingly, still relatively recent data indicate that the rate at which women are increasingly going into engineering undergraduate degree programs is decreasing, suggesting that we may be far from understanding its cause (Grose, 2006). Much of the existing research on gender in engineering within the engineering literature focuses on this “underrepresentation of women” problem through the analytic lenses of pipeline models and chilly climate models, although a few other models have been proposed, such as a transmission line...

    • Chapter 4 Waste for life: Socially just materials research
      (pp. 87-106)
      Caroline Baillie

      As a materials engineer, I have been researching waste-based reinforced plastics for some time. In different countries the potential fibre and plastic vary. Thermoplastic (plastic that can be melted) may be sourced from bags, containers, or milk cartons, among other items, and waste fibre can be derived from many plants including sugar cane (Brazil); flax stems after oil extraction (Germany); hemp stems (Canada); and rice husk (China). In urban contexts, the fibre could be paper and cardboard (Baillie, 2004). In Buenos Aires (BsAs),cartoneros(literally, “cardboard pickers”) collect waste paper and plastic and sell the waste they collect to middlemen...

    • Chapter 5 Turbulent fluid mechanics, high speed weapons, and the story of the Earth
      (pp. 107-120)
      George Catalano

      New ideas in the study of turbulent fluid mechanics may serve as a mechanism for integrating issues related to social justice into the practice of engineering and engineering education. The present chapter details historical difficulties in research in turbulence, which has led to a consideration of a complex systems approach. The elements of complex systems analysis are identified and serve as a link to notions identified in new conceptions of our ethical responsibilities as engineers. An important result is a broadening and deepening of our responsibilities toward those who are far too often unheard and unseen.

      An immediate question might...

  5. Engagement:: Serving local and global communities

    • Chapter 6 Community colleges, engineering, and social justice
      (pp. 123-142)
      Lisa A. McLoughlin

      If social justice is “the provision of equal life opportunities and conditions across demographic categories” (Slaton, 2010, p. 24), and we would like the study and practice of engineering to increase social justice, then intervention into both engineering education and the larger social constructs that surround it is required. By bringing nontraditional students into engineering, community colleges promote social justice in three ways. First, community colleges seek to increase social justicefor the students themselves,to allow them to increase life opportunities and improve life conditions directly by earning more money, and more comprehensively by providing analytical tools to understand,...

    • Chapter 7 Low socioeconomic status individuals: An invisible minority in engineering
      (pp. 143-156)
      Michele L. Strutz, Marisa K. Orr and Matthew W. Ohland

      Much has been written about the importance of and need for diversity in engineering today (National Academy of Engineering [NAE], 2002), yet as shown in Table 2, the United States does not have a very diverse engineering workforce in terms of gender and race “relative to their proportions in the population at large” (NAE & National Research Council [NRC], 2009, p. 34). Certainly, some underrepresentation by race/ethnicity is symptomatic of underrepresentation in higher education in general, but African Americans are especially underrepresented in engineering. Although women are overrepresented in higher education, they are severely underrepresented in engineering. Many engineering educators...

    • Chapter 8 Viewing access and persistence in engineering through a socioeconomic lens
      (pp. 157-180)
      Matthew W. Ohland, Marisa K. Orr, Valerie Lundy-Wagner, Cindy P. Veenstra and Russell A. Long

      “Education, then, beyond all other devices of human origin, is a great equalizer of conditions of man—the balance wheel of the social machinery. . . . It does better than to disarm the poor of their hostility toward the rich; it prevents being poor.” In contrast to Horace Mann’s inspirational words (1848, p. 669), writers from such varying perspectives as Bourdieu and Passeron (1977), Bowles and Gintis (1976), Bernstein (1990), Livingstone (1987), and Giroux (1983) describe various processes by which social class reproduces through the process of education. In this work, we explore the forces promoting social class reproduction...

    • Chapter 9 An alternative tour of Ford Hall: Service toward education and transformation
      (pp. 181-200)
      Donna Riley

      The design and construction of a permanent building to house the first engineering program at a United States women’s college drew a great deal of campus and local community attention. The building project became the site of several narratives—narratives of corporate giving, of women’s promise in the sciences and engineering, and of the College’s first LEED-certified building demonstrating a stated commitment to sustainability. But it was also the site of social justice struggles as the College displaced units of affordable housing and disrupted local businesses in the community abutting the campus to make space for the new building; and...