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Afrofuturism: Catalyzing a Pathway to More Inclusive Engineering Design

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Conference

2018 CoNECD - The Collaborative Network for Engineering and Computing Diversity Conference

Location

Crystal City, Virginia

Publication Date

April 29, 2018

Start Date

April 29, 2018

End Date

May 2, 2018

Conference Session

Undergraduate Track - Technical Session IV

Tagged Topics

Diversity and Undergraduate Education

Page Count

10

Permanent URL

https://peer.asee.org/29514

Download Count

97

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Paper Authors

biography

Woodrow Wilson Winchester III Robert Morris University

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WOODROW W. WINCHESTER, III is an Associate Professor of Engineering Management and Coordinator of Graduate Engineering Programs at Robert Morris University, Moon Township, US-PA. He has over twelve (12) years of teaching and course development (online and on-ground) experiences within the disciplines of industrial & systems engineering (ISE) and engineering management. He also has over eight (8) years of academic and academic enrichment (experiential learning) program planning, design & leadership experiences. A trained human factors engineer and fitness enthusiast & advocate, Dr. Woodrow W. Winchester, III brings with him a strong passion for the health & wellness space with research interests that seek to advance an understanding of consumer connected fitness technologies in improving health outcomes especially among marginalized populations.

JAMEELA AL-JAROODI received the B.Sc. degree in computer science from the University of Bahrain, the M.Sc. degree in computer science from Western Michigan University, the Ph.D. degree in computer science from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, and the M.Ed. degree in higher education management from the University of Pittsburgh. She was a Research Assistant Professor with the Stevens Institute of Technology, Hoboken, NJ, USA, then as an Assistant Professor with United Arab Emirates University, UAE. She was an independent Researcher in the computer and information technology field. She is currently an Associate Professor and a Coordinator of the software engineering concentration with the Department of Engineering, Robert Morris University, Pittsburgh, PA, USA. She is involved in various research areas, including middleware, software engineering, and distributed and cloud computing, in addition to UAVs and wireless sensor networks. In addition, she is also involved in various activities and initiatives to address diversity and inclusion issues.

RIKA WRIGHT CARLSEN is an Assistant Professor of Mechanical and Biomedical Engineering at Robert Morris University. She also serves as a Coordinator of Outreach for the School of Engineering, Mathematics and Science. She received her M.S. and Ph.D. in Mechanical Engineering from Johns Hopkins University and her B.S. in Mechanical Engineering from the University of Pittsburgh. She currently teaches courses in statics and strength of materials, fluid mechanics, biomedical engineering principles, and biomaterials. Her research interests lie in the areas of injury biomechanics, tissue mechanics, finite element modeling, and bio-hybrid systems.

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Jameela Al-Jaroodi Robert Morris University

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Rika Wright Carlsen Robert Morris University

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Dr. Rika Wright Carlsen is an Assistant Professor of Mechanical and Biomedical Engineering at Robert Morris University. She also serves as a Coordinator of Outreach for the School of Engineering, Mathematics and Science. She received her M.S. and Ph.D. in Mechanical Engineering from Johns Hopkins University and her B.S. in Mechanical Engineering (Minor in Bioengineering) from the University of Pittsburgh. She teaches courses in statics and strength of materials, fluid mechanics, biomedical engineering principles, and biomaterials. Her research interests lie in the areas of injury biomechanics, cell and tissue mechanics, finite element modeling, and bio-hybrid systems.

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Abstract

As engineers seek means by which to design, develop, and deploy technologies in meeting the grand challenges for engineering in the 21st Century, it is important that engineers, think and act, specifically, imagine - more holistically - in conceiving and delivering future solutions of benefit to all of humanity. Unfortunately, often as a function of a lack of diversity in perspectives, beliefs, and values of those privileged to engage in these grand engineering exercises, a more homogeneous view of humanity may emerge. This narrower lens of perspective not only constrains the engineering exploration but could foster technological solutions that are blind to the needs and considerations of often marginalized and disenfranchised groups such as blacks/African-Americans here in the United States. While an unintentional consequence of the engineer’s decision-making, the implications can be profound.

Afrofuturism, a means by which to view possible and alternative futures, offers a potential antidote to this thesis. In explicitly placing the often-disenfranchised black voice central - with an intent of universal betterment through and by technology, Afrofuturism, at its core, offers a bridge of empathy; connecting the pertinent cultural insights and considerations to the engineering dilemma. With this understanding, not only could a more culturally relevant engagement occur but more inclusive engineering “design thinking” be fostered. This could provide a more complete picture of all people throughout the engineering process; potentially expanding the solution space both in novelty and, equally as important, inclusivity. And, inclusion matters in technology design; for, without appropriate countermeasures and/or advocacy the risk exists of constructing technologies that simply “mirror a narrow and privileged vision of society, with its old, familiar biases and stereotypes”.

Afrofuturism, in practice, helps to make visible how traditional engineering design practices can be, while not necessarily intentional, both “culturally located” and “power laden”. Similar to such speculative design approaches as Science Fiction Prototyping and complementary to liberatory design practices such as equityXdesign, Afrofuturism affords a framing for engineering decision making that could lessen, in a more proactive sense, unintended consequences of design decisions. The proposed paper explores Afrofuturism as a means to enable the engineer to see and counter tacit commitments and limitations of more traditional engineering design approaches, a design lens, in essence. Through an examination of recent challenges in the design and development of wearable technologies within the health and wellness space (i.e. connected fitness technologies), this paper presents a case study in engaging Afrofuturism in imagining more inclusive, equitable, and just future concepts. Moreover, thoughts are offered in how this infusing of both the value and relevancy of diversity in thought and perspective in engineering could increase the participation of blacks/African-Americans in engineering.

Winchester, W. W., & Al-Jaroodi, J., & Carlsen, R. W. (2018, April), Afrofuturism: Catalyzing a Pathway to More Inclusive Engineering Design Paper presented at 2018 CoNECD - The Collaborative Network for Engineering and Computing Diversity Conference, Crystal City, Virginia. https://peer.asee.org/29514

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