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Design and Implementation of an Engineering for Social Justice Curriculum

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2019 CoNECD - The Collaborative Network for Engineering and Computing Diversity


Crystal City, Virginia

Publication Date

April 14, 2019

Start Date

April 14, 2019

End Date

April 22, 2019

Conference Session

Track: Special Topic - Social Justice & Reform Technical Session 4

Tagged Topics

Diversity and Special Topic: Social Justice & Reform

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Paper Authors


Dianne Grayce Hendricks University of Washington

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Dr. Dianne Hendricks is a Lecturer in the Department of Human Centered Design and Engineering and the Director of the Engineering Communication Program at the University of Washington. She designs and teaches courses involving universal design, technical communication, ethics, and diversity, equity and inclusion. She co-founded HuskyADAPT (Accessible Design and Play Technology), where she mentors UW students in design for local needs experts with disabilities and also leads outreach activities to the UW community and local K-12 students involving toy adaptation for children with disabilities. Dianne holds a PhD in Genetics from Duke University, and BS in Molecular Biology and BA in Psychology from the University of Texas at Austin.

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Celina Gunnarsson Massachusetts Institute of Technology


Camille Birch University of Washington

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Camille Birch is a graduate of the Bioengineering and Computer Science departments at the University of Washington. She developed curriculum concerning the interplay of diversity and ethics for undergraduate engineering students at UW and is interested in the power of education to enact change in future generations of engineers. She currently works for Microsoft in the Bay Area.

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Here we describe the design and implementation of a curriculum that explores social justice in a science and engineering context, with specific focus on race, gender/sex, sexuality, and disability. We emphasize what students can do to advocate for and represent diverse peoples, and to promote social justice through science and engineering practice.

In this course, students critically evaluate how cultural and scientific theories of gender/sex, race, disability, and sexuality influence one another. Throughout the course, students are asked to reflect on who gets to be a scientist or engineer, who defines which questions researchers ask and which problems engineers solve, who benefits from these solutions, and what role social justice plays in science and engineering practice.

Students reflect on the impact of science and engineering in society through weekly readings and class discussions. In addition, students complete a final paper and a team project in which they design a science/engineering solution that promotes social justice. Throughout the course, we explore these inter-related questions: 1) How do our cultural ideas about race, gender, disability and sexuality influence science/engineering knowledge and practice? 2) On the other hand, how does our science/engineering practice influence our cultural ideas about race, gender, disability and sexuality? 3) How can we use science and engineering to promote social justice for all people?

The authors have previously published work describing pilot efforts to explore the interplay of diversity and ethics in engineering in a large introductory bioengineering course [1-2]. Whereas these efforts were intended to serve as model curricula to be implemented in an existing course, here we describe the launch of a stand-alone course that is available for undergraduate students in all majors.

Assessment of our curriculum will include written student surveys, instructor observations, and excerpts of student work. Example curricular materials will be provided.

Hendricks, D. G., & Gunnarsson, C., & Birch, C. (2019, April), Design and Implementation of an Engineering for Social Justice Curriculum Paper presented at 2019 CoNECD - The Collaborative Network for Engineering and Computing Diversity , Crystal City, Virginia.

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