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Developing Curriculum to Prepare Student Engineers to Engage with Problems Faced by Underserved Communities Globally

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2014 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


Indianapolis, Indiana

Publication Date

June 15, 2014

Start Date

June 15, 2014

End Date

June 18, 2014



Conference Session

Engineering & Our Global Society

Tagged Division

Liberal Education/Engineering & Society

Page Count


Page Numbers

24.398.1 - 24.398.15



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Paper Authors


Bhavna Hariharan Stanford University

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Bhavna Hariharan is a Social Science Research Associate at the Kozmetsky Global Collaboratory in the School of Humanities and Sciences at Stanford University. Her field of inquiry is Engineering Education Research (EER) with a focus on engineering design for and with underserved communities around the world. For the last nine years, she has worked on designing, implementing and managing environments for interdisciplinary, geographically distributed, collaborative research projects among scholars, and with underserved communities. She is also a lecturer in the Mechanical Engineering department where she is currently teaching a course built on her doctoral thesis called Global Engineers' Education.

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Developing curriculum to prepare student engineers to engage with problems faced by underserved communities globallyEngineering students increasingly aspire to use their engineering skills in service ofimproving the lives of those less privileged than them. They are constantly exploring howtheir engineering expertise can address the real world challenges faced by underservedcommunities globally. This raises the question of what capabilities engineering studentsneed to engage with complex, globally pervasive societal problems, effectively andsustainably.This paper describes the development and implementation of a course aimed at educatingstudent engineers to work with an underserved community to generate solutions incollaboration with the community. This was achieved by enabling student engineers andunderserved communities to experience the realities, knowledge, expertise and aspirationthat they have for themselves and for one another by engaging in the act of workingtogether.One of the primary aims of the course was to ensure that the engineering students gain awell-rounded understanding of a complex problem faced by the underserved communitylocally. The curriculum focused on the problem of sanitation and hygiene faced by anoverwhelming part of humanity. Currently 2.6 billion people have no access to toilets.Most are forced to defecate in the open, losing their dignity and self-respect, makingthemselves vulnerable to violence and life threatening disease. Given the global nature ofthe problem and the impact it has on health, safety, dignity, education and overall well-being of individuals and communities, the challenge of sanitation and hygiene waschosen as the focus of the course.The resulting curriculum was developed by bringing together literature from severaldifferent disciplines (Gender studies, Sociology etc.) to explain the various facets of theproblem. This enabled the engineering students to not only broaden the engineeringsolution space but also expand the problem space itself.As part of the course, members of the underserved community who had spent their livesworking for the betterment of the community were brought to share their methods andstories as guest speakers. The challenges of overcoming cultural, language and timedifferences and the role of technology in facilitating the collaboration between thestudents and the underserved community were also important aspects of developing thecurriculum.Finally, the paper also includes the student experience of the course as captured in theirreflection journals. It concludes by looking at the implications of this course in exposingstudent engineers to research and research methodologies in the humanities and socialsciences and contextualizing the role engineers play in the global, economic,environmental, and societal context.

Hariharan, B. (2014, June), Developing Curriculum to Prepare Student Engineers to Engage with Problems Faced by Underserved Communities Globally Paper presented at 2014 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, Indianapolis, Indiana. 10.18260/1-2--20289

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