Asee peer logo

Engineering Empathy: A Multidisciplinary Approach Combining Engineering, Peace Studies, and Drones

Download Paper |


2017 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


Columbus, Ohio

Publication Date

June 24, 2017

Start Date

June 24, 2017

End Date

June 28, 2017

Conference Session

Engineering in Societal Context

Tagged Division

Multidisciplinary Engineering

Tagged Topic


Page Count




Permanent URL

Download Count


Request a correction

Paper Authors


Gordon D. Hoople University of San Diego Orcid 16x16

visit author page

Dr. Gordon D. Hoople is an assistant professor of general engineering at the University of San Diego. His research interests lie in microfluidics, rapid prototyping, genomics, engineering ethics, and engineering education. He earned his MS and PhD in mechanical engineering from University of California, Berkeley and a BS in engineering from Harvey Mudd College.

visit author page

author page

Austin Choi-Fitzpatrick University of San Diego Orcid 16x16

Download Paper |


As educators we train our students to view the world using a particular disciplinary lens. In engineering this means helping our students to “think” like engineers. We teach them to categorize and solve problems using a technically focused mindset. For instance, they learn the importance of using hard data to quantify success or failure. Other disciplines, especially in the social sciences, focus additional attention on normative and substantive issues. Students are taught the importance of developing contextual understanding and of recognizing that lived experiences generate different perceptions of reality. This variety in discipline specific thinking gives rise to a rich diversity of ways to interpret the world. These mindsets, however, can also act like silos that prevent the exchange of information. For example, while engineers share a common language, they often find it difficult to explain to a non-specialist how they reached a particular decision. As teams are rarely composed of individuals from a single discipline, this presents a fundamental challenge. How do teams collaborate effectively across disciplinary boundaries?

To prepare our students for this challenge, we are developing a multidisciplinary, team based course that will bring students together from two disparate disciplinary fields on our campus: the school of engineering and the school of peace studies. The course will be co-taught, with [omitted] representing engineering and [omitted] representing peace studies. The semester will be spent on a single project, designing a drone for social good. Drones come with an ideal combination of technical and ethical challenges that will force students from both schools to wrestle together with unfamiliar questions. One of our primary learning outcomes will be for this struggle to cultivate individual empathy across disciplinary boundaries. Put more practically, we want the students to understand how using alternative disciplinary frameworks changes their understanding of problems. During the semester small teams (4-6 students) will each 1) build a quadcopter drone using the open source technology platform ardupilot, and 2) design and build a unique payload for the drone. The course assignments involve designing and building the device (a clear engineering challenge) with the more conceptual work of planning for its integration into pro-social organizational processes (a clear peace and justice challenge). To facilitate this exploration, we have designed the course to minimize lectures and instead use class time for conversations and collaboration. This will be done through a combination of group discussions, team exercises, and collaborative workshops.

This paper, submitted as a work-in-progress, presents the current state of our course development. We discuss our learning outcomes, describe our pedagogical approaches, and identify areas of concern associated with this approach to multidisciplinary engineering education. By providing a detailed framework of the class as currently designed, we hope to solicit meaningful feedback from the multidisciplinary engineering community before teaching the course in the fall of 2017.

Hoople, G. D., & Choi-Fitzpatrick, A. (2017, June), Engineering Empathy: A Multidisciplinary Approach Combining Engineering, Peace Studies, and Drones Paper presented at 2017 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, Columbus, Ohio. 10.18260/1-2--28251

ASEE holds the copyright on this document. It may be read by the public free of charge. Authors may archive their work on personal websites or in institutional repositories with the following citation: © 2017 American Society for Engineering Education. Other scholars may excerpt or quote from these materials with the same citation. When excerpting or quoting from Conference Proceedings, authors should, in addition to noting the ASEE copyright, list all the original authors and their institutions and name the host city of the conference. - Last updated April 1, 2015