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Environmental Justice and Equity Issues: In Our Backyards and Beyond

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2021 ASEE Virtual Annual Conference Content Access


Virtual Conference

Publication Date

July 26, 2021

Start Date

July 26, 2021

End Date

July 19, 2022

Conference Session

Environmental Engineering Technical Session 4: Environmental Issues and the Impacts of Intersectionality

Tagged Divisions

Women in Engineering and Environmental Engineering

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Paper Authors


Angela R. Bielefeldt University of Colorado Boulder

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Angela Bielefeldt is a professor at the University of Colorado Boulder in the Department of Civil, Environmental, and Architectural Engineering (CEAE) and Director for the Engineering Plus program. She has served as the Associate Chair for Undergraduate Education in the CEAE Department, as well as the ABET assessment coordinator. Professor Bielefeldt was also the faculty director of the Sustainable By Design Residential Academic Program, a living-learning community where students learned about and practice sustainability. Bielefeldt is also a licensed P.E. Professor Bielefeldt's research interests in engineering education include service-learning, sustainable engineering, social responsibility, ethics, and diversity.

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JoAnn Silverstein P.E. University of Colorado Boulder Orcid 16x16

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JoAnn Silverstein is a Professor in Civil, Environmental and Architectural Engineering and Associate Dean for Faculty Advancement at the University of Colorado, Boulder. She has a BA in Psychology (Stanford University), BS, MS, and PhD in Civil Engineering (University of California, Davis) and is a registered Professional Engineer (Colorado). Her research interests are Water and wastewater treatment process analysis; nutrient management; performance-based statistical modeling of wastewater systems to assess the impacts of decentralization, permit compliance, reliability, and resilience; nutrient emissions trading. She has been department chair, program director, and currently is associate dean for faculty advancement of the College of Engineering and Applied Science, where her interests include policies to foster an inclusive and diverse academic culture with equitable practices around hiring, compensation and advancement.

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This paper presents three models for integrating environmental justice topics into environmental / civil engineering courses. The first model utilizes a qualitative perspective, based on a video recording of the community panel at the 2019 American Society for Engineering Education (ASEE) Annual Conference. This panel provides numerous examples of environmental justice issues from the lived perspective of residents, including issues associated with industrial air pollutants from Tonawanda Coke in New York and drinking water in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, and Flint, Michigan. Segments of this video were integrated into a fall 2020 course for first-year civil engineering students, in relation to the assignments on ethics and sustainability. The details of these assignments and an analysis of student learning are provided. A second model studied the Flint water system disaster in the context of learning about community resilience and systemic racism within a senior/graduate level Civil Engineering Systems course. The decades-old discriminatory practices in housing (redlining, racist mortgage covenants) were discussed. Student perspectives based on the threaded discussion posts and a written assignment provide evidence of the effectiveness of this approach for learning about how non-technical factors are important in determining public infrastructure performance. A third model recommends the use of environmental justice mapping tools, which may be appropriate in a broad range of courses. Examples are provided, but have not yet been used by the authors. These examples present ideas to spur the integration of environmental justice topics into civil and environmental engineering courses, while also inviting programs to more broadly consider an intentional across-the-curriculum approach.

Bielefeldt, A. R., & Silverstein, J. (2021, July), Environmental Justice and Equity Issues: In Our Backyards and Beyond Paper presented at 2021 ASEE Virtual Annual Conference Content Access, Virtual Conference. 10.18260/1-2--37094

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