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Is Protecting the Environment All There Is to Sustainability?

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2016 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


New Orleans, Louisiana

Publication Date

June 26, 2016

Start Date

June 26, 2016

End Date

August 28, 2016





Conference Session

NSF Grantees Poster Session II

Tagged Topics

Diversity and NSF Grantees Poster Session

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Paper Authors


Sam Kelly-Quattrocchi University of Washington

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Sam Kelly-Quattrocchi is a graduate student at the University of Washington in the Evans School of Public Policy and Governance. There he is studying policy analysis and evaluation with a focus on environmental policy and social policy.

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Denise Wilson University of Washington

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Denise Wilson is a professor of electrical engineering at the University of Washington, Seattle. Her research interests in engineering education focus on the role of self-efficacy, belonging, and other non-cognitive aspects of the student experience on engagement, success, and persistence and on effective methods for teaching global issues such as those pertaining to sustainability.

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Rachel Roberts University of Washington School of Environmental and Forest Sciences

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Rachel completed her Bachelor’s degrees at the University of Wyoming in International Studies and Spanish, spending a semester in Guatemala interviewing business owners and local residents in Antigua as part of a project to understand conflicts over the growing ecotourism industry. She also completed a Masters with the School of Environmental and Forest Sciences at the University of Washington, collaborating on projects focusing on engaging stakeholders in forest management issues, surveys on public values of cultural ecosystem services, and psychographic market segmentation of sustainable tourism.

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Rachel Yonemura The University of Washington

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Rachel Yonemura is currently working on her B.S. in Environmental Science and Resource Management at the University of Washington, Seattle, Washington. She has been working at the University as a Research Assistant under Dr. Denise Wilson on projects regarding the Engineering Workplace as well as E-waste Sustainability. Motivation for these projects stem from an interest in public discourse and the interrelationships that occur among people of different disciplines.

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Current approaches to teaching sustainability in undergraduate engineering programs tend to focus on the environmental pillar of sustainable practice, while de-emphasizing social and economic pillars. Yet, social, economic, and environmental pillars are considered equally important pieces of expert, global perspectives on sustainable development. This study complements previous qualitative studies by showing that this emphasis on the environmental is not only a distinct characteristic of sustainability education in engineering but also exemplifies the preconceptions that engineering students hold about sustainable development and practice. In fact, of a sample of 232 student at a large public institution in the Pacific Northwest, 40% of students cite the environmental pillar in their definitions of sustainability while 0.4% and 0.9% cite the economic and social pillars respectively. Of the remaining students, 55% correctly spoke of sustainability in general terms; however, their responses did not take into consideration the three pillars and nuances that make sustainability complex. When probing more deeply into how engineering students translate their views of sustainability into their roles as engineers in global society, concerns for the environment continue to dominate over other concerns. In fact, when student responses are situated into a contextual framework of design for sustainability, 57% of students emphasize the role of the planet in design for sustainability while only 1.7% cite profit and 7.3% cite people in sustainable design considerations. Engineers most often speak to the importance of increasing energy efficiency, using renewable resources, and improving waste prevention in their responses regarding their professional roles as engineers. In summary, considering student perceptions of their role in sustainability as engineers, these results clearly suggest a need to emphasize the social (people) and economic (profit) aspects of sustainable practice in engineering education.

Kelly-Quattrocchi, S., & Wilson, D., & Roberts, R., & Yonemura, R. (2016, June), Is Protecting the Environment All There Is to Sustainability? Paper presented at 2016 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, New Orleans, Louisiana. 10.18260/p.25498

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