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Katrina In The Classroom: Engineering And Public Policy Through Project Based Learning

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2006 Annual Conference & Exposition


Chicago, Illinois

Publication Date

June 18, 2006

Start Date

June 18, 2006

End Date

June 21, 2006



Conference Session

Building Blocks for Public Policy in Curricula

Tagged Division

Engineering and Public Policy

Page Count


Page Numbers

11.854.1 - 11.854.11



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Paper Authors


Joel Haight Pennsylvania State University

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JJoel M. Haight, Ph.D., P.E., CIH, CSP was appointed in January 2000 as an Assistant Professor in Penn State University’s Department of Energy and Geo-Environmental Engineering. He has a Ph.D. in Industrial and Systems Engineering and Master’s degree in Industrial Engineering, both from Auburn University. Dr. Haight worked as a safety engineer for the Chevron Corporation for 18 years prior to joining the faculty at Penn State. In addition to human error research, Dr. Haight also does research in the areas of safety program effectiveness and leading indicators. He is a professional member of ASSE, AIHA and the Human Factors and Ergonomics Society.

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Richard Devon Pennsylvania State University

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Devon is Professor of Engineering Design and the Director of the Engineering Design Program in the School for Engineering Design, Technology, and Professional Programs at The Pennsylvania State University, where he has received several teaching awards. He has directed both the Pennsylvania Space Grant Program and the Science, Technology, and Society Program at Penn State. Devon currently focuses on design education, global programs, and design topics such as design ethics, innovative design, and conceptual design communications.

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NOTE: The first page of text has been automatically extracted and included below in lieu of an abstract

Katrina in the Classroom: Engineering and Public Policy through Project-based Learning

A Note on Engineering and Public Policy We assume that engineering educators have two sorts of interest in public policy

1. What and how to teach students about the role of public policy in engineering and technology and vice versa. This is our focus in this paper. 2. Public policies that concern engineering education

Public policies are the policies of public institutions that affect our lives including, but not limited to, federal, state and local governments. Public universities and utilities, and NGOs may also be included. Since government policies affect and are expected to constrain and shape private institutions be they universities or corporations, then these institutions constitute a second order domain for public policy.

Central to the first interest is how the expertise of engineers (and applied scientists) informs public policies. Does the right knowledge connect with the right policy makers, is the expertise well developed and appropriate to the subject, is it understood, is it followed, who participates in the connections, how effective are the connections, does it result in enlightened polices and are these policies followed? There are, clearly, many steps and many opportunities for success or failure.

As more knowledge comes in, and a lot is coming in, Katrina seems to be a superb case study of exactly what should never happen: where everything that policy makers needed to be told by the experts before it happened was told - and done so for a considerable length of time, many decades, beforehand. The information was clearly understood and it had obvious and serious policy implications. But the desirable responses were not forthcoming. Even immediately before and during the emergency itself, the correct information was flowing – until it hit political walls far more effective than any flood wall in New Orleans.

Introduction In response to the devastation caused by Katrina, two different first year classes used the disaster as an opportunity to learn through a major project for the Fall semester of 2005. Neither taught public policy explicitly. One class approached it as a problem in engineering design. The other addressed it in terms of the emergency preparedness and planning effort in New Orleans. The latter is certainly closer to public policy than engineering design is, but it still focused more on what happened rather than what was planned or what policies drove the planning.

In fact, the unfolding events and coverage, which still continues, made a top down approach rather impractical. Yet both instructors found that a great many policy issues were raised by the students in their projects and these are summarized and reported here. This is, then, an inductive and student centered approach to engineering and public policy. We report on a “found policy” equivalent to what is sometimes termed “found art,” namely what people see in what has already occurred without prior actions by them or the use of pre-selected analytical and conceptual

Haight, J., & Devon, R. (2006, June), Katrina In The Classroom: Engineering And Public Policy Through Project Based Learning Paper presented at 2006 Annual Conference & Exposition, Chicago, Illinois. 10.18260/1-2--1057

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