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Liberatory Potential of Labor Organizing in Engineering Education

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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

Changing How We Pursue Change

Tagged Divisions

Equity and Culture & Social Justice in Education

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Paper Authors


Joseph Valle University of Michigan, Ann Arbor

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Joseph 'Joey' Valle is a Ph.D candidate in Materials Science and Engineering at the University of Michigan - Ann Arbor. His thesis includes both technical and engineering education research components. His engineering education research focuses on understanding and seeking ways to undo oppression based harm in engineering. He holds a B.S.E in materials science and engineering from MIT and a M.S.E in materials science and engineering from the University of Michigan - Ann Arbor, with a focus on electrochemical energy storage systems.

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Corin L. Bowen California State University, Los Angeles Orcid 16x16

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Corin (Corey) Bowen is a postdoctoral researcher in the College of Engineering, Computer Science and Technology at California State University - Los Angeles, where she is working on the NSF-funded Eco-STEM project. Her engineering education research focuses on structural oppression in engineering systems, organizing for equitable change, and developing an agenda of Engineering for the Common Good. She conferred her Ph.D. in aerospace engineering from the University of Michigan - Ann Arbor in April 2021. Her doctoral research included both technical and educational research. She also holds an M.S.E. in aerospace engineering from the University of Michigan - Ann Arbor and a B.S.E. in civil engineering from Case Western Reserve University, both in the areas of structural engineering and solid mechanics.

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Donna M. Riley Purdue University, West Lafayette

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Donna Riley is Kamyar Haghighi Head of the School of Engineering Education and Professor of Engineering Education at Purdue University.

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Engineering has been a field characterized by a hegemonically depoliticized and meritocratic culture. This has contributed to the demographics of engineering skewing wealthier, whiter, and more male. There is a need for theories of change within engineering and engineering education capable of shifting this engineering culture. In this paper, we draw on theories from within and outside of engineering education, including a Freirian critical consciousness model, to construct a liberatory engineering education model connecting theories of change to educational learning and assessment methods. This model is then applied to the context of engineering and labor.

Drawing on the history of labor organizing, in which labor unions have been a vehicle for workers to engage in social mobility and address injustices, we develop an engineering and labor theory of change to describe the potential of labor organizing to create shifts in engineering and engineering educational settings. This theory of change runs counter to the hegemonic technocratic theory of change present in engineering, which has historically limited engineers’ engagement with labor organizing. The resulting liberatory engineering education model connects this theory of change to labor organizing methodologies and a learning method of Bargaining for the Common Good, recognizing that engineers can be community organizers and that labor strikes can be a form of liberatory pedagogy. We also discuss the overlap of skills, tools, and practices from labor organizing with engineering education research methodologies, learning methods, and assessment methods in addition to potential limitations of this theory of change. In doing so, potentials for scholarship, concientização, and praxis via labor organizing in engineering are elucidated in order to provide direction toward liberation.

Valle, J., & Bowen, C. L., & Riley, D. M. (2021, July), Liberatory Potential of Labor Organizing in Engineering Education Paper presented at 2021 ASEE Virtual Annual Conference Content Access, Virtual Conference.

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