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Preparing Engineering Students to Work on Taboo Topics in the Service of Communities

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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

Student Preparation for, and Outcomes from, Community Engagement Efforts

Tagged Division

Community Engagement Division

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Paper Authors


Devika Patel Stanford University

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Devika is currently fourth year undergraduate at Stanford University studying Mechanical Engineering: Product Design with honors in Education and Public Service. She will be continuing her studies at Stanford through an M.S. in Community Health and Prevention Research. She is an undergraduate researcher at the Kometsky Global Collaboratory, where she is looking at working with taboos in hygiene and sanitation in engineering contexts.

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Engineers create and implement technologies that provide solutions to some of the most pressing problems in the world today. Engineering education, or the formal training of engineering students, is integral in preparing these engineers to go out into an increasingly globalized world. It has become crucial that engineers are prepared for a wide array of situations outside of a purely technical role. From this, comes a need to bridge the gap between engineering education theory and practice, and study of whether these types of interactions, between engineering students and international communities, are worthwhile and equitable for both parties. This paper uses autoethnography as a method to analyze and distill a framework for preparing engineering students working on what are considered to be “taboo” topics in international development context.

Looking at engineering students working on international development projects in sanitation and hygiene stresses the importance of the framework with which one approaches the issue: working with the community, rather than working for them (Hariharan 2011). The metrics of assessment are twofold: first, global preparedness, or “the readiness to engage and effectively operate under uncertainty in different cultural contexts to address engineering problems” and second, global competency, or “development of one’s skills and attitudes in successfully interacting with persons of diverse backgrounds” (Streiner et al., 2014) have recently been brought forward into the discussion. This paper will use global preparedness and global competency as two of the many lenses through which we can investigate how these skills can help work with taboo issues, as well as using dramaturgical perspective to investigate taboos. This work in progress paper is part of a two-year ongoing project with a community partner in rural India.

Patel, D. (2016, June), Preparing Engineering Students to Work on Taboo Topics in the Service of Communities Paper presented at 2016 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, New Orleans, Louisiana. 10.18260/p.25950

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