Asee peer logo

Public Policy And Engineering Design: A Creative Partnership In Engineering Education

Download Paper |


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

11.1054.1 - 11.1054.10



Permanent URL

Download Count


Request a correction

Paper Authors


Alison Tramba University of Virginia

visit author page

Alison Tramba is an undergraduate student in the School of Engineering and Applied Science at the University of Virginia. She plans to graduate in May, 2007, with a double major in Systems Engineering and American Studies. An internship in Washington, DC, research at UVA, and participation in interdisciplinary projects with the School of Architecture have motivated her to pursue a career in policy regarding housing and infrastructure provisions. Alison is also a two-term representative to the university's Honor Committee.

visit author page


Edmund Russell University of Virginia

visit author page

Edmund Russell is associate professor of science, technology, and society and history at the University of Virginia. A former American Association for the Advancement of Science –Environmental Protection Agency fellow, he directs the School of Engineering and Applied Science’s Washington Internship Program in Science and Technology Policy. His research focuses on the history of science, technology, and the environment.

visit author page

author page

P. Paxton Marshall University of Virginia

Download Paper |

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

Public Policy and Engineering Design: A Creative Partnership in Engineering Education 1 Introduction

A 2004 study by the National Academy of Engineering (NAE) addressed the nation’s need for rising engineering leadership in policy formation by the year 2020. The NAE justified its argument by citing the growing role of technology in society. As a result, engineers will need to play strong roles in creating and administering public policy.1 Current engineering curricula, however, provide little preparation for engineering students to provide this essential leadership. Knowledge is divided into distinct “disciplines” which constrain the ability to address complex real-world problems. Engineering professors, with little public policy experience, emphasize the technical aspects of their subjects without examining the social implications of the technology. The NAE followed its 2004 publication with an education-specific document emphasizing a shift in both materials and methods presented in a more interactive and interdisciplinary approach.2

This paper describes the efforts of the School of Engineering and Applied Science (SEAS) at the University of Virginia (UVa) to meet the need called for in these NAE reports and prepare students to understand and participate in the public policy process. The approach emphasizes the potential for engineering design to inform the development of public policies. One of the authors of this paper (Tramba) was a student participant in the activities discussed here, addressing the need for affordable, energy-efficient housing and the necessity to coordinate public policy development with engineering design in order to reach major societal goals. Home-energy efficiency and her particular role in projects related to it serve as case studies in effective policy- design integration.

2 Political Applications of Engineering

In an increasingly technology-driven society, engineers are needed for an increasingly wide variety of decision-making roles. This is particularly true in the public policy sector where a growing number of sound decisions require an understanding of technological capabilities, limitations, costs, and collateral impacts. Without collaboration, the scientific and government communities may exist as “two disparate worlds,”3 promoting conflicting or counterproductive policies and regulations. For example, in the construction industry, the enormous impact of buildings on national energy consumption, environmental health, and human safety has brought scientific knowledge and design practices to the fore. Emerging materials and systems may improve quality of life and reduce both cost and environmental impacts of new and existing construction. In contrast, outdated building codes may inhibit the spread of new technologies, to the detriment of owners, occupants, and industries. As a result, policy planners and building code writers must be informed of advanced design capabilities, and designers working on building projects should have meaningful backgrounds in public policy.

Engineering is an “applied science,” making it particularly relevant to the policy-making process. In the building industry, government programs supporting affordable and energy-efficient housing must rely on engineering improvements in methods. The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) supports the Partnership for Advancing Technology in Housing

Tramba, A., & Russell, E., & Marshall, P. P. (2006, June), Public Policy And Engineering Design: A Creative Partnership In Engineering Education Paper presented at 2006 Annual Conference & Exposition, Chicago, Illinois. 10.18260/1-2--610

ASEE holds the copyright on this document. It may be read by the public free of charge. Authors may archive their work on personal websites or in institutional repositories with the following citation: © 2006 American Society for Engineering Education. Other scholars may excerpt or quote from these materials with the same citation. When excerpting or quoting from Conference Proceedings, authors should, in addition to noting the ASEE copyright, list all the original authors and their institutions and name the host city of the conference. - Last updated April 1, 2015