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Renewable and Efficient? Mechanical Engineering Students’ Conceptions of Sustainability and Engineering

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2012 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


San Antonio, Texas

Publication Date

June 10, 2012

Start Date

June 10, 2012

End Date

June 13, 2012



Conference Session

Ethical Issues I: Sustainability and Environmental Ethics

Tagged Division

Engineering Ethics

Page Count


Page Numbers

25.1118.1 - 25.1118.8



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Paper Authors


April A. Kedrowicz University of Utah

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April A. Kedrowicz is the Director of the CLEAR (Communication, Leadership, Ethics, And Research) Program at the University of Utah, a collaboration between the College of Humanities and College of Engineering. The program was developed in 2003 through a grant from the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation, with the goal of integrating communication (speaking and writing), teamwork, and ethics into the curriculum of every department in the College of Engineering. Kedrowicz has been the Director of the program since its inception and has developed a situated, incremental curriculum plan in all seven departments in the college. Her responsibilities include faculty development (she has facilitated numerous college-wide workshops), TA training (approximately 15 graduate students from the humanities work with CLEAR to develop the communication competence of engineering undergraduates), programmatic and basic research, instructional development, and assessment. Kedrowicz received her Ph.D. in communication from the University of Utah in 2005. She also holds bachelor’s and master’s degrees in organizational and corporate communication from the University of Wisconsin, Stevens Point.

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Maria Dawn Blevins University of Utah

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Renewable and Efficient? Mechanical Engineering Students’ Conceptions of Sustainability and EngineeringThe importance of sustainability to engineering work cannot be denied. Consider, for example,that in the 2011 State of the Union address, President Obama pledged that 80% of the energyused in the United States will come from clean energy sources by 2035.1 Perhaps unprecedented,we face enormous problems like global climate change, poverty, overpopulation, diminishingresources, and pollution, to name a few. The dominant view of engineers’ role in this currentstate of affairs is that of problem solver, or rescuer, such that engineers need only “design theirway out” of any problems we face as a global society. Rather than a reactionary focus, engineersmust be proactive and contemplative and foreground sustainability as a top design constraint tobe considered thoughtfully in terms of people, nature, and future generations. A focus onsustainability must be as heavily weighted as cost, aesthetics, ease of use, etc. But, if we are toget there, we must first change the culture of engineering education.Currently, engineering education treats sustainability as one of many design constraints thatlikely receives consideration in a classroom module, typically in a capstone design class. Onelesson is hardly enough to instill in students the importance of sustainability and sustainabledesign considerations. While some colleges of engineering have taken on grand educationalinitiatives to educate students about sustainability and the importance of sustainable design,2-3 westill have an uphill climb to truly transform engineering education to be more focused onsustainable, systems-oriented design and problem solving.One first step to transforming the culture is to learn how students view sustainability and itsrelationship to engineering. This is especially important since notions of sustainability andsustainable engineering are wide and varied.4 In this paper, we present Mechanical Engineeringstudents’ conceptions of sustainability and how sustainability relates to engineering. MechanicalEngineering, in particular, is a discipline representing great potential in terms of advancingsustainable solutions to our global environmental problems. Yet, the majority of design projectsreify a reliance on fossil fuels and old technologies that will continue to add CO2 to theatmosphere. Thus, it seems Mechanical Engineering offers a space for increased attention tosustainability.We surveyed sophomore Mechanical Engineering students in an energy systems design class togauge their views on sustainability and its importance to engineering. This represents thepreliminary phase of a multi-year project on organizational change in the MechanicalEngineering Department. Results from this study will help us develop a targeted, integratedcurriculum designed to teach students the importance of sustainability to engineering from asystems-oriented perspective.References1. Obama, B. (2011). State of the Union Address. Washington, D.C. January, 25.2. Hadgraft, R., & Goricanec, J. (2007). Engineering sustainability?! American Society for Engineering EducationConference Proceedings. Honolulu, HI: ASEE.3. Stattler, M. L., Pearson-Weatherton, Y., Chen, V. C. P., Mattingly, S. P., & Rogers, K. J. (2011). Engineeringsustainable civil engineers. American Society for Engineering Education Conference Proceedings. Vancouver, BC:ASEE.4. Hoffman, S. R., Pawley, A. L., Rao, R. L., Cardella, M. E., & Ohland. M. W. (2011). Defining “sustainableengineering”: A comparative analysis of published sustainability principles and existing courses. American Societyfor Engineering Education. Vancouver, BC: ASEE.

Kedrowicz, A. A., & Blevins, M. D. (2012, June), Renewable and Efficient? Mechanical Engineering Students’ Conceptions of Sustainability and Engineering Paper presented at 2012 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, San Antonio, Texas. 10.18260/1-2--21875

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