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Representations of 'The Public' in Learning Through Service (LTS) Versus 'Mainstream' Engineering Foundational Professional Documents

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2018 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


Salt Lake City, Utah

Publication Date

June 23, 2018

Start Date

June 23, 2018

End Date

July 27, 2018

Conference Session

Transdisciplinary Perspectives on Engineering Engagement with Community

Tagged Division

Community Engagement Division

Tagged Topic


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Paper Authors


Nathan E. Canney

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Dr. Canney's research focuses on engineering education, specifically the development of social responsibility in engineering students. Other areas of interest include ethics, service learning, and sustainability education. Dr. Canney received bachelors degrees in Civil Engineering and Mathematics from Seattle University, a masters in Civil Engineering from Stanford University with an emphasis on structural engineering, and a PhD in Civil Engineering from the University of Colorado Boulder.

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Yanna Lambrinidou Virginia Tech

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Yanna Lambrinidou is adjunct assistant professor in the Department of Science and Technology in Society (STS), president of Parents for Nontoxic Alternatives (PNA), and co-founding member of the Campaign for Lead Free Water (CLFW). She works as a researcher, advocate, and activist at the intersection of engineering, engineering ethics, and environmental justice. Her focus areas include lead in drinking water and engineers' engagement with communities in crisis.

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Although a core value in engineering is to broadly “benefit” society, the branch of the profession called Learning Through Service (LTS) promotes specifically the teaching of engineering through collaborative, respectful, and mutually beneficial relationships with “the public.” Guided by a theoretical framework of “social imaginaries,” this paper sets out to explore what officially sanctioned LTS conceptualizations of “the public” are, and whether and how these conceptualizations differ from conceptualizations of “the public” in “mainstream” engineering. The premise of this research is that how LTS practitioners conceive of “the public” likely informs their conceptions of self, professional duty, professional right, and work with communities; and that knowing what imaginaries of “the public” LTS education fosters is important for throwing into relief ideologies that may inform the critical, but often unseen and unstated, boundary between LTS and society.

Results are provided from a content analysis of 14 engineering documents, chosen for their representational value vis-à-vis the engineering profession’s identity, priorities, vision, and perceived relationship with society. The documents include National Academy of Engineering reports, ABET accreditation criteria, disciplinary “Bodies of Knowledge,” engineering codes of ethics, and organizational/programmatic brochures. Qualitative data analysis was used to identify prevalent themes in representations of “the public” across all documents. Emerging codes were broadly categorized into six themes: a) characterizations of “the public,” b) professional duties related to “the public,” c) relationship between engineers and “the public,” d) societal problems in need of engineering solutions, e) engineers' social footprint over time, and f) vision or mission statements. In LTS documents, the three most prevalent codes all fell under the third theme, “relationship between engineers and ‘the public.’” They were that engineers a) benefit “the public,” b) relate to “the public” in a collaborative way, and c) have a significant impact on the work of professionals outside engineering. The first of these three codes – that engineers benefit “the public” – was the most prevalent, by far. References to “the public” as unable to meet its basic needs, engineers as problem solvers, and engineers as benefitting the public were more common in LTS than in “mainstream” engineering documents.

The paper closes with a discussion about the potential implications of our findings for both the LTS community and the “mainstream” engineering community, as well as the diverse publics that the engineering profession aims to serve. We view our findings as a step toward deeper understanding about how the LTS community’s construction of “the public” might enhance or weaken engineering practice and, ultimately, how it might support or undermine LTS engineers’ commitment to promote the social good.

Canney, N. E., & Lambrinidou, Y. (2018, June), Representations of 'The Public' in Learning Through Service (LTS) Versus 'Mainstream' Engineering Foundational Professional Documents Paper presented at 2018 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition , Salt Lake City, Utah. 10.18260/1-2--30932

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