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Social Justice in Control Systems Engineering

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2015 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


Seattle, Washington

Publication Date

June 14, 2015

Start Date

June 14, 2015

End Date

June 17, 2015





Conference Session

Integrating Social Justice in Engineering Science Courses

Tagged Divisions

Liberal Education/Engineering & Society and Engineering Ethics

Tagged Topic


Page Count


Page Numbers

26.1378.1 - 26.1378.20



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Paper Authors


Kathryn Johnson Colorado School of Mines Orcid 16x16

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Kathryn Johnson is an Associate Professor at the Colorado School of Mines in the Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science and is Jointly Appointed at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory’s National Wind Technology Center. In the fall 2011, she was a visiting researcher at Aalborg University in Denmark, where she collaborated on wind turbine control research and experienced Aalborg’s Problem-Based Learning method. She has researched wind turbine control systems since 2002, with numerous projects related to reducing turbine loads and increasing energy capture. She has applied experiential learning techniques in several wind energy and control systems classes and began engineering education research related to social justice in control systems engineering in fall 2014.

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Jon A. Leydens Colorado School of Mines

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Jon A. Leydens is an associate professor in the Division of Liberal Arts and International Studies at the Colorado School of Mines, USA, where he has been since 1997. Research and teaching interests include communication, social justice, and engineering education.

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Barbara M. Moskal Colorado School of Mines

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Dr. Barbara Moskal is a Professor of Applied Mathematics and Statistics and the Director of the Trefny Institute for Educational Innovation at the Colorado School of Mines. She is also a senior associate editor of the Journal for Engineering Education. Her research interests include: measurement, assessment, outreach, and diversity.

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Deborah Silva Colorado School of Mines

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Deborah Silva is a Graduate Research Assistant at the Colorado School of Mines. She is pursuing a M.S. in Electrical Engineering with interests in social justice applied to control systems engineering

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Justin Stephen Fantasky Colorado School of Mines

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Justin Fantasky is an Undergraduate Research Assistant at the Colorado School of Mines. He is pursing a degree in Mechanical Engineering with a minor in Economics and Business with an expected graduation date of May 2016.

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Social Justice in Control Systems EngineeringThe research "Social Justice in Engineering with a Focus on Control Systems" integrates socialjustice into a control systems class and examines the impacts of such integration on studentlearning and motivation. The concept of social justice defies a universal definition, but is funda-mentally about human rights. The vision implied in social justice is that people and communitieshave the right to equality (in various senses), to health, to dignity, and to opportunities.Problem Statement Social elements such as social justice may not be perceived as“engineering” by faculty and students, leading to an engineering workforce not well-trained insocial elements of sustainable engineering solutions. Engineers work within an existing systemwithout significant effort to change the social constructs of that system [1]. Social justice isclosely tied to care for the natural environment and is a key element of sustainability. [2]However, whereas economics has long been considered an important part of engineeringeducation and the environment has gained significant ground in recent years, social justicereceives very little attention within typical engineering curricula. Therefore, most engineeringgraduates are unprepared to perform thorough assessments of the social justice implications oftheir engineering decisions and designs [2]. Our work seeks to remedy this shortcoming.Research Approach Using a mixed-methods approach, we begin by assessing the state of socialjustice awareness of the students entering the “Introduction to Feedback Control Systems”(IFCS) class. We then provide various social justice interventions to help students learn about theinherent connections between social justice inherent and control systems engineering. Ourresearch questions are: (1) What exposure to social justice concepts have students had in theiruniversity courses prior to taking IFCS?, (2) How do students report their perceptions of controlsystems classes that explicitly include engineering and social justice units compared to similarclasses that do not include social justice?, and (3) How does targeted social justice instructionimpact student performance on control systems course outcomes, student plans to pursueadditional control systems courses, and student ability to recognize the social justice dimensionsof control systems? A survey offered to all enrolled students is followed by focus groups andsemi-structured interviews for a smaller subset of students. Two sections of the course areoffered each semester, and students from both sections are invited to participate in surveys, focusgroups, and interviews. One of the two sections includes social justice interventions and the othersection follows a more traditional approach so that comparisons can be made between the two.Expected Results We will assess student learning outcomes in terms of traditional technicalcriteria and engagement. The research will help to expand understanding of social justiceelements of control systems engineering specifically and to collect baseline information of theseelectrical and mechanical engineering students’ prior experiences with engineering and socialjustice. This baseline information will provide important background for future curricularchanges required to teach social justice. Finally, this research includes an evaluation of theimpact of social justice interventions within a required control systems course. Ideally, thestudents exposed to the social justice interventions will become ambassadors for social justicewithin their future careers. We will share intervention materials with the control systems andsocial justice teaching communities, thereby increasing the opportunity for additional students tolearn about this important area.Note: This paper is one of four in the session, “Pushing the Boundaries of the Liberal Arts andEngineering: Integrating Social Justice in Engineering Science Courses”References [1] Riley, Donna, Engineering and Social Justice, San Rafael, CA: Morgan and Claypool Publishers, 2008. [2] Cech, Erin, “The (Mis)framing of social justice: Why ideologies of depoliticization and meritocracy hinder engineers’ ability to think about social injustices,” in Engineering education for social justice: Critical explorations and opportunities, (ed.) Juan Lucena, New York: Springer, pp. 67-84, 2013.

Johnson, K., & Leydens, J. A., & Moskal, B. M., & Silva, D., & Fantasky, J. S. (2015, June), Social Justice in Control Systems Engineering Paper presented at 2015 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, Seattle, Washington. 10.18260/p.24715

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