Virtual On line
June 22, 2020
June 22, 2020
June 26, 2021
Engineers are called upon to balance and adapt to the competing demands of industry, the environment, and society to develop sustainable and equitable solutions to modern problems. While traditional engineering programs provide students with the technical skills required of their profession, students often lack the knowledge and resources on how to incorporate complex environmental and social factors into decision-making so that they are prepared to face society’s evolving challenges. As part of a larger initiative to integrate traditional technical skills with enhanced social awareness into the engineering curriculum, a two-part module emphasizing the environmental and social design considerations of sustainability was added to an existing module series in a third-year Materials Science course. This paper will describe the design, implementation, and assessment of one part of this module entitled “The Final Straw” that was focused on accessibility of straw materials within the disability community. For this module, groups of students considered the unique design needs of a marginalized stakeholder who relies on the material properties of single-used plastic straws (e.g., individuals with strength and mobility issues) to recommend an alternative material for the straw (e.g., paper, metal, silicone). In doing so, they must consider the larger economic, environmental, and social impacts of their material recommendation, and also consider how engineering design and public policy can unintentionally exclude vulnerable populations. Curricular content (e.g., homework, midterm questions) as well as researcher reflections were used to assess this module. Students were able to describe and synthesize the needs of multiple users with varying disabilities into a hierarchy of materials. While environmental considerations were not explicitly asked for, students could not detangle the environmental from the social aspects of this problem. However, framing the issue through the lens of accessibility could have allowed students to not consider the economic costs as primary and instead reframe them into a social consideration (i.e., cost to the consumer).
Gelles, L. A., & Lord, S. M. (2020, June), The Final Straw: Incorporating Accessibility and Sustainability Considerations into Material Selection Decisions Paper presented at 2020 ASEE Virtual Annual Conference Content Access, Virtual On line . 10.18260/1-2--35319
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