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The Final Straw: Incorporating Accessibility and Sustainability Considerations into Material Selection Decisions

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2020 ASEE Virtual Annual Conference Content Access


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Publication Date

June 22, 2020

Start Date

June 22, 2020

End Date

June 26, 2021

Conference Session

Materials Division Technical Session 3

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Laura Ann Gelles University of San Diego Orcid 16x16

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Laura Gelles is a postdoctoral research associate at the University of San Diego's Shiley-Marcos School of Engineering where she is researching strategies and implementation of institutional change and integrates environmental and sustainability content into the engineering curriculum. Before joining USD in September 2019, Laura received her bachelor’s degree in environmental engineering from the University of Nevada Reno and a master’s degree in environmental engineering from the University of North Dakota. She received her Ph.D. in Engineering Education at Utah State University with a research focus on the ethical and career aspects of mentoring of science and engineering graduate students and hidden curriculum in engineering.

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Susan M. Lord University of San Diego

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Susan M. Lord received a B.S. from Cornell University in Materials Science and Electrical Engineering (EE) and the M.S. and Ph.D. in EE from Stanford University. She is currently Professor and Chair of Integrated Engineering at the University of San Diego. Her research focuses on the study and promotion of diversity in engineering including student pathways and inclusive teaching. She is Co-Director of the National Effective Teaching Institute (NETI). Her research has been sponsored by the National Science Foundation (NSF). Dr. Lord is among the first to study Latinos in engineering and coauthored The Borderlands of Education: Latinas in Engineering. Dr. Lord is a Fellow of the IEEE and ASEE and is active in the engineering education community including serving as General Co-Chair of the Frontiers in Education Conference, President of the IEEE Education Society, and Associate Editor of the IEEE Transactions on Education (ToE) and the Journal of Engineering Education (JEE). She and her coauthors received the 2011 Wickenden Award for the best paper in JEE and the 2011 and 2015 Best Paper Awards for the IEEE ToE. In Spring 2012, Dr. Lord spent a sabbatical at Southeast University in Nanjing, China teaching and doing research. She is on the USD team implementing “Developing Changemaking Engineers”, an NSF-sponsored Revolutionizing Engineering Education (RED) project. Dr. Lord is the 2018 recipient of the IEEE Undergraduate Teaching Award.

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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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