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The Unique Value of Humanitarian Engineering

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2011 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


Vancouver, BC

Publication Date

June 26, 2011

Start Date

June 26, 2011

End Date

June 29, 2011



Conference Session

Sustainability and Humanitarian Engineering

Tagged Division

Engineering Ethics

Page Count


Page Numbers

22.1505.1 - 22.1505.12



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Paper Authors


Ryan C. Campbell University of Washington

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Ryan is pursuing his doctorate through the University of Washington Graduate School's interdisciplinary Individual Ph.D. (I.Ph.D.) program, in which he combines faculty expertise in the College of Engineering and the College of Education to create a degree program in the emerging field of Engineering Education. Ryan earned his M.S. in Electrical Engineering from SungKyunKwan University, Republic of Korea, and his B.S. in Engineering Science from Colorado State University, Ft. Collins, CO. Ryan's research interests include: engineering education, ethics, humanitarian engineering, and computer modeling of electric power and renewable energy systems.

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Denise Wilson University of Washington

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Denise Wilson is an Associate Professor in Electrical Engineering and holds an adjunct appointment in Civil and Environmental Engineering at the University of Washington. She received her B.S. degree in mechanical engineering from Stanford University and her M.S. and Ph.D. degrees from the Georgia Institute of Technology, both in Electrical Engineering. She also holds an M.Ed. from the University of Washington (2008). Her research interests cover affective outcomes in engineering education as well as (chemical and biological) sensors research which cross-over into her work in community based partnerships and community outreach.

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THE UNIQUE VALUE OF HUMANITARIAN ENGINEERING FOR ETHICS INSTRUCTIONAbstractHumanitarian engineering is the application of engineering skills or services for humanitarian aidpurposes such as natural disaster recovery or improving the prospects of people in impoverishedareas. The emerging field of humanitarian engineering has great potential for addressing many ofthe world’s problems, especially if such work can be carried out sustainably in a way that fullyengages the local people, considering them as potential resources (not problems), and recognizestheir inherent nobility and worth. However, traditional engineering education does little toprepare the student for such considerations with its primary focus on for-profit areas withexpensive and complex technologies designed for use in wealthy regions.The work described in this paper seeks to explore the benefits and unique value that the contextof humanitarian engineering adds to the engineering curriculum. In accomplishing these tasks,this project embraces several Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology (ABET)Criteria 3 Program Outcomes that are frequently underrepresented in mainstream engineeringcourses including outcome F (an understanding of professional and ethical responsibility) andoutcome H (the broad education necessary to understand the impact of engineering solutions in aglobal, economic, environmental, and societal context). Based on theoretical grounds, we believethat existing approaches to ethics instruction are incomplete for use with humanitarianengineering. Not only do we need to include the conventional ethics based on the concept ofjustice, but we should also add an element of the concept of care as suggested in the feministliterature of the 1970’s. In this paper we present our research framework as well as preliminaryfindings from an ongoing mixed-methods research study in which we explore and assess thisbroader conception of ethics. As illustrated in the conceptual framework of Figure 1, methods ofassessment include 1) ethnographic style classroom observations and informal interviews withstudents and instructors to capture motivation and engagement, and 2) evaluation of studentcoursework performed by multiple evaluators using sophisticated multi-dimensional gradingrubrics that capture the depth and breadth of student’s ethical and broader impactsconsiderations.Figure 1. Conceptual Model

Campbell, R. C., & Wilson, D. (2011, June), The Unique Value of Humanitarian Engineering Paper presented at 2011 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, Vancouver, BC. 10.18260/1-2--18603

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