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Trash Teachings: How a Materials Science Module Series about Waste can Empower Engineering Students to be More Sociotechnically Responsible

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2019 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


Tampa, Florida

Publication Date

June 15, 2019

Start Date

June 15, 2019

End Date

June 19, 2019

Conference Session

Materials Division Technical Session 3

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Paper Authors


Breanne Przestrzelski University of San Diego

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Bre Przestrzelski, PhD, is a post-doctoral research associate in the General Engineering department in the Shiley-Marcos School of Engineering, where she innovatively integrates social justice, humanitarian advancement, and peace into the traditional engineering curriculum.

Before joining USD in August 2017, Bre spent 9 years at Clemson University, where she was a three-time graduate of the bioengineering program (BS, MS, and PhD), founder of The Design & Entrepreneurship Network (DEN), and Division I rower. In her spare time, Bre teaches design thinking workshops for higher education faculty/administrators at the Stanford d.School as a University Innovation Fellow, coaches a global community of learners through IDEO U, and fails miserably at cooking.

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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 and the M.S. and Ph.D. from Stanford University. She is currently Professor and Chair of Integrated Engineering at the University of San Diego. Her teaching and research interests include inclusive pedagogies, electronics, optoelectronics, materials science, first year engineering courses, feminist and liberative pedagogies, engineering student persistence, and student autonomy. Her research has been sponsored by the National Science Foundation (NSF). Dr. Lord is a fellow of the ASEE and IEEE and is active in the engineering education community including serving as General Co-Chair of the 2006 Frontiers in Education (FIE) Conference, on the FIE Steering Committee, and as President of the IEEE Education Society for 2009-2010. She is an Associate Editor of the IEEE Transactions on Education. She and her coauthors were awarded the 2011 Wickenden Award for the best paper in the Journal of Engineering Education and the 2011 and 2015 Best Paper Awards for the IEEE Transactions on Education. In Spring 2012, Dr. Lord spent a sabbatical at Southeast University in Nanjing, China teaching and doing research.

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Michelle M. Camacho University of San Diego

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Michelle M. Camacho is Professor of Sociology at the University of San Diego. She began her career at UC San Diego in 1999 as a postdoctoral fellow at the Center for US Mexican Studies, and later as a UC Faculty Fellow in Ethnic Studies. In 2015-16, she returned to UC San Diego as a fellow of the American Council on Education. As a bilingual/bicultural Latina, Camacho has 30 years of experience in higher education advocating for underrepresented groups and first generation college students. For over a decade, her work on institutional transformation has received funding from the National Science Foundation to examine and address inequities in higher education, specifically as they relate to Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM). She served the NSF ADVANCE grant initiatives as a co-Principal Investigator, working to improve practices to recruit and retain women of color in STEM and enhance institutional climate at USD. Other current research grants support pathways for veterans in higher education, and the NSF program called, “Revolutionizing Engineering & Computer Science Departments.” Her co-authored books include The Borderlands of Education (with Susan Lord), Mentoring Faculty of Color, and Beginning a Career in Academia: A Guide for Graduate Students of Color. She is past-Vice President (2017) of the Pacific Sociological Association, and an appointed consultant to the American Sociological Association’s Departmental Resources Group. Fluent in both quantitative and qualitative research methodologies, her research uses theories from interdisciplinary sources including cultural studies, critical race, gender and feminist theories. Central to her work are questions of culture, power and inequality. She is affiliated faculty with the Department of Ethnic Studies, Women’s and Gender Studies, and Latin American Studies.

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There are growing industry demands for engineers to obtain a background in both technical skills and understanding social/global impacts. In a third-year Materials Science course, a module series introduced the responsibility of engineers to consider the life cycle of the products/processes they design. The course-long module series can be divided into four stand-alone modules that build on each other. The first module required students to bring to class with them a week’s worth of their own trash to discuss the impact their personal waste contribution has on a regional scale. This module was enhanced based on student and instructor feedback from a first implementation offered in Fall 2017. This second module took students to a city-wide recycling processing center to observe the sorting processes that materials undergo once they are discarded. Through this field trip, students were able to recognize some of the challenges of current waste disposal and recycling practices. The third module welcomed a guest expert to share experiences with the global impact of waste disposal and the relative privileges that persist in developed countries. The fourth module asked students to critically assess materials for use in a commercial product, inspired by the regional and global challenges they were previously exposed to in the course. Following each activity, students completed a reflective assessment to track their understanding of the impact that their future engineering roles might play. From the compiled results, the student response to the modules was positive, leaving many students empowered, curious, and excited. The module series accomplished the goal of helping students be more prepared in understanding their role in designing materials with their end-use in mind, thus infusing technical and social engineering skill sets.

Przestrzelski, B., & Lord, S. M., & Camacho, M. M. (2019, June), Trash Teachings: How a Materials Science Module Series about Waste can Empower Engineering Students to be More Sociotechnically Responsible Paper presented at 2019 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition , Tampa, Florida. 10.18260/1-2--33465

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