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Understanding the Impact of Engineering Through Engagement with the National Academy of Engineering Grand Challenges

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2017 Pacific Southwest Section Meeting


Tempe, Arizona

Publication Date

April 20, 2017

Start Date

April 20, 2017

End Date

April 22, 2017

Conference Session

Technical Session 4a

Tagged Topics

Diversity and Pacific Southwest Section

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Paper Authors


Elizabeth Fife University of Southern California

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Sr. Lecturer, Engineering Writing Program, Viterbi School of Engineering, University of Southern California. Expertise areas include: communication in collaborative environments, multidisciplinary groups, and far-flung virtual teams, communication support for open innovation inside and outside the enterprise, and finally, techniques to support global multicultural organizations. Dr. Elizabeth Fife has taught technical and professional communication courses in the Viterbi School of Engineering and the Marshall School of Business at USC for the past 17 years. Elizabeth has taught undergraduates, graduate students and engineering and industry professionals the core elements of technical writing and presenting for academic and business audiences. In addition, Elizabeth has developed specialized modules and workshops for companies in the ICT industry as well as for international companies and students in Korea, China, Japan and other Asia-Pacific countries. Education: Ph.D., International Relations, University of Southern California. Research Interests: - Collaborative environments for innovation (wikis, social networks and other collaborative online platforms), emerging economies development and the role of IT/communications technology, and methodologies for measurement and assessment frameworks

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This study reports on pedagogical efforts supported with a structure survey to motivate engineering student’s awareness of technological context. Through the University of Southern California’s Viterbi School of Engineering’s required writing course, (WRIT 340), several ABET criteria are addressed, including understanding the effects of engineering in a global, societal, economic, environmental, and context. To further this goal, in an intensive 3-month long process, students working in small collaborative groups master the complex issues surrounding one of the fourteen goals that the National Academy of Engineering (NAE) has identified as important technological targets for the twenty-first century. Students are surveyed at three points during their research process (at the beginning and middle stage and then after completion of a white paper that identifies the scope of a specific problem such as environmental sustainability, health, security, and the potential and limits of new technologies to address these issues. Survey results indicate that initial positivistic views of technology are challenged through research on this project, and at completion, students have gained a greater appreciation for the interplay between technology and society as implementation, public policy, resource availability and other elements affect technological choices and investment. In class discussion helps students see the linkages between what initially appears to be discrete issues as the overlap of political, economic and social factors that determine outcomes in many cases is similar. As part of each team’s final report, they consider the ethical and policy implications of the technologies they review. The Grand Challenges provides a useful “anchor” to help students approach engineering through awareness of ecosystems, sustainable development, resource management and appropriateness of technology for more holistic solutions. Such an understanding can help students become better decision-makers as they gain appreciation for the non-technical issues that affect engineering. Communication skills are also furthered through focusing on impact and consequences of technology (or the lack thereof). Students gain awareness of their role as engineers and the need for responsible dissemination of information to guide choices that affect the quality of life for all.

Fife, E. (2017, April), Understanding the Impact of Engineering Through Engagement with the National Academy of Engineering Grand Challenges Paper presented at 2017 Pacific Southwest Section Meeting, Tempe, Arizona.

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