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Work in Progress: Science and Engineering for Social Justice: Curriculum Development and Student Impact

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2019 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


Tampa, Florida

Publication Date

June 15, 2019

Start Date

June 15, 2019

End Date

October 19, 2019

Conference Session

Minorities in Engineering Division Technical Session 6

Tagged Division

Minorities in Engineering

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Paper Authors


Camille Birch University of Washington

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Camille Birch is a graduate of the Bioengineering and Computer Science departments at the University of Washington. She developed curriculum concerning the interplay of diversity and ethics for undergraduate engineering students at UW and is interested in the power of education to enact change in future generations of engineers. She currently works for Microsoft in the Bay Area.

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Celina Gunnarsson Massachusetts Institute of Technology


Dianne Grayce Hendricks University of Washington

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Dr. Dianne Hendricks is a Lecturer in the Department of Human Centered Design & Engineering and the Director of the Engineering Communication Program at the University of Washington. She designs and teaches courses involving universal design, technical communication, ethics, and diversity, equity and inclusion. She co-founded HuskyADAPT (Accessible Design and Play Technology), where she mentors UW students in design for local needs experts with disabilities. She also leads STEM outreach activities for the UW community and local K-12 students involving toy adaptation for children with disabilities. Dianne holds a PhD in Genetics from Duke University, and BS in Molecular Biology and BA in Psychology from the University of Texas at Austin.

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Science and Engineering for Social Justice: Curriculum Development and Student Impact (Work in Progress)

In this work-in-progress, we describe the design and implementation of a novel curriculum that explores social justice in a science and engineering context, with specific focus on race, gender, sexuality, and disability. We emphasize what students can do to advocate for and represent diverse peoples, and to promote social justice through science and engineering practice.

“Science and Engineering for Social Justice” is a 5-credit, writing-intensive, discussion-based course. The first offering is in Fall 2018 with 31 students from both STEM and non-STEM majors.

Throughout the course, we encourage students to critically evaluate how cultural and scientific theories of gender/sex, race, disability, and sexuality influence one another. Students are asked to reflect on who gets to be a scientist or engineer, who defines which questions researchers ask and which problems engineers solve, who benefits from these solutions, and what role social justice plays in science and engineering practice. We explore these inter-related questions: 1) How do our cultural ideas about race, gender, disability and sexuality influence science/engineering knowledge and practice? 2) On the other hand, how does our science/engineering practice influence our cultural ideas about race, gender, disability and sexuality? 3) How can we use science and engineering to promote social justice for all people?

Through the lens of social justice, students reflect on the impact of science and engineering in society through weekly readings and class discussions. In addition, students complete a final paper on a topic of their choice and a team project in which they design a science/engineering solution that promotes social justice.

The authors have previously published work describing pilot efforts to develop a curriculum to explore the interplay of diversity and ethics in engineering in the context of a large introductory bioengineering course [1-2]. Whereas these efforts were intended to serve as model curricula to be implemented in an existing course for early engineering students, here we describe the launch of a stand-alone course available to all undergraduates that highlights the roles scientists and engineers can play in promoting social justice.

We will explore the impact of this new curriculum by analyzing student perceptions of social justice before and after taking the course, and student self-reports on the impact of the course on their ability to identify and approach social justice issues in science and engineering. Assessment of course activities will include written student surveys containing both quantitative and qualitative data, instructor observations, and excerpts of student work. Example curricular materials will be provided at the conference.

Birch, C., & Gunnarsson, C., & Hendricks, D. G. (2019, June), Work in Progress: Science and Engineering for Social Justice: Curriculum Development and Student Impact Paper presented at 2019 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition , Tampa, Florida. 10.18260/1-2--33645

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