Humanitarian engineering in the engineering curriculum
VanderSteen, Jonathan Daniel James
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There are many opportunities to use engineering skills to improve the conditions for mar-ginalized communities, but our current engineering education praxis does not instruct on how engineering can be a force for human development. In a time of great inequality and exploitation, the desire to work with the impoverished is prevalent, and it has been proposed to adjust the engineering curriculum to include a larger focus on human needs. This proposed curriculum philosophy is called humanitarian engineering. Professional engineers have played an important role in the modern history of power, wealth, economic development, war, and industrialization; they have also contributed to infrastructure, sanitation, and energy sources necessary to meet human need. Engineers are currently at an important point in time when they must look back on their history in order to be more clear about how to move forward. The changing role of the engineer in history puts into context the call for a more balanced, community-centred engineering curriculum. Qualitative, phenomenographic research was conducted in order to understand the need, opportunity, benefits, and limitations of a proposed humanitarian engineering curriculum. The potential role of the engineer in marginalized communities and details regarding what a humanitarian engineering program could look like were also investigated. Thirty-two semi-structured research interviews were conducted in Canada and Ghana in order to collect a pool of understanding before a phenomenographic analysis resulted in five distinct outcome spaces. The data suggests that an effective curriculum design will include teaching technical skills in conjunction with instructing about issues of social justice, social location, cultural awareness, root causes of marginalization, a broader understanding of technology, and unlearning many elements about the role of the engineer and the dominant economic/political ideology. Cross-cultural engineering development placements are a valuable pedagogical experience but risk benefiting the student disproportionately more than the receiving community. Local development placements offer different rewards and liabilities. To conclude, a major adjustment in engineering curriculum to address human development is appropriate and this new curriculum should include both local and international placements. However, the great force of altruism must be directed towards creating meaningful and lasting change.