F7-PRO4-6 - Considering Employment Strategies for Socially Conscious Engineers

1. Innovative Practice Work In Progress
Laura Gelles , Susan Lord1
1 University of San Diego

This work-in-progress explores the development of an Employment Strategies resource for engineering students and students’ initial responses when engaging with it. Calls have been made to re-envision the personal, professional, and social responsibility of engineers to be inclusive of issues of equity and sustainability. ABET student outcomes also reflect this need to create more socially responsible engineers, stipulating that students should be able to make informed judgments that consider the impact of engineering solutions in global, economic, environmental, and societal contexts. Some students also see the importance of this and self-select into engineering because they believe that engineering can positively impact society. However, these attitudes often change throughout the course of their engineering education as students are exposed to predominantly technical curriculum and personal priorities can shift. In response, students must balance their personal attitudes and inclinations towards socially responsible engineering with their goal to be employed after they graduate. How can we as engineering educators support students in this process?  This work-in-progress describes work at one university towards this goal. The resource in development may be helpful to other engineering educators and career services professionals.

During a module that focused on incorporating social considerations into engineering decisions in a Materials Science engineering class, third year students engaged in a discussion about the role of engineers in making socially conscious decisions in their careers. Students considered whether they, as newly hired engineers, would have the ability, influence, or power to make these types of decisions when they perceived that employers did not prioritize social considerations over economic. Students also questioned the authenticity of a company’s social and environmental responsibility policies, and how having a good public image may be in conflict with actual business practices. A range of tactics were brainstormed and discussed during class to empower students including seeking out socially conscious employers, networking with likeminded individuals, and leveraging a company’s public image to advocate for socially responsible engineering decisions.

After this, a broader list of employment tactics and strategies for students was developed using student and faculty feedback and a literature search. This resource aims to help students think about different ways they can engage with social responsibility in their careers, and includes a range of tactics and strategies to appeal to students’ varying priorities. This list was piloted with students in a class focusing on engineering and social justice for initial feedback, and then was discussed in a focus group at the end of the Materials Science course. Feedback from the students revealed that they appreciated strategies such as ‘wait and see’—which described students being non-selective in their first engineering job and purposively looking for socially responsible company alternatives while building up their engineering skills. One important preliminary finding was that students were divided on working for a company that was already socially conscious versus changing a company from within to be more socially conscious. Students also expressed that faculty could play a role in identifying and vetting socially conscious companies.