TALKS | Systems for equity, collectivism, co-design and citizen movements

Engineering a Better World: Building a human-centered engineering program that is design-driven and focused on social impact

Sunand Bhattacharya, Boston College USA

Based on the complex problems the planet now faces and a seismic shift that is taking place in undergraduate education, how can we meaningfully weave science, technology and the liberal arts to make the world a better place?

Through Human-Centered Engineering

+Small group breakout session with the author follows Talk

For a while, Boston College (BC), as a traditional liberal arts institution, has reflected on the question of whether engineering should be one of its offerings? If so, what type of engineering education is right for its future students and the prevailing society? Engineering education sectors across the globe have sluggishly responded to the same question with forays into design-driven pedagogies. However, these efforts remain scattered and frequently marginalised. Most of all, they respond weakly to human needs in a complex global society. This situation creates a historically unprecedented opportunity for BC to develop and introduce its human-centered engineering (one that considers the end-user, and strives to have a meaningful impact on those of most need in society, while also responding to the needs of industry) both now and in the future.

Given the uniqueness of this engineering-education endeavour at BC and its first-time introduction into a liberal arts environment, human-centered engineering requires forward-thinking, strategic planning, needs analysis, and a process validating its assumptions from internal and external stakeholders.

Anchored by a human-centered, inclusive approach and coupled with design and systems thinking methodologies, engineering study at BC will be bolstered by a global viewpoint, ethical underpinnings, and distinctive capstone projects that address real-world challenges. This systemic approach well aligns with the mission of the university of delivering a liberal arts education that strives to integrate intellectual rigor with character formation so that our students become people who are well-prepared for meaningful lives and vocations oriented toward service of the common good. The common good can be understood as the conditions and institutions that need to exist in society to sustain human well-being; the conditions of social life that will allow all persons to live a life of freedom and wholeness and fullness of life.

The BC human-centered engineering program has been designed to produce graduates particularly well-positioned to tackle major challenges facing the planet that have scientific, technological, human, ethical and societal dimensions of complex problems. We aspire to achieve this goal by combining the liberal-arts focus of BC’s core curriculum, foundations of engineering, design and systems thinking applications, implementation science, and service-focused capstone experiences. Through experiential pedagogies and application-based course offerings, students will have opportunities to work in collaborative teams and across emerging cross-disciplines related to areas, for example, of environment, health, and energy. Given the complex nature of this academic program, our process for developing it from concept to design to implementation and ultimately to integration into the BC culture, is happening in phases.

This session will illustrate those phases and the approach of how, beyond representation in the sciences, the human-centered engineering program is being pedagogically modelled to draw upon its professional schools and the liberal arts offerings on campus to offer a broad-based interdisciplinary program of engineering studies as needed for educating a global workforce of the future. This is aligned with BC’s Jesuit education mission of educating students to be “men and women for others,” and its role as a major research university founded in a curriculum rich in the humanities, social sciences, and arts.