The First Undergraduate Minor in Humanitarian Engineering in the US
Where has engineering been in humanitarian practices?
Where are communities and social justice in the work of engineers?
Soon we came to the realization that SOCIAL JUSTICE had been the key missing element throughout the history of the involvement of engineers with communities. Beginning in the 1990s and continuing with the emergence of Engineers Without Borders (EWB) in the early 2000s, there has been increasing involvement of engineering programs and projects for marginalized communities, but few actually address systemic inequalities and forms of oppression, especially as these relate to engineering. We then secured a second NSF grant to develop a course in Engineering and Social Justice (ESJ) and write books on the subject which helped us make SOCIAL JUSTICE one of the three pillars of our HE program.
Where are interdisciplinary collaborations in humanitarian engineering?
In 2012, the HE program underwent a significant curricular revision by making ESCD its gateway course, infusing community wellbeing and social justice throughout many of its courses. In addition, further realizing the shortcomings of design for industry when applied to community development, we increased the percentage of engineering courses, particularly in the form of Human-Centered Problem Definition (EGGN 301) and Design (EGGN 401). These two courses allow students to experience engineering design while putting humans needs as central considerations. For the first time in its decade-long history, the HE program currently has half of its courses coming from the social sciences and half from engineering. The HE faculty team is now composed of engineers who value the social sciences and social scientists who value engineers and their work, making interdisciplinarity a trademark of our program.
Where are the opportunities and challenges of using Humanitarian engineering to address the social and environmental dimensions of the mining and energy industries?
In 2014, Chuck Shultz ’61—a Mines alum, a former energy industry executive, and one of our most committed supporters—challenged us to think about how to align the HE program with the strengths of Mines as an institution: our university’s unique and longstanding ties to the mining and energy industries. This led us to embrace a robust concept of corporate social responsibility (CSR) as a vehicle to train engineers to serve communities while working for a corporate employer. CSR can be a controversial term, since some companies use it to greenwash irresponsible practices. We developed a concept CSR that is grounded in companies changing core business practices—including engineering—to create shared social, environmental and economic value with their stakeholders, especially communities affected by industry. Social Responsibility thus became the third pillar of our HE program. Recognizing that we were now serving two student audiences – one that gravitated to community development and another that aspired to serve communities while working inside corporations—we developed a new minor in Leadership in Social Responsibility (LSR) that welcomed its first students in 2017.
The Humanitarian Engineering program continues to be recognized around the world for its unique features that resulted from its history:
- Its three pillars in community development, social justice, and social responsibility.
- Its commitment to reflective and critical analyses of engineers and engineering.
- Its close interdisciplinary collaborations between engineers and social scientists.
- Its direct engagement of the mining and energy industries.
No other program in the world has these!