By Christofer B.
Engineering for Social Change is a class I knew would be different, but I had no idea what to really expect. Most engineering classes have the same mantra: to make something bigger, better, faster, stronger, etc; however, this class taught me to pay more attention to the impact of everything we make. Any and everything we make not only makes tasks easier and more efficient, but socially change society for better or worse.
The ISCC project put us in a place to identify an issue and fix it, like any other project. However this project showed me that catering to group in question, the customer, is the most important aspect of the task. No matter what kind of performance numbers the product can pull, in the end, if it doesn’t cater to the customer at hand, the product is useless. Several guest speakers attended our class to remind us of this fact every week. One of our guest speakers drilled it home when she requested us to cater our products to a single persona, a person with a real issue, a family, even a name. And, this exercise really allowed us to have a stronger understanding of the problem and more empathy for the people we’re trying to help, far more effective just reading statistics. Taking it further, we vowed to speak and interact with people that pertained to our ISCC project. Within my group’s ISCC project, we had to find a solution to improve access to water for Syrian refugees in Lebanon. While we couldn’t get the chance to talk to a Syrian refugee, simply talking to someone from Lebanon about the issue granted us a wealth of understanding in a way that random articles couldn’t convey. Simply hearing their story let me know that all of these engineering problems are more than a set of numbers.
Beyond that, this course showed how incredible technology could send society towards a bad direction. The constant increase of automation could show a huge shift in the labor force around the world, and that it’s up to the engineers to make sure the world doesn’t head in that direction. That lecture quickly made me rethink what I thought of self-driving cars. Before, I only thought of the positives of the concept, but the possibility of putting the entire driving force; taxis, buses, and trucks; is a huge deal since it covers over three million people. Taking the idea further, I began to think about how each and every product I owned affected change in myself. One small example included how I missed making mixed CDs and sharing with my friends, but the invention of MP3 player removed the necessity of the CD altogether, reducing overall social interaction. Something so small had a larger effect on how often I interacted with people, and larger products can carry a much higher social impact with them.
I enjoyed this class to the point that I couldn’t believe that it was just an elective. Having an eye opening class like this in the roster should be experienced by everyone. If all the engineers have a responsibility on their shoulders to make sure the world doesn’t fall apart, then every engineer needs to take a class like this.