By Jenna S.
Service has always been a large part of my life, but I had never before approached social change from an engineering perspective. I had always hoped that my future career would be able to marry both engineering and social change, and this course has shown me just how possible that can be. I think one of the greatest take aways that I drew from this course was that, while it is possible to engineer directly for social change, we also must consider the social justice implications of the items that we engineer solely for society. I enjoyed the discussion that we had during our guest lecture with Admiral Firebaugh. The topic of autonomous vehicles is especially applicable to this aspect of social change. With the rapid growth of technology, inventors do not always consider what the impact of that technology will be on society. However, as engineers, we have a social responsibility to create technology that is safe and ethical. There is a delicate balance between technological advancement and ethics, which I had never considered before taking this class.
Originally, when I thought about engineering for social change, my thought was that it was only really applicable to civil engineering in developing communities. However, the ISCC project was an enlightening experience in designing and engineering for social change. I was not originally as excited about the topic that my group wanted (food accessibility) when compared to the other options that were available. But after I spent some time researching, I realized that it was actually a significant problem in our local community and then I became more excited about our project. After having a couple of group meetings, the discussion of topics and engineering ideas took off and everyone in our group became increasingly more excited about the possibilities. I think everyone was proud of the final solution that we proposed dealing with urban community garden aquaponics. I also realized that engineering for social change didn’t just have to be about infrastructure. This project was a great example of how engineering ideation can help alleviate diverse social issues in communities. I think that it is essential that engineers be taught the importance of social change because technology is a large contributing factor to many of the designs and implementations that can help struggling communities.
When I was in high school I did a project where I had to research different non-profits in depth and then decide which organization most deserved donations. This reminds me a lot of the grant-making process we participated in this semester. However, in my high school project there was no money involved. Adding in the financial component increases the gravity and responsibility of this process. It is interested to understand the philanthropic side of social change. This is an entirely different perspective that I have never experienced before. Having been very involved in hands-on service in my life, I used to have a certain disdain for philanthropy, thinking that it was a cop-out to actually physically helping with social issues. But this class has entirely changed my viewpoint on philanthropy. There is an abundance of research, consideration, and effort that fuel the grant-making process. I have realized that philanthropy is just as essential to social change as hands-on service and engineering design.