Influencing the global state of engineering education

January 20, 2021

In December 2020, groups of faculty and students from 16 engineering institutions from around the world gathered together virtually for the second Colloquium on the Global State of the Art in Engineering Education.

The participating colleges and universities had all been named as leaders in engineering education by Dr. Ruth Graham’s The Global State of the Art in Engineering Education report, commissioned by the New Engineering Education Transformation Program, and had met in 2019 for the first colloquium, hosted by Olin and MIT.

The idea for the event came about when some of the schools named in the report got together and “…said that we could have more of an impact on engineering education if we are learning from and with each other, and this was a great opportunity to start this in a more intentional way,” says Jessica Townsend, Ph.D., interim academic vice president for external engagement and professor of Engineering at Olin. The second colloquium reconvened these institutions to share, in a more detailed way, how their innovative initiatives are shaping engineering education.

Over four days, a mix of teachers, administrators, and students presented on a range of themes, including socially responsible engineering. The Olin team spoke on this topic, sharing a range of perspectives from faculty, an administrator, and a student: Alison Wood, Ph.D., assistant professor of environmental engineering, Robert Martello, Ph.D., professor of the history of science and technology, Erhardt Graeff, Ph.D., assistant professor of social and computer science, student Shreya Chowdhary, and Maggie Anderson, Academic Engagement Librarian, gave participants a look at the Olin community’s passionate efforts around social justice, equity, and access.

“Participating in the colloquium gave us the opportunity to talk with likeminded colleagues about this exciting work that’s been the driving force behind my own work since I’ve been at Olin,” says Wood. Together, the group highlighted how Olin’s focus on civic technology and socially responsible engineering plays out across the curriculum, extracurricular engagement, in student life, and in the college library.

The student- and library-led centric perspectives were especially unique. Chowdhary spoke about the student-led public interest technology (PInT) project team’s work around using technology for social justice, the common good, and the public interest. She shared details on PInT’s programs, including a pro-bono technical consulting clinic and a summer fellowship, that provide opportunities for students to practice community-engaged technology work with real stakeholders and meaningful projects. And Anderson gave a unique perspective on creating a culture that drives student agency outside of a classroom setting, and the ways that a library can support principles of social responsibility.

“I was really pleased with the degree of dialogue and engagement that we were able to generate as result of the short presentation,” says Townsend. During the virtual break-out sessions, participants asked insightful questions, and commented on how impressed they were by Chowdhary’s answers.

Wood says that she hopes that this will be an annual event. “It’s a wonderful opportunity for us to connect with these other schools on a regular basis, share ideas, and be inspired by each other,” she says. “And in a larger sense, being part of these ongoing conversations can lead to partnerships with other schools, as we discover what one another is doing and recognize opportunities to go further, to be bolder and more unified.”