Author: Julia

Designing with communities – a bit of advice

Designing with communities – a bit of advice

A few weeks ago a friend of mine told me about Clear Village, an organization based in London that, “provides creative regeneration services to social landlords, local councils, community groups, funding agents and other organisations that work with communities.

Clear village appeared to have completed projects akin to the proposed work with YSA, so I reached out to them and talked with Frank van Hasselt. Frank had plenty of experience working with community projects and was a gold mine of information.  Here are a few things we talked about.

1. Get clarity of the larger aspirations

Way of Being: introspective, sincere

The first advice he gave was to have clear aspirations for the space. Have the community members articulate their core rationale. For example, one of the components is a stage –  What is it about the stage that people are interested in? Is it to have community functions? To give young adults a space to tell their stories?

By articulating these rationales, the project has a clear goal. Different people designing may be bogged down on details, like size or color of an item, and so clarity on the larger goals will create a sense of unity. If everyone agrees that we want a space to come together, we can go back to that goal while figuring out the size and color. Additionally, these larger aspirations can be used to figure out the appropriate monitoring and evaluation protocols (advice #3)

Overall, I see the process of articulating the larger aspirations as an opportunity for the community to reflect on their deeper values. I would hope that we can talk about the importance of creating space for community, sustainability, equality, etc. in our local environment, and then expand this notion to the world. Additionally, the process is an opportunity for the youth to learn project management and professional skills, important life lessons for job training (a desired outcome of YSA).

2. Creative Phase

Ways of being: quirky, fun, joyful

Once there is a clarity in the aspirations for the group, we can start the creative phase. Using brainstorming techniques (with a lot of post-it notes and large paper), along with case studies of other projects, we can think of ways to create those desired outcomes through physical space and programming. To find case studies and potential sources for workshop material, we talked about simple google searches, Project for Public Spaces, and the IDEO.

Honestly, I am more nervous of this phase, and I do not know how much work YSA has done thus far. I perceive my strengths are in the reflective space. I love being creative, and can get there… but it is not as natural. I may connect with friends and colleagues, to get some thoughts on how to harness this type of creativity.

3.Fundraising and Monitoring and Evaluation (M&E)

We also discussed the importance of M&E for fundraising now and in the future. I did not mention this in the conversation, but this was a large interest of mine during my time working for a Jive Media in South Africa. I would definitely like to make a solid M&E plan so that I can have that experience and added benefit to YSA. In our conversation, we went through the things that they gather within their organization and the general importance of data.

Qualitative data: The basic information that should be gathered is the stories and testimonials after the project. How did the project impact the youth’s lives? This can be done through audio recording, through videos, or having them record themselves.

Quantitative analysis: Gathering data over time, such as the impact of the project on the youth’s confidence, teamwork, job prospects, etc. are important. This is where identifying the aspirations from above really help. We are essentially gathering evidence that the project achieved the desired aspirations. Asking the same question over time, or giving surveys are useful, and funders greatly appreciate it.

4.General advice

  • In facilitation, make sure that everyone’s voice is included and heard
  • There is generally more work than it looks like
  • Make sure everyone’s on the same page on desired goals
  • Governance can be tricky – specifically when it comes to juggling different stakeholders desires and expectations
  • Having people hyped about the project makes everything go smoother
  • The community experience will change project to project, sometimes it works well, and sometimes not… its part of the process
  • Have designers and experts in the creative phase to assist in the design phase and provide input on what is feasible.


Image source: “Working Together Teamwork Puzzle Concept” by Scott Maxwell is licensed under CC BY 2.0


Quaker Design Process: Making Place and Space with Youth in Berkeley, CA

Quaker Design Process: Making Place and Space with Youth in Berkeley, CA

I have had a spiritual leading (i.e. calling) to look at the intersection of spirituality and design for some time. One of my interests is exploring a communal design process that is grounded in Quaker values.

This leading integrates my dissertation research and my spiritual convictions. My research was on the motivations, structures, and the nature of engineering community engagement partnerships. Specifically, I analyzed the interactions and activities between engineering service-learning programs and communities. The nature of interactions can be described by the Transactional, Cooperative, and Communal (TCC) Framework. In transactional interactions, there is a heightening of the boundary between the community and the program; an “us” and “them” relationship is present. In Cooperative interactions, the boundary between the community and the program were intentionally blurred, and the community members and program members came together, each offering skills and expertise to the project. In Communal interactions the roles of the individuals are transcended and different participants groups are connected through deeper needs of the individual and community as a whole. In these interactions and activities the individuals saw beyond an “us” and “them” and recognized the process as a “we,”developed friendships, and gained a sense of ownership.

As the title suggests, my spiritual convictions are connected to Quakerism (I also have a mindfulness meditation practice). For those of you that do not know Quakers,  some of the fundamental testimonies are: Simplicity, Peace, Integrity, Community, Equality, and Stewardship of the Earth (note: there is discussion among Quaker spaces that these testimonies simplify an integrated experience of God, and should not be categorized, yet I believe the categories do help in the understanding of Quakers). There is also a tradition of going inward to listen to that of God within each of us.  So when thinking of design, I am wondering what technology may look like when we take these Quaker values, within a community, and design something. What beautiful things can we create together!

A few months ago, I reached out to some Quaker connections to see if anyone was interested in exploring the intersection of Quakerism and design. I was introduced to the Director of Youth Spirit Artworks– an interfaith organization that supports over 50 low income and homeless youth in green job training. She is a Quaker and well known as a homeless activist in the San Francisco Bay Area. The community has identified a number of projects they want to build, and interested in working with me. From there, I submitted an application for a Pickett Fellowship, an endowment that supports Young Quakers to follow their leadings.

In early April, I will be attending Strawberry Creek meeting as a Pickett Fellow. During this time, I hope to (1) educate youth on professional skills and sustainability concepts, (2) build communal art space in an under-resourced community using repurposed and sustainably sourced materials, and (3) strengthen community through empowerment, networking, and relationship building.

More specifically, I have identified three projects that I will work on during this time:

  1. Supporting and mentoring youth through a project-based learning experience that integrates sustainability concepts into the design of an art lot (a community outdoor art space located in the picture below). The youth have already identified components, including an art fence, gate, stage, barbecue pit, and a tiny home that they would like to build on a lot they lease. Through this project, the youth will be divided into groups to lead and manage the design of one of the components. They will be asked to: reflect on what sustainability means within the scope of their work, use participatory design brainstorm methods, and research environmentally sustainable materials. When appropriate, the youth will practice mindfulness in nature and contemplative practices for design inspiration. Based on their research, youthful leaders will make design decisions for the projects.

    Future home of the community outdoor art space
  2. Plan, coordinate, and organize volunteer days to build the designs initiated by the youthful leaders. The YSA is affiliated with a number of other religious groups who have already stated that they would like to support the construction of an outdoor Art Space (i.e. the fence, gate, stage, tiny home, and barbecue pit) through volunteer support. I will work with the youth and contractors to plan and support these build days. This includes clarification of which steps can be done through volunteers, and what needs to be done through licensed contractors to ensure the safety of the builds. Members of Strawberry Creek, Berkeley Friends Church, and Berkeley meeting will be asked to volunteer for these builds.
  3. Connect with Quakers to host a series of gatherings on weekends and/or evenings where we will worshipfully design a project together. Members of BFC, Strawberry Creek, and Berkeley meeting will be invited to attend. This process will include: sitting in worship, listening to what we are guided to build, discerning, seeing if the design holds true to our values, and working together to build the design.


I am excited about this opportunity, and also saddened to leave my partner who will be staying back and finishing her dissertation. I hope that this opportunity feeds my deep hunger to be in vibrant spiritual community, and that it will open more doors for me to find a job and be able to move back to the East Bay. Leaving my partner is hard, and there is an emptiness to think about being there without her.

Would you like to help?

The Pickett Fellowship was able to support my travel and part of my cost of living. A Friend has also said I can stay with her from April 23rd to May 17th. I am in need of a few things: (1) a place to stay near Berkeley, CA from April 5th to April 23rd, and from May 18th to June 10th, (2) volunteers to help build the designs that the youth create, (3) Quakers to participate in a Quaker design process, (4) insight or suggestions based on experience of doing communal design process, and (5) funding for the materials for the projects that the youth design.

Personal Background

I grew up in the South Bay, and have an undergraduate degree from UC Berkeley in chemical engineering. In the pursuit of this degree, I had a personal epiphany that engineering curriculum did not include the social context. I realized that this was detrimental to our society because students were trained with highly technical skills, but were unaware of the social implications. Since that time my personal leading has been to contribute to our society by bridging the gap between technology and its social impact. After working for a few years as an energy consultant in Downtown Oakland, I decided to further my education. As a Ph.D. student in engineerign education at Purdue University in Indiana, I found Quakerism and became a Convinced Friend. I started to get involved in the wider Quaker community, including Quaker organizations that focus on the environment and lobbying at the federal level. My dissertation research focused on the partnerships that formed in engineering community engagement programs at three sites in the United States. I am using this fellowship as a way to explore my passions, and see opportunities to move back to the Bay Area.

Women and technology. If it is not appropriate for women, it is not appropriate: Part 5 of Julia’s Engineering Journey

Women and technology. If it is not appropriate for women, it is not appropriate: Part 5 of Julia’s Engineering Journey

As I mentioned in my last post about my engineering journey, I wrote a letter that got forwarded to the curriculum committee when I was an undergraduate student studying chemical engineering. I felt that the narrow focus of the chemical engineering graduation requirements, which only valued the technical aspects of engineering, resulted in “flat and uncaring human beings,” and that the education needed to include social sciences and humanities. Sending the letter brought up a lot for me—I was excited, I had put my voice out there, and I was heard. I was also vulnerable and insecure, some things that I was not so comfortable experiencing.

Once I sent the letter, a faculty member invited me to his office to discuss what I had written; I will call him Professor X. I listened as he convinced me that, based on my letter, I should not have been studying chemical engineering. Essentially, that if I wanted a more holistic education, I should not be in engineering. In his office, I believed him. I remember sitting there crying. I thought, “I should have done something else, but it was too late.” I was only two semesters away from graduation, and I decided I might as well finish the degree.

Now that I have a bit of time, research, and experience behind me, I can say that the professor was wrong, and that he never should have discouraged me. Engineering education should be more inclusive, and Prof. X should have been more cognizant of both the gender and power dynamics of the situation he created. All of those involved in engineering education need to understand the roles that gender and authority play in our field.

The first topic, that engineering should be more inclusive and holistic, is something that I have focused on a lot in the blog (I will make this paragraph short, but please do read past posts… like this one). Since engineering education was established in the United States, there has been discussion and reports regarding the need for engineering to encompass a broader base of education. It is not me who should be excluded from engineering based on my gender and ideas… it is engineering that should provide a more inclusive and holistic space.

Second, there is a gender dynamic present that cannot be ignored. I was (and still am) a woman who chose to pursue engineering. I was told explicitly in my science and engineering courses that I did not belong; more than that, I often implicitly felt a sense of separation. The first time I was singled out was in high school chemistry class. I had a male teacher who pulled me and four other students (all female) aside to tell us to enroll in another teacher’s class for the second semester because we “talked too much.” I believed he was upset with me in particular because I asked advanced chemistry questions that he was unable to answer. He may have taken this as me challenging his authority, or even thinking I was smarter than he was, as I also had one of the highest grades in the class. So I changed classes, only to have my new chemistry teacher (also male) single me out again and embarrass me repeatedly without me really provoking anything. I guess chemistry teachers talk to each other. This punishing behavior is fairly common within Science, Technology Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM). Female STEM students are made to feel as though they don’t have as much to offer, or that they aren’t valuable to the program.

Luckily, I had a number of female science teachers, and an engineering aunt, who made sure to pull me aside and express to me that they believed in me. They encouraged me by telling me that I showed talent. My science teacher freshman year had significant influence on me and also taught physics. She encouraged me to take physics my sophomore year, and to follow it with AP physics my junior year. Because of her advice and encouragement, I had an advanced knowledge of science. Of course, this led to my having the advanced chemistry questions that caused so many problems.

Unfortunately, I found that these damaging gender dynamics were also in play at Berkeley. I apparently was not the only woman that Prof. X singled out to have a conversation with in his office. This professor had talked to a number of women. The people that I talked to were still in the program, but it makes me wonder: how many students left the program because of these talks?

These confrontations are too common in STEM professions as a whole. I would not be surprised if more than half of the women in STEM fields could identify times when they were singled out by teachers, lab mates, faculty members, and peers and told that they did not belong. I have friends who still struggle with this regularly as graduate students, post docs, and even faculty members. It says a lot about the dedication and tenacity of the female STEM professional who goes through this type of persecution and still stays in the field. It takes a lot of bravery, passion, and hope that the STEM culture will become more inclusive.

So the third issue: power dynamics. There is a dynamic in faculty-student interactions and within the technical-nontechnical relationship. As a faculty member, there are certain roles and responsibilities that go hand-in-hand with your position of authority. What you say holds weight with students who respect you and your opinion. Prof. X may have been merely suggesting that I should not have been in engineering, or he could have been performing some sort of thought experiment. Whatever his reasoning, he should not have introduced these opinions because of his authority. His position leant the words an immediate gravitas that they didn’t deserve.

Additionally, many engineers have the tendency to dismiss the non-technical. There is an assumption that social sciences and humanities are often somehow “less-than” engineering, and do not deserve as much standing, time, or money. This power dynamic plays out in many ways, and is worth it’s own blog post. I may go into this more another day.

Overall, engineering needs to be seen as more inclusive, and all the people in power – faculty members, teachers, and employers, have a responsibility to be cognizant of gender and power dynamics present in STEM fields.

If you have had similar experiences within STEM, feel free to share in the comments below.

Image by :: De todos los Colores :: licensed under CC.  Image translation: The image above reads “If it is not appropriate for women, it is not appropriate. Women and technology.”


How to be a Peaceful Engineer

How to be a Peaceful Engineer

In order to live in a peaceful world, it is essential that our engineers and technologies be peaceful. A week ago, I was at the Friends Committee on National Legislation (FCNL’s) Annual Meeting, where attendees learned about building peace and lobbied our representatives to make the Atrocity Prevention Board (APB) permanent. Although the gathering did not focus on engineering, it led me to contemplate the roles that technology, engineering, and engineers play in peace building. I have collected some of my thoughts for this post.

Swords into Plowshares

“They shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks: nation shall not lift up a sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more.” King James Bible: Micah 4:3

While I was living in South Africa, I learned that, with the fall of Apartheid, the large prison that had confined peace activists like Mahatma Gandhi, Albert Luthuli, and Nelson Mandela was turned into South Africa’s constitutional court. Like in Micah 4:3, this structure of war and violence was transformed into a structure for peace and justice. In the verse above, the new technologies—plowshares and pruning hooks—offered people a new livelihood, resulting in food and nutrients for the entire society. So instruments of war and strife were transformed into tools meant for the success of the people.

Today we have guns, bombs, drones, and a multitude of other technologies that bring terror and death to people’s lives. If we want to build a peaceful world, we need to remold these technologies into ones that promote peace. It is the obligation of peaceful engineers to dismantle the technologies of war, and utilize the same material to build technologies that create respectable livelihoods and provide for the needs of all people. For example, engineers can create processes to turn guns into gardening tools for community gardens. Or turning manufacturing lines that produces tanks into manufacturing units creating solar panels. Engineers who actively dismantle the systems of war and turn them into systems of peace, are peaceful engineers.

Providing Access to the Marginalized

Technology has the ability to open up the world; it works like a bridge that provides access to land that is otherwise unreachable.

People throughout the world are marginalized, unheard, and do not have opportunities to pursue their dreams. During the Arab Spring, social media provided a platform for people to unite marginalized voices. Oppressive powers were attempting to silence people, yet through technology they found a way to speak, and they spoke loudly. This was only possible through technology.

An engineer working on technology that provides a voice and opportunity to the disenfranchised is an engineer for peace.

Holding Tension of the Whole System and Your Contribution

The examples above are a bit narrow in scope and complexity. These are small acts of peace that made a difference; in the complex industrial war system we live in, though, things are not that easy. Twitter may provide a voice to the unheard, but the cellphone where the Tweets originate was made with raw materials that were mined by children in forced labor, and overseen by the militias who cause war. The peaceful engineer needs to recognize, remember, and remold this system moving forward. It is not enough to focus so narrowly on one piece of the system. The end result is not the only issue; the process by which technology is created and made available also needs to coincide with our peaceful goals.

At the same time, viewing all the atrocities of the system can be daunting, and result in a feeling of paralysis. While recognizing the whole system, an engineer also needs to do what they are able to move forward on an individual basis. We must concentrate on the contributions we are able to make, while also supporting others who are working on different points in the system.

So, the peaceful engineer needs to open their awareness and heart to the complex systems in which they are living, while at the same time taking the steps that are actually within their grasp. We should know everything that needs to be done, and do everything that we are able to do.

I think this is where praying is most useful. As Quakers, we have the phrase “Holding in the Light” that essentially means that I am holding a situation into Divine presence. Here is a better explanation. If you are not religious, you may just want to send positive thoughts. No one person has control of the whole system, and we can only do our best.

Engineers Need to Know When Engineering Is Not Appropriate.

Bridget Moix from the Genocide Prevention Program recently returned from the Central African Republic. Last year, the villages were too violent to travel, but through intentional acts of peace, the region was stabilizing enough for her to enter. She spoke at the meeting about her experiences.

Bridget gave an illustration of an act of peace that she witnessed. In the village, a social cohesion committee mediated a conflict over a stolen cow. The villager who had stolen the cow agreed to pay for it, and this satisfied the villager whose cow was stolen. The social cohesion committee was able to address the conflict through peaceful means.

In this context, the role of an engineer is to do nothing – unless, of course, the engineer is a trained mediator. There are situations and times when it is not technology that is needed to solve a problem. The peaceful engineer needs to be trained to recognize these instances and respond accordingly. We cannot say that simply because technology is not called for, we have no responsibility.

“Building” Peace

We cannot create a peaceful world in a vacuum; we must work together to accomplish peace. Even though it seems daunting and impossible, it is important that we continue striving for peace.

These are some of my personal reflections on what it means to be a peaceful engineer. I would love to hear your thoughts on what I wrote and any ideas you may have on what is needed to build peace.



Photo: “And they shall beat their swords into plowshares” by Suzie Tremmel is licensed under CC BY 2.0

ABET’s Personal Impact

I contributed my personal story to, a group of engineers, scholars, educators, and others who are concerned with changes that the engineering accreditation board is implementing.

Against ABET

by Julia Thompson

I am writing this post today to share how ABET criteria influenced me as a person, explain the changes that are happening in ABET, and provide some suggestions on how ABET can improve the accreditation criteria. It is my hope that the reader will not only understand why the suggested changes to ABET can negatively impact engineering, but also gain some insight about positive ways to move forward.

Personal Story

It may seem a bit peculiar that an education policy is so impactful to a person’s life, but that has been the case in mine. As an undergraduate at UC Berkeley in Chemical Engineering, I came to the realization that my education was almost entirely focused on technical and scientific knowledge and lacked the humanities, social sciences and ethics. As a consequence, students leaving this program lacked a level of self-awareness that my non-engineering peers had; graduating…

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The need to Humanize Chemical Engineering Students: Part 4 of Julia’s Engineering Journey

The need to Humanize Chemical Engineering Students: Part 4 of Julia’s Engineering Journey

By Julia Thompson, Ph.D.

For the final assignment in my Energy & Society class in my junior year of university, we were to write a policy memo based on a topic that we learned in the class. Most students wrote about energy policy, since that was the subject. However, I decided to focus on engineering education policy because that was the most meaningful learning I had in the course. I wrote the following memo, with the support of a roommate who sat with me for about 20 hours to help me articulate what I wanted to say.

Soon after I sent it, the document was forwarded to the Curriculum Committee (I was copied on this email). This was in December, and by March there was announcement of changes for graduation requirements. They adopted three of the seven recommendations that I had presented.

The need to Humanize Chemical Engineering Students

By Julia Thompson and Luis E. Urtubey

The University of California at Berkeley has one of the top-rated chemical engineering programs in the US; but this program, with all the technical and scientific knowledge it imparts, also takes a serious toll during four years of the lives of its students. The chemical engineering curriculum is set up for making excellent engineers, but it also produces flat and uncaring human beings. It directly violates ABET accreditation criteria number 3, in the below transcribed sections, which require that students have attained:

d. an ability to function on multi-disciplinary teams

f. an understanding of professional and ethical responsibility,

h. the broad education necessary to understand the impact of engineering solutions in a global, economic, environmental, and societal context

j. a knowledge of contemporary issues

Currently the major consists of approximately 133 units, and all but 23 are strictly technical. Within those 23 units, the American History requirement, the American Institutions requirement, the Subject A requirement, and the American Cultures requirement must be fulfilled. Consequently, with the substantive time commitment and lack of emphasis on Humanities, Social Science and Ethics, the program leaves students deficient in terms of self-development and unaware of many facets of society and the wider world.

I propose to modify the curriculum into one of a more humanistic perspective. Therefore, I recommend, with the goal of satisfying the aforementioned ABET requirements, the addition of two mandatory courses focused on ethics, globalization and/or development studies. The objective of these courses would be to give a broader perspective of how engineering impacts society and the world. I would also recommend the creation of 16 to 20 elective units by the elimination of Engineering 77, MCB 102, EECS 100, the Physics 7C/Chemistry elective, the Chemical Engineering elective, the Science elective and one of the Engineering electives. The objective of this would be to give chemical engineering students the opportunity of pursuing in greater depth their interests and fostering their personal development.

The abovementioned courses for elimination are not an academic necessity, as they are not required to fulfill any of the ABET accreditation criteria (appendix I). Specific reasons for the elimination of each course are listed below (appendix II).

In conjunction with a change in the curriculum, we should also strive for a more caring classroom environment. A more humanistic approach in teaching methods and homework assignments ought to be a sought after ambition. Professors, in general, as some already do, need to address their students in a more caring and understanding manner; student’s lives are difficult, in many cases both inside and outside the classroom, and professors should be encouraged to express an understanding of this and to work with students if personal issues arise. This enables the student to feel more comfortable, and to habitually perform better.

With these principles in mind, for instance, the department should establish guidelines for homework assignments. A more consistent difficulty level must be ascertained. Currently an assignment can take from 5 to 25 hours. When taking 4 to 5 technical classes it is exceedingly difficult to plan and schedule both study and personal time, since it is uncertain how much work will be needed for any particular week; this leads, in many cases, to unneeded stress, low self esteem, and just plain poor performance.

The proposed changes, if implemented, will have little or no detrimental effects on the students’ potential performance in the workplace. It is a commonplace for professionals to tell students they do not employ much of what they studied while in school. These professionals are not always working directly as engineers, but have positions of a non-technical nature, such as management, sales or other fields. For instance, a class in economics or business could have been a wise option during their time in college. More electives would allow students to better explore their options.

Appendix I


Lead Society: American Institute of Chemical Engineers

These program criteria apply to engineering programs including “chemical” and similar modifiers in their titles:

Curriculum. The program must demonstrate that graduates have: thorough grounding in chemistry and a working knowledge of advanced chemistry such as organic, inorganic, physical, analytical, materials chemistry, or biochemistry, selected as appropriate to the goals of the program; working knowledge, including safety and environmental aspects, of material and energy balances applied to chemical processes; thermodynamics of physical and chemical equilibria; heat, mass, and momentum transfer; chemical reaction engineering; continuous and stage-wise separation operations; process dynamics and control; process design; and appropriate modern experimental and computing techniques.

Appendix II

Engineering 77 Introduction to Computer Programming for Scientists and Engineers  — Engineering  (ENGIN) 77 [4 units]

Description: Elements of procedural and object-oriented programming. Induction, iteration, and recursion. Real functions and floating-point computations for engineering analysis. Introduction to data structures. Representative examples are drawn from mathematics, science, and engineering. The course uses the MATLAB programming language. Sponsoring department: Civil and Environmental Engineering.

Basis for elimination: According to professor Reimer, this course was added to get students more comfortable with computers, since they play a fundamental role through out the program. However, students would gain more by adding a topic in chemical engineering 140 (increasing the units of that course from 4 to 5); devoting some of the discussion hours on the computer programs the course uses; and/or teaching the Graduate Student Instructors the programs that the students use.

MCB 102 Survey of the Principles of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology  — Molecular and Cell Biology (MCELLBI) 102 [4 units]

Description: A comprehensive survey of the fundamentals of biological chemistry, including the properties of intermediary metabolites, the structure and function of biological macromolecules, the logic of metabolic pathways (both degradative and biosynthetic) and the molecular basis of genetics and gene expression.

Basis for elimination: This course is not needed to understand any of the basic principles of chemical engineering. It incorporates biochemical knowledge that could be useful in certain specific fields, but not all. Furthermore, many students very vocally question the value of this course. This course should be non-mandatory.

EECS 100 Electronic Techniques for Engineering  — Electrical Engineering  (EL ENG) 100 [4 units]

Description: Analysis of passive circuits, sinusoidal steady-state response, transient response, operational amplifiers, digital building blocks, digital systems, microprocessor control, power systems, and machines. This course is not for students majoring in electrical engineering.

Basis for elimination: This class was added for chemical engineers to better interact with electrical engineers. Many chemical engineering students choose not to work in fields that require them to work with electrical engineers, therefore this class truly benefits only a few students. This course should be non-mandatory.

Physics 7C or Chemistry elective, Chemical Engineering elective, Science elective, One Engineering elective

Basis for elimination: By the end of the chemical engineering program students have substantial technical knowledge of their discipline. Six technical electives should not be required in addition to the core load. One technical elective and one engineering elective would suffice. The students would be better served by the opportunity to study subjects that are new to them or of their particular interest, for either personal development or career purposes.

Connection to my Personal journey

At the time I sent the letter, I was restless and could barely sleep. I was excited and nervous – did I overstep a boundary? I spoke my truth, and was eventually heard, but it was not an easy process. I had resistance from faculty members – one in particular who made me question if I really belonged in engineering (which I will talk about in a coming post).

Another important part of this experience, which influenced me and impacted the direction of my journey, was that I felt alone. I did not have other engineering students whom co-signed the letter. My family did not understand what I was talking about, and I had not yet found a spiritual community I could lean on. I lived in a cooperative with around 40 people that I could talk to from many majors, but none were connected to the process in which I was engaged. Eventually I connected with others that share my desire for holistic engineering, and the search to build a community of like-minded engineers has been, and continues to be, a central driving force of my journey.

Building Bridges – Part 3 of Julia’s Engineering Journey

Building Bridges – Part 3 of Julia’s Engineering Journey

By Julia Thompson, Ph.D.

After the reading about innovative cook stoves in my junior year of college (described here), the professor (Dr. Kammen) announced a talk about cook stoves. The talk was centered on an initiative to fund cook stoves as a way to reduce indoor air pollution and invited the class to attend. The presenter stated that the principal goal was to raise 50 million dollars to fund a project that would provide seed money for communities. This would grow local businesses that developed and built the stoves, and burned cleaner to reduce indoor air pollution. Over fifty percent of the world’s population uses biomass, such as wood or dung, for cooking. Many of these stoves create tiny particles that build up in the homes result in significant adverse effect on human health.

During a break, I headed to the snack bar and talked with a graduate student studying public policy. We discussed the fact that there is little co-mingling among students in different disciplines. I was probably the only engineer in the room, and I thought this was a topic in which engineers should be engaged in. She also said there was not much attempt within public policy to work with engineers. We agreed that greater collaboration was necessary.

I had to leave the talk early to go to my bio-chemical engineering course. Usually, the class consisted of lectures on formulas describing bio-reactions, such as calculating the reduction in reaction time that accompanies the use of a catalyst. This course was a chemical engineering elective, and I chose it either because it seemed the most interesting to me or because it fit in my schedule. I don’t remember.

This day, however, was unique. We had a guest lecturer, the vice president of a large pharmaceutical company. The guest lecturer described the process required to bring a drug onto the market, including the clinical trials, patents, potential governmental blocks, and the costs that it entails. He used the example of a cancer drug that cost billions of dollars to develop and required many years to receive FDA approval. He concluded the talk by reading a heartfelt letter from a woman who had cancer and was able to live longer because of the drug he and his company produced.

Connection to my Journey

Two things struck me that day. First was the separation on campus—the lack of discussion across disciplines—and the second was the inequality it represents. The engineers were not present at the cook stove talk, as that was not considered a normal topic for them. Although I don’t think engineers should go out and design all the cook stoves—the last post highlighted why that wouldn’t work—they should be involved in the discussion of appropriate technology.

The second thing that struck me was the inequality of the situation. The problems engineers faced were much more likely to impact wealthy populations and not marginalized populations. Engineers were being presented a picture that the way to make a meaningful difference in people’s lives was through major industries, like pharmaceuticals, in the comfort of their own classrooms. Large industry has a significant influence on engineering education in the United States. They serve on advisory committees, providing input on graduation requirements and courses, and in my experience that day, even the vice presidents comes in and gives lectures to the class. Thus, engineering students are presented with a clear career pathway into industry through the universities and professional societies, while I did not see any pathway present to serve disenfranchised communities.

This is the day that I discovered my passion—to build bridges: engineering, and social —and thereby open more pathways for engineers to make a meaningful contribution in marginalized communities.

I should mention that since Fall 2005, the time I am writing about here, I have learned about many engineering programs that do a good job introducing engineering students to social and environmental contexts. Here are a few – Engineering service-learning and community engagement programs, such as Engineering Projects In Community Service (EPICS) at Purdue, the Global Project Program (GPP) at Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI), Community Playground Project at Louisiana State University (LSU), and Humanitarian Engineering Major at Colorado School of Mines. The first three were cases for my dissertation work, and I know these programs well. This list programs are just a few that intentionally embed the engineering context in real life social and environmental context.


Image Creating Solutions illustrated by Frits Ahlefeldt