Amount Awarded:
Funding Received:
Project Status:
 Active: Planning phase

Executive Summary

The relationship between engineering and environmental sustainability and social justice has presented many challenges, which have been recognized almost since the inception of the engineering profession. As inventors and developers of technology, engineering professions are both criticized for exacerbating these challenges and sought after to solve them. Unfortunately, while many engineers are motivated to shape a more sustainable and just world, training in how to translate that into research, design, and development of technologies is not part of a typical engineering education.

Over time, there have been frequent and vehement calls to better educate engineers on the environmental and social implications of their work. Specific educational initiatives and frameworks developed to support these efforts include the UN-sponsored Education for Sustainable Development (Byrne et al. 2010, Desha et al. 2019), sociotechnical thinking (Johnson et al. 2022), corporate social responsibility (Smith et al. 2018), and societal embeddedness (Sprenkeling et al. 2022). Despite long recognition of the need, substantial research has shown that uptake of such initiatives has been uniformly slow and uneven (Zandvoort et al. 2013, Leydens et al. 2022, Gutierrez-Bucheli et al. 2022). The opposition to program reform is generally based on displacement of what are seen as essential technical training requirements, which are often based on industry priorities.

The College of Engineering (COE) is one of the largest colleges at the University of Washington, with ten departments and over 9,800 students, academic personnel and staff. It is also a highly ranked engineering school. However, based on the project team’s experience, the COE faces the same constraints as are reported across engineering disciplines as a whole, which are based in systemic, historic, and cultural traditions that ultimately limit students’ ability to gain awareness and practical skills in the environmental and social implications of their work (Zandvoort et al. 2013, Leydens et al. 2022).

To address this deficit, the proposed feasibility study will assess the current status of environmental and social impact awareness and training within the COE, and create recommendations for program and curriculum interventions that will support environmental, community, and social justice oriented engineering at the University of Washington. The feasibility study is based on three Tasks, which are: 1) Assess availability and student engagement in existing education and training opportunities related to environmental and social justice, 2) Survey engineering students to evaluate sociotechnical and social justice perspectives, and unmet needs for education and training, and 3) Evaluate program models and curriculum interventions in other disciplines or institutions. The results from Tasks 1-3 will be used to develop recommendations for program or curriculum interventions that could be implemented within and across the College of Engineering.

The project is initiated by members (1 faculty, 2 graduate, and undergraduate students) of the Illimited Lab (, a bioinspired engineering group within UW Aeronautics and Astronautics. The project outcomes are intended to be cross-cutting, however, and engage and produce results that are relevant to all of the ten departments within UW College of Engineering.

Primary Contact:
Ed Habtour