What Is Engineering and Who Are Engineers? Student Reflections from a Sustainability-Focused Energy Course




Forbes, Marissa H.
Lord, Susan M.
Hoople, Gordon D.
Chen, Diana A.
Mejia, Joel Alejandro

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In the spring of 2021, the University of San Diego's Department of Integrated Engineering taught the course, “Integrated Approach to Energy”, the second offering of a new required course, to nine second-year engineering students. The sociotechnical course covered modern energy concepts, with an emphasis on renewable energies and sustainability, and it exposed the students to other ways of being, knowing, and doing that deviated from the dominant masculine Western White colonial discourse. Following the course completion, we interviewed five students by using a semistructured protocol to explore how they perceived of and communicated about engineers and engineering. We sought to identify the takeaways from their course exposure to sustainability and the sociotechnical paradigm, which were central to the course. The findings suggest that the students were beginning to form sociotechnical descriptions, and that they were still developing their understanding and perceptions of engineers and engineering. Moreover, we observed that they were still wrestling with how best to integrate sustainability into those perceptions. There was an a-la-carte feel to the students' conceptualizations of sustainability as it related to engineering, as in, “you can ‘do’ sustainability with engineering, but do not have to”. We argue that engineering students likely need these pedagogical paradigms (sociotechnical engineering and sustainability) woven through the entirety of their engineering courses if they are to fully accept and integrate them into their own constructs about engineers and engineering.



sociotechnical engineering, sustainability, energy, higher education, interdisciplinary, qualitative methods


Sustainability 14 (6): 3499 (2022)


Bicultural-Bilingual Studies
Biomedical Engineering and Chemical Engineering