This dissertation studies a group of engineers, who, by intentionally engaging with the social dimensions of engineering, contrasts the engineering stereotype of an antisocial male technocrat. Although US engineering leaders and scholars have advocated for a more broadly skilled, passionate, and diverse population of engineers to help solve pressing global engineering challenges, the field still struggles to recruit, train, and maintain this type of workforce. Therefore, it is important to better understand a rapidly growing group of engineers who appear to contrast the norm because these individuals hold promise for diversifying the engineering population and providing better solutions to global engineering challenges. By characterizing this relatively unstudied population—which this dissertation calls socially engaged engineers—this research can support efforts for curricular and programmatic change in engineering education and employee fit and satisfaction in engineering workplaces. The context for this study was Engineers Without Borders (EWB-USA), which is one of the largest and most prominent humanitarian engineering organizations in the US. The main research question that informed this study asked, how are engineers involved and uninvolved with EWB-USA different and similar? The research used a sequential, exploratory mixed-methods approach that began with interviews and focus groups with 165 engineering students and practicing engineers across the US and continued with a nation-wide survey to four prominent US professional engineering organizations. To address the research question, similarities and differences between those involved and uninvolved with EWB-USA were analyzed across three main dimensions: personal values (including motivations, interests, and personality traits), learning experiences (including professional and technical skill sets), and career intentions (including students' expectations and practitioners' experiences). The three dimensions correspond to the three main body chapters of this dissertation.
The results showed that EWB-USA members had personal values, technical skills, and both interests and experiences in engineering design and research careers in line with non-members and previous studies of engineers; however EWB-USA members also exhibited altruistic values, professional skills, and broader career interests and experiences that contrasted non-members. Although these results appear in support of socially engaged engineering activities, they also highlight warnings to the engineering field about the misalignment between this growing population of engineers and its historically technocratic and masculine culture. Without cultural changes, the engineering workforce may continue to miss out on engineers who offer diversity, passion, and experience interfacing between the social and technical dimensions of engineering which are needed to better address critical engineering challenges facing society.
Litchfield, K. (2014). "Characterizing and Understanding the Growing Population of Socially Engaged Engineers through Engineers Without Borders-USA." Dissertation, University of Colorado Boulder.