Humanitarian Engineering (HE) programs aim to train engineers to improve the health, prosperity, and welfare of underserved and historically marginalized communities in America and abroad. These programs are growing throughout the nation and have the potential to recruit socially attentive students and students from underrepresented minority groups to engineering. However, there is limited research on the career paths of Humanitarian Engineering students after admission. We must build an understanding of HE career paths to connect HE programs’ rhetorical aim to HE graduates’ ability to manifest tangible, equity-oriented change in these communities.

Furthermore, Decolonize Development and Black Lives Matter movements are rapidly changing the HE sector. Inequitable power hierarchies between engineers and marginalized communities, the absence of People of Color in leadership positions, deficit assumptions about developing countries, and the mediating role of white saviorism in the choice to pursue humanitarian engineering are just a few of the sociopolitical aspects of HE that are being called to task. Humanitarian engineers are responding to these calls with urgency, and preliminary attempts to decolonize the field can be seen across organizational contexts. This research will determine how social justice movements and value systems contribute to changes in student career aspirations and expectations. Further, we will collect how HE curricular, extracurricular, and internship experiences influence HE students’ career expectations, aspirations, and value systems.


Mortenson Center in Global Engineering Research Grant

Research Questions 

  1. What are the career aspirations, expectations, and pathways of (a) HE students and (b) HE practitioners?

    1. How do the career expectations and goals of students (mis)align with practitioner reality?

  2. How are social justice movements and value systems, such as decolonization and antiracism, contributing (if at all) to changes in these aspirations, expectations, and pathways?

  3. How are aspects of HE curricular, extra-curricular, and internship experiences influence social justice value systems, career aspirations, expectations, and pathways?


This research project will construct person-centered ethnographies by collecting data through (a) longitudinal interviews with students over one to two years that are informed by (b) survey questionnaires and (c) interactions in a community-centered Discord page. We are partnering with eight other HE graduate programs to collect an array of HE student experiences.  In addition, we are conducting interviews with HE practitioners to provide information on the current reality of HE careers and how changes in the sector to prioritize decolonization and anti-racism may be changing HE career pathways. Data collection will be advised by and coded into themes using Social Cognitive Career Theory, Social Justice Social Cognitive Career Theory, and Critical Race Theory in Education. The outcomes of this research will include improving knowledge of HE student career path and value system development, creating research-based recommendations for HE education, and expanding the critical race theory framework for humanitarian engineering.