(522b) Graduate Education in Sustainability for Engineering and the Social Sciences: an NSF-Sponsored Intercampus Program

Authors: 
Shonnard, D. R., Michigan Technological University
Durfee, M., Michigan Technological University
Sutherland, J., Michigan Technological University
Choudhury, K., Southern University - Baton Rouge


Engineering education is based on a combination of scientific training, engineering problem solving and design. System boundaries for the problems in typical curricula are narrowly focused and well defined, such that students can achieve solutions using fundamental principles and mathematical techniques. Yet there is an increasing need to teach students to consider factors that are ?out of the box?, and although engineering education requires courses in business, social science, and humanities, there is little opportunity to effectively integrate these issues into the technological component of engineering education. Engineering education needs new methodologies and tools that enlarge the ?box? so that solutions to engineering problems not only address the object or process under study but also important societal concerns. Understanding the complexity of national interests as they are shaped by law, politics, and market forces contributes to engineering education.

Similarly, the Social Sciences study the behavior and interaction of individuals, groups, societies, and nations. These studies are highly interdisciplinary, relying heavily on familiarity with industrial technologies, organizational structures, and knowledge diffusion in social networks. Yet the teaching of these fields of Social Science would benefit greatly from a more in-depth analysis of industrial technologies. A rudimentary engineering analysis approach aids students in Social Sciences to understand the environmental implications of policy choices. There is, for example, a difference between using cost-benefit analysis and life-cycle analysis to set environmental policies and goals.

Realizing that the success of engineering designs/projects depend on the business, economic, societal, and geopolitical aspects, we have developed a multi-pronged approach to academic research and teaching termed the "Sustainable Futures Model". As part of an NSF-funded IGERT (Integrative Graduate Education Research and Training) grant to MTU and SUBR, two new multidisciplinary courses in sustainable development and one research seminar course have been initiated. These are now two years old and the instructors have added more active learning even as the Ph.D. students call for more advanced readings. This presentation will outline both the Sustainable Futures Model and the evolution to date of the IGERT graduate sustainability education program at MTU and SUBR. Preliminary student outcomes and assessment results are also included.