Inclusion and Diversity in Engineering Education

Inclusion in education

We need education that is inclusive, that looks out for the marginalized and socially excluded sectors. In the case of universities much remains to be done, such as linking engineering education with foundations, non-governmental organizations and the private sector.

Diversity is one of the characteristics of nature that offers several advantages to living organisms. Thanks to diversity, even among completely different species, cooperation can be accomplished. In human society, diversity implies acknowledging that we need each other to solve problems and develop initiatives that promote the wellbeing of others. In educational terms, and particularly in the case of universities, inclusion means providing access to higher education for everyone, without exception. Specifically, in the case of students who are in physically, economically or other types of disadvantaged situations, universities have a moral obligation to do something about this (Blessinger, Hoffman and Makhanya, 2018)

Diversity and inclusion are an obligation in education. According to UNESCO, inclusion is a process in which the needs of children, young people and adults are addressed and met, fostering a greater participation in learning, culture and the community. In this context, the goal is to reduce or eliminate exclusion inside and outside education (UNESCO, 2009).     

 

Giving students the opportunity to apply their knowledge in a real environment, with high-impact effects on community wellbeing, is undoubtedly motivating, generates greater satisfaction and makes the knowledge acquired more meaningful.

 

Nevertheless, there is one aspect of inclusion that is gaining strength and significance: taking marginalized sectors into account. When academic projects, in areas such as engineering, are developed beyond the usual boundaries of universities (laboratories) and reach marginalized sectors, students will become aware of society’s issues and contribute their talent to solving these problems, while developing their academic preparation.

In this regard, a documented example of inclusion known as the Shanzu Case  was presented at the PAEE/ALE 2018 meeting. This case was developed by Aalborg University and focuses on teaching electrical engineering and civil engineering content together with other disciplines, such as risk assessment and sustainability, in a community in Kenya. Use of the Problem-Based Learning  methodology led to solving water supply and water quality issues in this region. Apart from universities and the community, civil engineers from Grundfos (a Danish company that solves water-related issues anywhere in the world) also participated. Once the company had identified the problems in the community, it presented a project to the Poul Due Jensen Foundation to raise the funds needed to solve these issues.

Giving students the opportunity to apply their knowledge in a real environment, with high-impact effects on community wellbeing, is undoubtedly motivating, generates greater satisfaction and makes the knowledge acquired more meaningful. This type of activities also strengthens their curriculum since employers perceive these students as having more professional capacities.

 

In human society diversity implies acknowledging that we need each other to solve problems and develop initiatives in favor of a common good.

 

In the August-December 2017 semester, a Semester i was implemented with the company Frigus-Bohn. During this period, the students extended the ethics and citizenship competencies developed in the course “Ethics, Profession and Citizenship” beyond the academic context. The students invited the children of this company’s workers to share with them the skills acquired in their degree program. They also invited the workers who were interested in their children learning robotics topics to enroll them in a workshop designed for this purpose. A total of 15 children of different ages, from elementary through high school, enrolled in the three-week course. The groups generated were homogeneous. The same workshop offered to high school students was adapted so that the elementary school children could receive age-appropriate content, and so forth. The children’s parents felt that they had been taken into consideration  and were able to generate a motivational and inspirational environment by allowing their children to receive training in the Tecnológico de Monterrey facilities.

In terms of inclusion and diversity there is still a long road ahead, such as linking engineering education with foundations, non-governmental organizations, the private sector, etc. This requires a new perspective of education, an education that is inclusive, that looks out for the marginalized, socially excluded sectors. Our students’ creativity and the knowledge they acquire will be critical to drive the proposal of more creative and innovative solutions to these problems.

 

About the author

Eleazar Reyes Barraza (elreyes@itesm.mx) holds a Ph.D. in Physiology. He is a professor in the Department of Bioengineering and Food and collaborates with the Humanities Department of ecnológico de Monterrey, Campus Monterrey, through Semester i.