Engineering Problem Solving

Problem solving has been described as the central task of engineering. While much work has been conducted on how students solve engineering design problems, much less is known about how students solve what we call “classroom problems”, which are the typical problems found at the end of textbook chapters and on homework assignments. Since the bulk of problems solved by students are classroom problems, we believe it is these problems which frame how students understand problem solving. Our work has examined the processes by which students solve these problems, with a particular focus on how they deal with ambiguity. We are now investigating the concept of “ambiguity as choice”, that ambiguity (or lack of it) can be imposed by the problem solver rather than being an inherent characteristic of the problem being solved.

Privilege and Power in Engineering

Engineering has long been characterized by particular ways of knowing and doing rooted in the dominant white, male culture. Our work interrogates those cultures to understand how they disadvantage certain groups. For example, work on the racialized experiences of Black engineers in industry is demonstrating how they make sense of and live in cultures of dominance. Through this work we hope to expose normative expectations and power, creating mechanisms to disrupt those norms and make engineering welcoming to all.

Engineering Ethics and Social Justice

Traditionally, engineers have provided solutions to the communities they work with. However, many of these solutions are rooted in a technocentric approach, in which engineers provide the expertise to “helpless” communities. Doing so creates the narrative of the “hero-engineer”, ignoring the very real expertise in these communities and silencing their voices. Even when there is community engagement, it is usually relegated to having the community members describe their problems with the engineers deciding how to solve them. We are investigating alternate approaches in which there is a true partnership between engineers and communities and in which each group values the expertise of the other.