Earlier this month, a Mech Eng delegation attended the 25th International Conference on Engineering and Product Design Education in Barcelona.
Alumni Asad Raja wrote an article summarising the experience:
“What is engineering, and what is design? A few factors have made me ponder that question in the past couple of years, from experiencing the industry first hand upon graduating, to the general heightened emphasis upon generative design. Most of all, the question was stimulated by the passion-driven journey fellow alumni Angela Sun, Pallavi Ojha and I have been on, of proposing a module on ‘Equality, Diversity + Inclusion in Engineering’ for the Mechanical Engineering course at Imperial, which now forms an accredited part of the degree, led by Chloe Agg. Earlier this month, we presented a paper on the experience of student-staff co-creation to develop the module at the 25th International Conference on Engineering and Product Design Education in Barcelona.
The conference, themed 'Responsible Innovation for Global Cohabitation', kicked off with workshops on day one to foster relevant discussions. Brainstorming the causes of exclusivity in collaborative design practices related to key themes of people, process, technology, culture, environment, and management proved cathartic whilst demonstrating the size of the challenges. A common thread that emerged was that of management incentive, from revenue driven decision making to criteria for academic appraisals. The conference featured two thought-provoking keynote speeches. Clara Guasch Sastre emphasised the need to marry more sensitive design ideals such as agency, empathy, and democracy with more propelling ideals such as scale, persuasion, and vision. John Thackara stressed practical steps to realise a sustainable future, starting with an appreciation for the complexity and beauty to be found in the ground beneath our feet. Around 125 papers were presented at the conference. Of the ones I attended, ‘A Toolbox for Addressing Shame in Design Projects’ presented by June Trondsen stuck with me for its consideration of how we probe underexplored, taboo-prone user insights relevant to design, which would likely not be captured through traditional methods of inquiry.
Attending the conference brought into focus a conclusion that I suppose has always been obvious to me: engineering and design is whatever engineers and designers choose to teach and practice. To paraphrase Mos Def: “People talk about design like it's some giant livin' in the hillside / Comin' down to visit the townspeople / We are design / Me, you, everybody, we are design”. I used the word “design” there as it’s more palpable, but I think it’s equivalently relevant for engineering, despite the more rigid notions maintained by the tradition-inclined majority, whether researchers, students or industry practitioners, as evidenced in representation statistics.
The fact is, engineering without context is bad engineering. What the ‘EDI in Engineering’ module emphasises is that responding to this context with broad assumptions and safety factors is insufficient. Instead, engineers should engage with context from a global and empathy-led perspective; being a good engineer therefore means developing an appreciation for equality, diversity and inclusion issues that present barriers to such perspectives, championing initiatives that attempt to challenge norms and remove these barriers. Our paper for the E+PDE conference recounting the experience of creating the module can be found here, and more details of the module proposal itself can be found here."
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Department of Mechanical Engineering