In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, a group of engineering educators in the United States and Colombia designed and led a two-week virtual “field session” for engineering undergraduate students that aimed at achieving the same educational outcomes as those from the previous in-country field session. Our NSF PIRE funded Responsible Mining, Resilient Communities (RMRC) project uses multi-country, interinstitutional, and interdisciplinary collaboration to train U.S. engineering students to co-design socially responsible and sustainable artisanal and small-scale gold mining (ASGM) systems with mining communities and engineers in Latin America. Drawing from pre- and post-field session student interviews, essays, and survey responses, this article analyzes how the virtual 2020 field session and the in-person 2019 session influenced students’ global sociotechnical competency. We offer a conceptualization of global sociotechnical competency that synthesizes notions of global engineering competency with theories of socially responsible engineering that emphasize problem definition and solution with underserved communities. Our research suggests that whereas many educators raised concerns about the efficacy of virtual formats for student learning and professional development, the 2020 session was effective for enhancing students’ abilities to identify stakeholders and methods to engage them, as well as for using sociotechnical coordination while engaging in problem definition. While the small number of student participants cautions against making broad generalizations, the virtual (2020) and in-person (2019) students experienced similar increases in self-reported empathizing practices with the intended users of their designs; a desire and ability to integrate social concerns into their design; a desire and ability to work with people from different backgrounds; and self-efficacy in engineering. The virtual students were less likely, however, than their in-person counterparts to desire a humanitarian engineering career. While the small number of students raises questions for extrapolating the results of our findings, our research does signal fruitful areas of future research for making humanitarian engineering projects more equitable and effective, even in virtual settings.
Smith, Jessica M.; Lucena, Juan; Rivera, Angelina; Phelan, Thomas; Smits, Kathleen; and Bullock, Robin
"Developing Global Sociotechnical Competency Through Humanitarian Engineering: A Comparison of In-Person and Virtual International Project Experiences,"
Journal of International Engineering Education:
1, Article 5.