In technical fields, we often pride ourselves on our objectivity — as though the work exists outside ourselves. In engineering, we have historically believed that we could make technologies that work for anyone, regardless of the identity of the engineer or the user. We have believed that technological progress was inherently making the world a better place.
And, in many ways, it has. From the wheel to the automobile, the printing press to the internet, eyeglasses to orbiting telescopes, engineering has expanded humanity’s horizons and improved the human condition. But it has become clear that such technologies and systems do not benefit everyone equally. At times, they can even actively harm some groups. Unintended consequences can occur, because engineers are people, too — people shaped by their cultures, with biases and blind spots.
That’s why, earlier this year, I joined fellow engineering deans in submitting a letter to the Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology recommending that they add diversity, equity and inclusion requirements for accreditation of engineering programs. Engineering must provide deep technical training, yes. But it must also require nontechnical training in fields such as ethics, social science, the humanities, history and matters associated with equity.