Engagement Without Boundaries in an Engineering for Social Innovation Curriculum

Ekundayo Shittu
Associate Professor
George Washington University

There is an emerging trend in engineering education where students are increasingly interested in “ways to leverage their engineering education to pursue impact-focused careers where they can directly, tangibly see the human impact of their work.” This project recognizes that social innovation could be an important conduit not only to meet this need, but also to improve students’ engagement in their engineering education. The central hypothesis is that integrating social innovation into the engineering learning experience will boost student engagement for a generation of students that see themselves as agents of societal change. At the same time, we understand that in order to engage in social innovation, students must develop new competencies that are not typically addressed in the engineering curriculum. To support these competencies, our social innovation intervention emphasizes service learning, local case studies, direct engagement with community partners, and exposure to proven techniques and approaches for social innovation. We examine if the pedagogical interventions are effective for supporting the desired student learning, as well as understand how the intervention supports that learning. This study is motivated by two interrelated questions: (1) How do pedagogical interventions that combine service learning, local case studies, community partner engagement, and exposure to social innovation approaches increase student engagement in their engineering program and capacity for social innovation? (2) How does each component of the pedagogical intervention contribute to observed changes in students’ engagement in and capacity for social innovation? Addressing these questions is yielding dividends that translate into helping students develop new capabilities that position them better to use their engineering skills in the future to support the creation of more equitable societies. In distilling our preliminary outcomes, we find that students recognize issues that cause exclusion or marginalization for members or subgroups in the society. In the appreciation of their own lived experiences, we observe students’ sense that civic responsibility and citizenship are core commitments of the engineering profession, while simultaneously reporting an increased sense of belonging and self-efficacy in engineering. We are also observing a strong corollary of these outcomes – students are increasingly becoming articulate in prescribing specific applications of ideas from their university-based coursework to pressing social issues. The urgency to inject social innovation into the engineering curriculum has never been so strong given how social platforms are influencing knowledge propagation. We already have evidence that this project is leading to the enhancement of the learning experience and providing opportunities to strengthen communities (independent of context) while simultaneously encouraging the development of civic responsibility. Conditioned on the understanding that the engineering field is increasingly becoming multifaceted as solutions to real world problems require an integrated set of skills, this project is utilizing a set of shared performance metrics across the engineering, arts and science disciplines. The added benefit to the society is that the pathway to engineering education will become illuminated with activities that will enhance talent and creativity while broadening participation in the STEM fields.


Erica Wortham, George Washington University, Washington, DC; Tiffany-Rose Sikorski, George Washington University, Washington, DC; Jason Starita, George Washington University, Washington, DC