Running for Needham Town Meeting Member in Precinct D in 2024

I’ve been a trustee of the Needham Free Public Library since July 2022. I’m an Olin College of Engineering professor with social science, design, and computing expertise, which I’ve already put to use in the library’s strategic planning and space planning work. During the past 15 years, I’ve co-founded or advised numerous social impact organizations, including The Awesome Foundation, Obama Foundation, and SeeClickFix.

Needham’s library has adopted a new strategic plan and completed a space planning effort this past year that I helped facilitate. That work reimagined how our library building can best serve patrons as our town grows and evolves. Executing these plans with marshaled support and resources will be crucial for success. I want to see that through as a Town Meeting Member for Precinct D.

I think the highest priority issues for Needham are 1) quality, accessible education from preschool on; 2) affordable housing for our residents that provides options as residents’ needs change; and 3) sustainability, because climate change threatens the futures we want for our community, our children, and our planet. These are the lenses I’ll bring to issues facing Needham at Town Meeting, enhanced by the intersections and opportunities for Needham Free Public Library.

I hope to see you at the polls on April 9, 2024 in Needham!

Visit the Town Clerk’s web page for more information about Needham’s 2024 Annual Town Election:

Educating Engineers for Civic-mindedness


Graeff, E. 2023. “Educating Engineers for Civic-mindedness.” Presented at the 14th Symposium on Engineering and Liberal Education, Union College, Schenectady, NY, Sep 23.



In her book Educating for Civic-mindedness, Carolin Kreber (2016) offers a compelling framework for civic-mindedness as an attribute and capability of professionals, which can be nurtured through “transformative higher education” experiences. This paper will apply Kreber’s framework to understanding the task of nurturing civic-minded engineering professionals, summarizing the existing landscape of transformative experiences in engineering education and diagnosing the challenges and possibilities for enhancing these efforts, as expressed in interviews with leading educators and practitioners of civically-engaged engineering. 

Kreber starts with Bringle and Steinberg’s (2010) definition of civic-mindedness as “a person’s inclination or disposition to be knowledgeable of and involved in the community, and to have a commitment to act upon a sense of responsibility as a member of that community”; a civic-minded graduate is “a person who has completed a course of study […], and has the capacity and desire to work with others to achieve the common good.” Kreber emphasizes the “with others” portion of this definition, arguing that civic-minded professionals “support the flourishing, or authenticity, of other members of society, by helping others achieve important human capabilities.” 

Cultivating authentic, civic-minded professionals should be a core purpose of higher education, according to Kreber. She believes this requires carefully designed, community-engaged learning experiences that have a “transformational” effect on students. Engineering education rarely achieves this high bar. Rather, engineering’s culture and its most common approaches to nurturing ethical and social responsibility appear in tension with certain civic virtues. A call to action for “civic professionalism” in engineering is due.

Klara and the Sun book review

Klara and the SunKlara and the Sun by Kazuo Ishiguro
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This is such a brilliant and timely little novel. It touches on so many important ethical questions about AI/robots: care robots, AI replacing jobs, robots/AI as human-like species deserving rights versus being like appliances, philosophy of mind, and more. I’m excited to talk to my students at Olin about this book. It’s our summer reading for incoming first years.

Ishiguro’s “Klara” is an artificial friend (AF). She is a care robot (like the many, notably from Japan, that are developed to be companions to humans and help them with social-emotional health). Her objective is to ensure the child she is acquired for is not lonely. She believes the worst thing a human can be is lonely. Her child Josie is a little sick and lives far away from others. The novel covers Klara’s efforts to serve Josie well.

The novel starts in the store where Klara is for sale. She is our narrator. When we meet her, she is starting to form assumptions about the world. Her observational skills are unusually good for an AF, but her narrative is of course flawed both because of the limits of her technology (cleverly illustrated by Ishiguro) and the limits of her experience.

Ishiguro is not the first to offer a first person perspective to an AI. Many fine examples, especially the Ann Leckie’s Imperial Radch trilogy beginning with Ancillary Justice, come to mind. What I love about Klara and the Sun is that it’s a bildungsroman—one of my favorite genres—for a young robot. This allows us to explore some of the key ethical questions from a unique perspective and provides for the eponymous plot line written stylistically as a fusion of science fiction and realism.

The book is a fast read, filled with clever imagery and symbolism, which open and close the narrative elegantly. I would read this even if I didn’t have to, and I recommend that you do too.

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Locating Empowerment and Technical Intuition in how we frame U.S. Civic Education


Graeff, E. 2023 “Locating Empowerment and Technical Intuition in how we frame U.S. Civic Education.” In Haste, H & Bempechat, J, eds., New civics, new citizens:  Critical, competent and responsible agents. Leiden, Netherlands: Brill.



This chapter argues for defining a good civic education in terms of empowerment and technical intuition. Synthesizing the debates surrounding two recent theories of civic learning, Danielle Allen’s book Education and Equality and essay “What is Education for?” and Ethan Zuckerman’s article “New Media, New Civics?”, I investigate the growing importance to contemporary democracy of developing specific abilities for digital civic engagement, having authentic civic and political experiences, and making citizen voice and influence synonymous. I find a strong thread tying digital civic engagement and civic education together with questions such as: How do we best enhance the civic efficacy and empowerment of young people, and of citizens more generally? I conclude that the goal for designers of civic education programs should be to model their efforts on what Sara Evans and Harry Boyte call “free spaces”.

Democracy as citizen-centered governance requires citizen empowerment (sometimes called “civic agency”), and empowered citizens need certain skills, knowledge, attitudes, and habits that lead to effective civic engagement. Empowering experiences and learning opportunities can promote a virtuous cycle of reinforcing citizen empowerment and strengthening democracy. Spaces like town hall meetings, protest marches, the voting booth, and the civic education classroom traditionally represent where these experiences and opportunities take place. The emergence of networked digital media have created new, pervasive civic spaces – the networked public sphere. Whereas public spaces offline have seen a decline in the U.S.,2 their online replacements, largely private spaces like Facebook, have grown to astounding size and influence with limited accountability to governments and the public. This means the definition of an empowered citizen has stretched beyond traditional capabilities and contexts to encompass a broad range of digital capabilities and experiences.

This chapter seeks to articulate this broadened definition by being in dialogue with and synthesizing recent debates in U.S. civic education and civic engagement scholarship, specifically those surrounding Danielle Allen’s book Education and Equality and Ethan Zuckerman’s article “New Media, New Civics?” In the end, I propose that designers of civic education programs aim forcivic empowerment that incorporates what Alix Dunn (2018) calls “technical intuition” and create opportunities to practice civics in online and offline contexts modeled on what Sara Evans and Harry Boyte call “free spaces”.

A Synthesizing Mind book review

A Synthesizing Mind: A Memoir from the Creator of Multiple Intelligences TheoryA Synthesizing Mind: A Memoir from the Creator of Multiple Intelligences Theory by Howard Gardner
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Howard Gardner is a mentor of mine. So it was with personal interest that I picked up this memoir to learn a little bit about the scholar I worked for at Project Zero a decade ago. His voice really comes through in this book. I can hear his didactic tone but also the levity when he cracks a bit of a dad joke. I like the structure of the book around his intellectual development and the set of experiences that contribute to recognizing and using his “synthesizing mind.” I came away with a deeper appreciation for Howard and the opportunity to work alongside him and learn from him.

There are also some valuable insights in this book for scholars trying to make sense of their own work, especially ideas that take on a life of their own, such as his theory of multiple intelligences. Howard is rightfully proud of his work despite its misinterpretation and misuse. Fortunately, his curiosity is his guide and his deeply held principles delineate a path toward richer research and applications of his attention toward practical ends in education that have served many people well. I really loved how he acknowledged that projects can fail and some endeavors just simply end, but that there is value in the relationships developed and the people touched by even a short-term effort like the MI-based schools he writes about.

For me, the book was a quick read. And as I am also an academic, there was much wisdom in this meta-narrative from a leading light in the social sciences (or “social relations”). May I maintain his tenacity and curiosity in my own work and keep avoiding disciplinary silos.

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