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.