S. Chowdhary, S. Daitzman, R. Eisenbud, E. Pan and E. Graeff, “Care and Liberation in Creating a Student-Led Public Interest Technology Clinic,” in IEEE Technology and Society Magazine, vol. 40, no. 3, pp. 50-52, Sept. 2021, doi: 10.1109/MTS.2021.3101915.
Engineers disengage from public welfare concerns during undergraduate engineering education . In her widely cited study, Erin Cech argued that this arises from a culture of depoliticization in engineering that dismisses “nontechnical” concerns and competencies, reifying a false technical/social dichotomy and meritocratic ideology that justifies existing social structures. Our college, Olin College of Engineering, was part of that study, displaying similar patterns to more traditional schools. We are resisting that trend by embracing “public interest technology” (PIT) , which we believe offers a response to the culture of disengagement. In our application, PIT represents a community of practice that encourages engineers to fully engage with context, inequity, and uncertainty; to connect technical work to their own lives and environment; and to prioritize the common good while minimizing public harms.
S. Chowdhary, S. Daitzman, R. Eisenbud, E. Pan and E. Graeff, “Care and Liberation in Creating a Student-Led Public Interest Technology Clinic,” 2020 IEEE International Symposium on Technology and Society (ISTAS), 2020, pp. 164-175, doi: 10.1109/ISTAS50296.2020.9462188.
The emerging field of Public Interest Technology contains the seeds for an engineering practice that embodies the ethic of care and undergraduate engineering educational experiences in the mold of liberatory education. We realized these opportunities by creating an undergraduate, student-led public interest technology clinic. Using autoethnography, we reflect on our effort to create the clinic and find that we prioritized emotions and relationships, embraced slowness and deliberation, and claimed student ownership. These practices define public interest technology and redefine engineering in ways centering care and equity, which enabled us to create the inclusive and effective engineering and public interest technology educational experiences we wanted for ourselves.
Graeff, E. 2020. The Responsibility to Not Design and the Need for Citizen Professionalism. Computing Professionals for Social Responsibility: The Past, Present and Future Values of Participatory Design. Retrieved from https://doi.org/10.21428/93b2c832.c8387014
I advise two programs at Olin College of Engineering that invite undergraduate students to conduct community-engaged design work. In the fall of 2019, project teams in both of those programs decided not to design systems requested by their outside collaborators based on ethical concerns about the harm they might cause. This paper briefly describes how those decisions came to be, the need to educate for and celebrate design refusal, and how this exemplifies the need to develop the next generation of designers and technologists to be citizen professionals.