470474 Addressing Social Challenges through Creativity, Engineering, Nanotechnology & Diversity
Fully capitalizing on the investment in nanoscience research will require a technical workforce educated to innovate, manage, and evaluate the socially-responsible implementation of nanotechnology. This project created interdisciplinary undergraduate engineering courses at the University of Connecticut where nanotechnology was used as the context to teach creative thinking, project management skills, and evaluation of social outcomes of novel technology. “Nanoscience and Society” is an introductory course on nanoscience with an emphasis on social issues. Students evaluate social impacts of existing technologies through case studies, guest lectures, and group work. Contrary to most early engineering courses, this class is explicitly designed to appeal to non-engineering majors and those who are particularly altruistic-minded, with recruitment a prime goal. “Managing Creativity and Innovation” targets junior engineering students and offers specific training in being creative and in managing creativity in diverse teams using nanoscience as the technological context. The objective is to shape a more adaptable workforce able to embrace and evaluate evolving technologies to meet future challenges. In “Capstone Design Marketplace” senior undergraduates create their own design challenge, and respond to the design challenge of a peer from a different engineering major. Learning goals include increased confidence and competence employing technical knowledge and skills, enhanced interdisciplinary knowledge, improved project management skills, and improved technical communication skills. Overall, this “ASCCEND” program has increased interdisciplinary engineering education at our institution and has enhanced awareness for societal impacts of technology. However, while we expected that social benefits would serve as an effective vehicle for promoting a more diverse engineering pipeline, extensive surveys revealed no significant differences among majors or gender that the “potential to make a difference” plays in a student’s choice of major. Interestingly, parents played a significant role in the selection of engineering as a major, especially for female students, thus providing a strategy for broadening participation of women in engineering. By providing students with specific training in managing creativity, evaluating technology in interdisciplinary settings, and working across traditional disciplinary boundaries, this program helps participants to become more agile and productive members of the evolving global workplace.