Engineering Justice Across the Curriculum

We not only value justice, equity, diversity and inclusion, we have a unique opportunity to change the systems that have negatively impacted marginalized communities. 

Our Engineering Justice Across the Curriculum (EJAC) initiative, led by a cross-disciplinary team of faculty in the School of Engineering and Applied Sciences (SEAS), connects students from computer science, engineering science, and engineering design to their social settings. EJAC challenges us to understand our social impact, address baked-in biases, and build systems that not only are good but that do good. 

Engineering justice means...

UB students wearing hard hats, touring the Tappan Zee Bridge.
Considering the societal impacts of engineering
Krishna Rajan, a professor in the new Dept. of Materials, Design and Innovation, teaching in Talbert Hall.
Affecting pedagogical approaches and students’ understanding of
engineering in society
Computer science faculty member discussing a formula by a white board.
Acknowledging that systems of injustice can be redesigned to be more equitable and ethical
Two women doing wastewater research in a UB lab.
Prioritizing the most vulnerable and marginalized to redress existing inequities and prevent future ones

Why does it matter?

Baked-in biases lead to systemic inequities.

Crash test dummies used in government and insurance industry tests are modeled on men. Perhaps as a result, women are more likely to be seriously injured or die when involved in a car crash.

While driverless cars figure to greatly benefit people with disabilities, they’re often not designed to account for disabled people’s needs.

Just 15% of U.S. engineers are women, and despite making up over a quarter of the total U.S. workforce, Black and Hispanic workers account for just 14% of engineers.

Dr. Zirnheld helping students in EAS199.

It's time for equity-centered engineering.

We are past the point of simply being aware of racist and biased practices and policies in STEM fields. It's time to take action to address the systemic inequities that exist in our communities. By engineering justice across the curriculum, we are one step closer to correcting these disparities. This action is at the core of the university's and our school's mission. It creates a more inclusive learning environment, helps educate educators, and improves student outcomes. But most importantly, it's just the right thing to do.

How are we engineering justice in the classroom?

To start, we are establishing the principles below in our introductory engineering courses such as EAS199, CSE199 and EAS202, and we are working with each of our departments to incorporate these principles (drawn from Leydens and Lucena's 2019 text, Engineering Justice) into their courses and/or classroom case studies:

We are listening contextually, from outside our own perspectives and experiences.

We are reducing imposed risks and harm. It's difficult to know what is risky or harmful from just one discipline or experience – and sometimes risks are imposed without thinking about these differences. By listening and learning from outside our own perspectives, we can lower the risk.

We are identifying structural conditions and systems that may be at play in any problem and solution.

We are acknowledging and mobilizing power. Power means being able to control or give input, and not everyone has the same amount of power in a given situation. Decisions must respond to (not ignore) power differentials.

We are increasing opportunities and resources. We have to consider how, if, and for whom our work increases opportunities for growth and success as well as material resources.

We are enhancing human capabilities. As we think about decisions, our goals keep humanity—in all its complexity—at the center.

Over time, the goal is to make these principles not something we have to incorporate, but simply part of the normal curriculum development process.

Gears with icons that represent the ways in which SEAS is engineering justice across the curriculum.

Funding opportunities

The School of Engineering and Applied Sciences recently launched two new micro-grant programs to help transform our curriculum and our classrooms. The SEAS JEDI Committee is also here to support researchers who wish to submit proposals.

EJAC Faculty Development Micro-grants

The EJAC Faculty Development Micro-grant offers support and compensation for SEAS faculty to develop and implement curricular choices (lessons, units, or courses) that respond to the need for inclusive pedagogies and train engineers to connect the social impact of their work to the technical aspects. 

JEDI Research Micro-grants

The Justice, Equity, Diversity and Inclusion (JEDI) Research Micro-grant supports researchers, including staff, postdocs, and graduate students, whose research and scholarship connect with our JEDI values and commitments.