Engineers Without Borders International

Follow through the tabs to develop your reading skills.

Good readers think deeply about what they read in a number of ways, which helps them better comprehend the text and better retain the information in their long-term memory.  Firstly, good readers relate what they are reading to what they already know and they ask themselves questions before, while, and after reading.

For example, we are going to read part of an open letter from Engineers Without Borders titled: It’s time for a gear change.  Before starting to read the text we can ask ourselves things like:

  • What is Engineers Without Borders?
  • What is 'a gear change'?  Do I need to look in the dictinary?
  • Is everything in the engineering industry perfect?
  • What do I think they might suggest changing about the engineering industry?
  • What has changed in the engineering industry in the past 10, 20, 50 years?

Can you add some more questions to the list?

By activating our prior knowledge, we will better prepare our minds to take on the new knowledge, and by asking ourselves questions we are giving ourselves motivation to read ahead and find out.

Now turn to the next tab and consider your questions as you read Part 1.

Time for a gear change

We applaud the proposed updates to the international framework on graduate attributes and professional competencies for engineers, and the recognition that engineers need to evolve in order to tackle 21st century challenges. But a key component is missing – to address this century’s complex problems, engineers must also be able to reflect on and think critically about the role of engineering itself.

The Engineers Without Borders movement is founded on the belief in engineering as a critical enabler of positive change -- that the engineering profession can and should work towards changes that allow the planet, including all people and living things, to thrive. Established initially in France in the early 1980s to focus engineering skill on social injustice, a whole family of organizations now exist throughout the world with the collective aim of benefiting people and the planet.

As part of this aim, many in our global movement have identified that the education and development of engineers is crucial to ensuring that all of engineering is focused on creating positive impact for all people, now and in the future. Concerns have been raised that engineering education does not adequately prepare engineers with the skills needed to create this positive impact, especially as social and environmental problems have grown increasingly complex. The unpredictable events of 2020, combined with the climate change and biodiversity crisis looming in the background, have intensified these concerns. There is a strong sense that there is a narrow, ten-year window of opportunity to lay a positive path forward --and that if we are too late, we will not be able to prevent disasters.

As we mentioned, good readers ask questions about what they are reading and make connections to their previous knowledge and experiences. In this way we each create our own unique understanding of the ideas in the text.

  • Can you make any connections between the ideas in Part 1 and other ideas you already have about the engineering industry?
  • Does this remind you of any concepts that were discussed in your engineering classes?
  • The text mentioned various issues in the context of 21st century challenges, e.g. social injustice, complex environmental problems, and how engineering can help both the people and the planet.  Does this remind you of learning about the UN’s 17 Sustainable Development Goals (link)?  How do these concepts overlap?

Finally, we can make predictions about what recommendations will be suggested in Part 2.

After considering all of that, go on to the next tab and read Part 2.

The latest proposed revision of the International Engineering Alliance’s Benchmark for Graduate Attributes and Professional Competencies makes great strides towards addressing these concerns. In recognizing the need for engineers to situate their work within the UN Sustainable Development Goals, in emphasizing diversity and inclusion, and in acknowledging the disruptive potential of emerging future technologies, the revision goes a long way towards recognizing the role engineers can and need to play in addressing current global challenges.

But the framework falls short in that it fails to acknowledge the need for a fundamental shift in the engineering mindset: the need for engineers to reflect on and think critically about the role of engineering itself….

… To redress the issues with the framework, our group of Engineers Without Borders organizations and supporters urges that the following are vital in transforming engineers educated for the 20th century into engineers capable of positively addressing the complex issues of the 21st century:

  • Emphasis on critical thinking as a fundamental cornerstone of engineering competence; on critically analysing and critiquing the role of engineering, its relationship with humanity, and its impact on our past and potential futures.
  • Deeper comprehension of the ethical issues inherent in engineering due to the relationship between engineering, people and the planet, and greater focus on developing the skills necessary to navigate these complex issues.
  • Broader appreciation for the knowledge needed to make effective engineering judgements, including explicitly acknowledging the value of the social sciences in helping engineers understand the implications of their work.

Our group of Engineers Without Borders organizations is actively advancing these vital elements by helping students and professionals develop the skills to reflect on and think critically about engineering, and by building connections with social scientists, Indigenous leaders, and other groups with important insights on the relationship between engineering and society. We would welcome the opportunity to work more closely with the International Engineering Alliance and other groups to support this crucial shift to the engineering mindset.

We have no planet B and time is running out. To ensure engineering is beneficial for all, the engineering mindset must shift to include reflecting on and thinking critically about the role of engineering itself.

Follow this link to read the complete letter, and remember to always think critically about what you read by asking yourself questions and relating what you read to your own knowledge and experience.