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Title: Exploring Undergraduate Civil Engineering Students’ Perceptions of Infrastructure Inequities: A Pilot Study
As social justice issues facing our nation continue to be placed in the foreground of everyday life, it is important to understand how undergraduate civil engineering students perceive and understand relations between social justice and our infrastructure systems. Additionally, as more civil engineering undergraduate programs increase the emphasis on ethics and equity issues in their curricula, we must also seek to understand students’ awareness of their influence, as civil engineering professionals, to improve infrastructure systems that contribute to injustice and inequity. This paper presents findings from a pilot study conducted as part of an NSF-funded grant implementing cultural and curricular changes in a medium-sized civil engineering department in the southeast. Drawing on frameworks that examine how individuals critically understand systems of oppression, and the justification used to explain these systems this work examined student perceptions of inequities in societal infrastructure systems. The present study was guided by the following research questions: (1) Are undergraduate civil engineering students critically aware of inequities in society’s infrastructure systems? (2) To what degree are undergraduate civil engineering students comfortable challenging the status quo? (3) Is there an association between students’ critical awareness of inequitable infrastructure systems and their agency to promote systemic change as civil engineering professionals? Study data included survey responses to validated scales measuring: critical consciousness, system justification beliefs, social empathy, and sociopolitical control beliefs. New instrumentation was also piloted assessing equity-related perceptions and beliefs about civil engineering and infrastructure systems. Participants were junior and senior undergraduate civil engineering students (n = 21) enrolled in a professional development, community, and strategic change course, with data collected throughout the Fall 2020 semester. Results suggest that students did have awareness of infrastructure inequities and, on average, did not have strong system justification beliefs. However, there was not an association between students’ awareness of inequities and their agency beliefs about promoting systemic change as civil engineers. After presenting study results, we discuss implications of study results and propose directions for future research.  more » « less
Award ID(s):
1730576
NSF-PAR ID:
10336901
Author(s) / Creator(s):
; ;
Date Published:
Journal Name:
2021 ASEE Annual Meeting
Format(s):
Medium: X
Sponsoring Org:
National Science Foundation
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