Learning how to listen to other perspectives – especially from people who are not engineers or who are critical of the organizations for whom they work – is a key but often overlooked aspect of engineering leadership. We begin by profiling engineers who had to learn to listen in order to engage in community development work, and then show that listening also plays a key role in what many would consider to be an unexpected place: the mining and oil industries. For engineers working on controversial projects, listening to critical perspectives has become a key activity as they seek to design processes and infrastructure that address the concerns of their companies as well as their stakeholders. Finally, we share how we are preparing students to listen inside of the Humanitarian Engineering program at the Colorado School of Mines. We argue that contextual listening is a prerequisite for using engineering to promote social justice and social responsibility, and outline course activities to develop engineering students’ appreciation for and ability to engage in contextual listening.
Jessica Smith is Co-Director of Humanitarian Engineering and Associate Professor in the Engineering, Design & Society Division at the Colorado School of Mines. As an anthropologist, her research and teaching revolve around social responsibility, engineering, and the extractive industries. She is currently writing a book entitled Extracting Accountability: Engineers and Corporate Social Responsibility and is the author of Mining Coal and Undermining Gender: Rhythms of Work and Family in the American West (Rutgers University Press, 2014). Professor Smith is a co-convener of the STS Underground network and co-organized the 2016 “Energy Ethics: Fragile Lives and Imagined Futures” conference at the University of St. Andrews, which was later published as special issues of Energy Research & Social Science and the Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute. She holds a PhD in Anthropology and a certificate in Women’s Studies from the University of Michigan and bachelor's degrees in International Studies, Anthropology and Latin American Studies from Macalester College in St. Paul, Minnesota.
Juan is Professor and Director of Humanitarian Engineering (HE) at the Colorado School of Mines. Juan obtained a Ph.D. in Science and Technology Studies (STS) from Virginia Tech and two BS in Mechanical and Aeronautical Engineering from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute. His books include Defending the Nation: U.S. Policymaking to Create Scientists and Engineers from Sputnik to the ’War Against Terrorism’ (University Press of America, 2005), Engineering and Sustainable Community Development (with Jen Schneider and Jon Leydens, Morgan & Claypool, 2010), Engineering Education for Social Justice: Critical Explorations and Opportunities (Springer, 2013), and Engineering Justice: Transforming Engineering Education and Practice (with Jon Leydens, IEEE-Wiley, 2017). Born and raised in Colombia, he learned to value, interact and learn from people from the poorest sectors of Colombian society. As an engineering student, he learned the strengths and limitations of engineering assumptions and methods for engaging communities, particularly those historically neglected by engineering. Later working under the mentorship of cultural anthropologist Gary Downey, he learned that engineers and engineering have culture that can be studied and transformed for the wellbeing of communities, social justice, and sustainability. The main driver for his teaching and research is to challenge students to ask, what is engineering for?