Public Policy and Engineering Design Education

Barry Hyman
Professor of Mechanical Engineering and Public Affairs
University of Washington, Seattle, WA 98195, USA

Both the ABET `Conventional Criteria’ and `Engineering Criteria-2000′ require engineering design education to include considerations such as the environmental, health, safety, ethical, social, and political impact of engineering design. This paper focuses on public policy as a proposed umbrella framework for consideration of these issues, and advances three propositions. First, that the public policy process has a lot in common with the engineering design process; second, that engineering design activities are becoming increasingly entwined with public policy considerations; and third, there are a wide variety of practical approaches to incorporating public policy considerations into engineering design education. The paper begins with well-known models of the engineering design process and the public policy process to establish the similarities between the two. In addition, several popular myths regarding the relationship between these two processes and their practitioners are explored. Next, the paper enumerates different classes of public policy activities engaged in by federal, state, and municipal governments that have implications for engineering design decisions. Included are generic issues such as: environmental, health, and safety regulations; professional licensing and registration; government support for basic and applied research, development, and exploration; defense weapons and other government procurement activities; patent and other policies to support technological development; and government collection, analysis, and dissemination of technical information and data. The third (and primary) part of the paper describes many ways in which public policy issues can be introduced as an integral and logical part of design education, rather than being perceived by either the students or teachers as diversions. This includes lecture and classroom discussion topics and activities, case studies, homework assignments, in-class and take-home quizzes and exams, mini-design projects that extend from one class-session to several weeks in length, and capstone design projects. Also, web- based and other resources on public policy for design instructors and students are described.


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