What do an engineer and a humanitarian have in common?
This question is at the core of the University of Connecticut’s Engineering for Human Rights Initiative.
Engineering is often thought of exclusively as a technological endeavor, but it has many societal implications and applications. Engineering can help bring clean water to people in the remotest corners of the world or protect democratic elections and freedom of speech by securing online platforms, just to name a few examples.
UConn’s Engineering for Human Rights Initiative aims to bridge the gap between STEM students and the good their work can do for people. The program is a collaboration between several organizations within UConn, including the Human Rights Institute and the School of Engineering.
The aim of the initiative is to allow future engineers to think about the ethical implications of their work. “We teach students to manage risk, enhance access to technology, and develop remedies for potential harms generated by their work as engineers,” says Shareen Hertel, associate professor of political science and human rights. Hertel, an expert on labor rights in global supply chains, has helped spearhead the initiative, which draws social scientists like herself into collaborative teaching and research with engineers.
Global issues like climate change have a real human cost, especially in places like poorer island nations that are susceptible to increasingly violent extreme weather events and often lack the resources to rebuild after them. Additionally, changing seasons are making fresh food scarcer for those who rely on farming for their food and/or livelihood.