For us, people-first engineering is both a goal and a practice.
Through our people-first framework, Michigan Engineering is reimagining and reshaping what engineering can be – at Michigan and beyond – enabling all engineers to have a positive impact on the world and build a future that will elevate all people.
Our framework builds upon Michigan’s greatest strengths and is a blueprint for how we aspire to teach and practice engineering.
A requirement for any top engineering school
At Michigan Engineering, we’re fortunate to have access to some of the strongest academic and research capabilities in the world, and we’re leveraging that strength to reimagine what engineering can be.
Our position as one of the top engineering schools embedded in the #1 public research institution is what enables us to advance our people-first principles from the conceptual to the practical. – We empowering our engineers with the fundamental technical and teambuilding skills they need to truly transform our world.
Fostering a culture of collaboration
We leverage the University of Michigan’s full ecosystem of world-class schools to solve human problems on a global scale. On a campus with leading business, medical and liberal arts colleges, we share buildings with social scientists, auto manufacturers, doctors and artists. Our students and faculty draw upon critical insights, expertise and wisdom from across a wide range of academic disciplines.
And with 11 top-ranked colleges and more than 100 top-ranked programs, the University of Michigan is the best possible environment for transformative integration across disciplines.
Equipping engineers with human skills
We are committed to being a leader in equity-centered engineering. By equipping our engineers with the skills to understand problems from multiple perspectives, we can reevaluate established assumptions and rebuild systems to better serve all people.
We strive to embed our equity-centered values in everything we do. We’re fostering conversations about justice, equity, diversity and inclusion among our students, faculty and staff. We’ve launched new courses and learning objectives focused on empathy, ethics, cultural awareness, race, ethnicity and bias. And we’re actively recruiting students, faculty and staff with diverse backgrounds.
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Teaching engineers to put people first
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Engineering has enabled innovations throughout history, with the pace rapidly accelerated over the last several decades.
Engineers have built up our physical and digital environment. They’ve expanded our understanding of health care and taken us beyond our world.
But the engineering of the past was mostly about being bigger, stronger and more efficient.
Historically, engineers have not been aware of the ways that the applications of their work have unwittingly impacted the distribution of wealth, power and privilege in society.
We know there has been harm, safety systems designed with one body type in mind, facial recognition software that is inherently biased.
We have the ability, with our current knowledge, to look back and see how we could have done things better.
There are better ways. We can reimagine what engineering can be.
We can reevaluate established assumptions, and rebuild systems to better serve all people.
To truly tackle this, we can’t just do more of what we’ve been doing.
We have to work together across boundaries to intentionally close those gaps.
The next generation of engineers must be globally-minded thinkers who build and rebuild to improve the lives of all people.
Here at Michigan Engineering, we have a unique environment to do things differently, and we’re leveraging that to set our sights on how engineering can elevate all people, not just some.
By leading the way and reimagining and reshaping what engineering can be, Michigan Engineering is pursuing its goal of becoming the world’s preeminent college of engineering, serving the common good. After surveying our community, our colleagues and our peers on the future of engineering education, we developed a framework for education and practicing engineering that aligns with how the field is evolving.
There are three essential components. Our engineers must be excellent technologists and have a deep understanding of their discipline.
Most colleges of engineering and most disciplines in engineering have a baseline curriculum that we train our students in. It is when we’re able to really fully take on the excitement of scientific discovery that we’re actually best positioned to innovate the best technology.
One of the strongest draws for me coming to the University of Michigan has been the really fabulous infrastructure, equipment, laboratories.
Every piece of equipment that we need, the most advanced medical facilities, we have access to that, and we have access to that as engineering researchers.
And it’s great for the students because they also learn in environments which train them well to enter industry.
For our student organizations, we have amazing faculty and staff here at the college that help them with their engineering expertise. But they’re also having an opportunity to get to know each other, figure out what their leadership style is, and what kind of engineer that they want to be and see these projects come to life in the real world.
Great engineering requires a deep appreciation for how different fields converge and integrate. You can’t stop at the fundamentals.
Engineering is about building something that somebody can use. If you stay in the classroom, if you stay in my office upstairs, I’m not going to build something that anybody can use. You’ve got to get out of the room and you’ve got to go outside and you’ve got to talk to folks.
It is still indeed rare to be a college of engineering that is positioned in a university that has a top college of medicine, that has a top school of public health, a top business school.
I can see how much insight cross-pollinates across world class academic units around the University of Michigan, where you can go right across to central campus, talk to some professors or colleagues or students who are your peers.
I’m an engineer. I don’t do surgery, and I work entirely with signals from the body, from the brain and nerves. So we think about these signals in terms of, you know, its volts, its electricity, its algorithms. They obviously think about it in terms of, you know, patient safety and muscles and nerves and anatomy. It’s really like, you know, bringing these two expertises together that enables what we do.
If you work in a narrow field, as we have tended to in the past, you solve narrow problems.
We strive to have equity centered values and global worldview embedded in everything we do.
For a long time, we’ve overemphasized the technical aspects of engineering without really considering the social implications. How does the engineering work that you’re doing really affect the people’s lives that you’re designing stuff for? How can we really do this in a way that causes the least harm and benefits the most people?
A lot of prostheses, they were designed in a way that, you know, they’re not necessarily going to work for everybody. It’s very hard, for example, to get a prosthesis that will fit a petite woman or a child.
We’ve been partnering with K-12 schools developing a platform called the Collabrify Roadmap Platform. You try it, you go into the classroom, you work with the kids, and it doesn’t work. OK, then figure out why…to get to the point where we actually are improving test scores because we’ve made the changes coming from the needs of the users.
It’s really important to have perspectives of people that are from different backgrounds.
Our student organizations actually have developed their own diversity, equity and inclusion plans, which have really been focused on addressing how they’re recruiting students, how they’re making sure that there are a wide variety of majors and a wide variety of different identities.
We have room at Michigan to be able to visualize that because of the diversity that we have in our population.
When all three of these items are fully present and activated, we can apply a people-first framework to help solve human problems at a global scale and close societal gaps.
It will require a lot of fundamental knowledge, but it also requires creative thinking.
When you look at where you’re seeing great successes in engineering, it’s by creating spaces for intersectionality.
How can you shift these norms so that a lot more people feel like their voices are included and their perspectives matter?
If you’re going to be an engineer, you’re going to do something outside of the university, you’re going to build something that people can really use.
To us, “the people” means the people of the world. Once you start from that framework, it becomes very difficult to not pull all people in.
Join us as we re-imagine what engineering can be and create a future that puts people first.
In 2021, we conducted research both internally with our own students, faculty and staff, and externally with peers and industry leaders to explore where the field of engineering is headed, and how education needs to get us there.
Research partners: Huron Consulting Group, RF | Binder
The research identified:
Through that research, we refined our framework for doing and teaching engineering—one rooted in equity that leverages the strengths of our University of Michigan ecosystem and expertise.
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