Engineering Smart Technology and Social Justice

Smart technology is making its way into almost every aspect of our lives. Just about everyone has a smartphone and, in some homes, smart tech has been integrated everywhere from thermostats to personal home assistants. In addition to the devices like this that are making life a little easier to manage, some pieces of smart technology are being used to better the world as a whole.

Because of this, it has become inherently important to teach students about this technology in school and help them learn about practical applications in the real world.

In fact, there are ways to tie software engineering and smart technology into just about every lesson plan. Here is how students can learn about engineering, technology, and social justice all in the same lesson plan and how it can make an impact on the world.

How Engineering and Social Justice Tie Together

Consider the water crisis in Flint, Michigan. If more time and resources had been put into the area, the crisis could have been avoided altogether. Scientists have confirmed the lead contamination in Flint would not have happened with the use of orthophosphate in the water treatment process. However, because the community is largely impoverished, these preventative actions did not take place.

That’s where smart technology and engineering come in. Even though it could have been prevented entirely, technology can help fix the problem at hand and get clean water to the folks in Flint. Other pieces of technology focus on helping create clean water for the people living there. For example, earlier this year, engineers were working on developing a piece of tech that will make it possible to get clean drinking water from the moisture in the air. This device will provide up to 4,500 bottles of clean drinking water per month.

That certainly doesn’t fix the problem in Flint, though. With a limited amount of clean water, conservation will be important as well. As technology continues to evolve, it can be used to better the situation in Flint by offering technology like low-flow toilets, sinks that run on motion sensors, and eco-friendly washers to help with conservation efforts. Incorporating these pieces of smart tech can provide sizable economic savings, which is important for the impoverished community of Flint.

To prevent future dire scenarios like that in Flint, it’s imperative that children learning in school are taught how to be innovative, tech-savvy, as well as social justice-minded. “Science is the foundation for positive social change,” said Edwina Uehara, president of the Society for Social Work and Research. “We must employ tested methods built on robust data to achieve a lasting impact on a scale that makes a profound difference in people’s lives.”

Providing affordable technology to students everywhere can also be seen as a type of social justice as well. For school districts lacking funding for technology, robotics programs like CoderZ can offer affordable, flexible, and scalable STEM and robotics programs for students.

A Scientific Approach to Bettering the World

Returning to the Flint, Michigan water crisis, science can provide a foundation for positive social change. Engineers are assisting with technology to help with creating more sources of clean water and conserving what they have.

The lead contamination isn’t only impacting those living in Flint, either. More than 6 million people across the United States have some sort of lead contamination in their water supply. Even in areas like San Joaquin Valley in California, pollutants are contaminating the groundwater that the residents there rely on for drinking.

In Flint and other areas, atmospheric water generators use a filtration process to draw clean water from the moisture in the air. This has been a lifesaver for people living there, helping people gain access to clean water they wouldn’t normally have.

Indoor water use accounts for 60 gallons of water per day per person. Flushing the toilet alone makes up 28% of that usage. Upgrading to efficient appliances like low-flow toilets or energy-efficient clothes washers can help them conserve clean water.

Students Are Learning to Make a Difference

A degree in environmental engineering can help address the needs of people looking for clean drinking water, create better treatment processes, and truly help communities. Water conditions aside, engineering can also be used to better the world in other ways too.

Engineering and social work go hand-in-hand as well. While engineers are searching for fixes to technical problems, social workers are looking for solutions to social issues. Eric Rice, an assistant professor with the School of Social Work, partnered with engineers to assist in creating HIV prevention and intervention with homeless youth. The partnership has provided enough data for social workers to implement intervention and prevention techniques that actually work.

Despite the possible positive impacts engineering can have on various communities, many schools still do not have the technology necessary to prepare students for a career in engineering. In the classroom, teachers could use technology to tie engineering and social justice together. The technology gap is especially noted in rural areas of the country. This is failing to prepare students for careers in engineering jobs that could truly make a difference to millions of people in the U.S.

In water protection alone, there are a plethora of careers students could pursue. Having access to technology in school could make all the difference in the world. From water protection and restoration to irrigation and well drilling, students can make huge changes in the world based on the education they receive. They could even become the next engineer to develop technology to assist in providing clean water to places like Flint. Today’s children want to make a difference and change the world, and an engineering career path can help them do just that.

About The Author

Jori Hamilton is a writer and journalist from the Pacific Northwest who covers social justice issues, education, and politics. You can follow her work on twitter@HamiltonJori, through her portfolio or through LinkedIn.