Inclusivity In STEM: Politics and engineering education discussion

Within STEM, it’s important to have teams that feature individuals from as many backgrounds as possible to open up discussion to more unique views. Dr. Desen Özkan, an Assistant Professor in Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering at UConn, held a talk on Oct 17th about bringing politics to engineering to create a more inclusive experience. Photo by Christina @ on Unsplash.

Dr. Desen Özkan, an Assistant Professor in Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering at the University of Connecticut, recently led a discussion on Thursday, Oct. 17. The topic at hand? The experiences of underrepresented engineering students. This research is vital for making engineering more inclusive and secure. Sociotechnical engineering education, which gives equal importance to social, political and economic aspects as it does to the technical side, forms the basis of her vision. 

Özkan’s research covers various areas, including engineering education, the societal impacts of engineering, justice, diversity, equity in the engineering field and sustainable energy development, particularly in offshore wind. Her research project focuses on the experiences of underrepresented engineering students, with the goal of encouraging and inspiring those who are often left out in this field. 

While engineering is often seen as a neutral and objective discipline, this discussion highlights its deep connection to politics. The curriculum offers a unique chance to introduce a sociotechnical way of thinking, allowing students to emerge themselves into the world of engineering.  

Özkan’s mission aligns with the ideas in several notable works she recommended, including “Pollution is Colonialism” by Max Liboiron, “Engineering Justice: Transforming Engineering Education and Practice,” by Jon A. Leydens and Juan C. Lucena, “Viral Justice: How we Grow the World We Want” By Ruha Benjamin and “Engineers for Change” by Matthew Wisnioski. These works emphasize the importance of societal impact, inclusivity and critical thinking in engineering. 

To advance her vision, Özkan interviewed seven students in their early years of engineering, each coming from diverse backgrounds. These interviews revealed crucial insights into the effects of her sociotechnical approach. 

One engineering student she interviewed raised concerns about the one-size-fits-all approach to engineering solutions. They pointed out that this approach can unintentionally ignore the needs of underrepresented groups and lead to negative outcomes, such as racial bias in technology and designs that don’t consider people with disabilities. The students insights draw attention to the broader societal impact of engineering decisions. 

Lastly, Özkan delved into what it means to be an individual in STEM and how engineering education can unintentionally undermine the experiences of students, especially those who have been historically left out. Women, students of color, LGBTQ+ students and others from marginalized communities often face identity-based disparities, whether in technical or non-technical spaces. 

In summary, Özkan’s work to foster inclusivity and sociotechnical awareness in engineering education and practice is pivotal for the field’s progress. Her research highlights the importance of integrating social, political and economic aspects with technical elements in the curriculum. For further inquiries, feel free to reach out to her directly at 

Leave a Reply