Engineering Scholars as Engaged Scholars (ES²) is a first-year program that fosters an engineering culture that reflects our richly diverse national community and prepares students to be engaged, well-rounded citizens. Engineering Scholars is accepting applications now and we thought it would be a great time to discuss the program, the course that is part of being an Engineering Scholar and social justice for engineers with Khalid Kadir, lecturer at UC Berkeley.
- Apply for Engineering Scholars, applications due August 4
- 157AC – Engineering, Environment and Society
LAURA: Hi my name is Laura Vogt and I’m the Communications and Events Manager for Engineering Student Services in the College of Engineering. Welcome back for another episode of The (Not So) Secret Guide to Being a Berkeley Engineer. Today we’re lucky to have Khalid Kadir with us to discuss Engineering Scholars as Engaged Scholars – and social justice and engineering. So a little bit about Khalid, after completing his undergraduate education in mechanical engineering at the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor Khalid went on to receive his MSE and Ph.D. in Civil and Environmental Engineering at UC Berkeley. With research focused on removing pathogens from natural water and wastewater treatment systems. While continuing his research in Morocco on a Fulbright scholarship Khalid began studying the role of engineering in international development and poverty alleviation. As part of the Engineering Scholars program, Khalid teaches a course in Engineering, Environment, and Society exploring the topic of environmental justice from an engineering perspective. He is one of five winners of the 2017 Distinguished Teaching Award, and we’re so excited to have you here. Do you want to tell us a little bit more about yourself.
KHALID: Yeah I think you pretty much summed it up pretty well. Maybe a little bit about what I teach on campus to teach the 157AC course which is Engineering, Environment, and Society – super exciting class trying to bring together engineering in social justice, as you mentioned. I also teach some courses in the global poverty and practice program minor here on campus that’s sort of oriented towards students from a lot of different disciplines to get into poverty alleviation related work. I teach some political economy and some environmental engineering thinking about natural treatment systems so a little bit all over the place but I’m trying to bring it all together and make some sense of it.
LAURA: And so how long have you been involved with the engineering Scholars Program?
KHALID: Probably now four years, I think, maybe five. I think four years total somewhere around there. You know you get older you forget the history.
LAURA: What is the program.
KHALID: The program is a way for…let me tell you about actually a little bit how I was first told about the program. There were some concerns about how to make engineering education relevant to people and how to make it relevant to people, especially, who are coming from such diverse backgrounds as Berkeley students come from, and how might students doing engineering see it as a way to contribute and be involved in their own communities and to be engaged with problems that they see in the places where they live or near or around the places where they live. So this program was, was as I was introduced to it, was designed to help students think about engineering not just as this discipline that’s not related to who they are where they’re from, but as something that actually could very much speak to who they are, where they’re from, and the sort of problems that they see in the world so that they might sort of put their energy within engineering towards addressing those kinds of problems.
LAURA: And so, what type of students should be interested in this? Who do we want to have apply for it, who does it relate to?
KHALID: All of them. I think we will find students especially who are interested in doing work that benefits other people. I think that’s at the root of it. And I think we especially want students who are concerned about issues of social injustice. We want students who are concerned about marginality, who are concerned about oppression, to enter into this program and really push to think about how their work as engineers need not be separate – and in fact isn’t separate – from who they are or where they live and the people they live around and the issues that they see in the world around them. So students who really want to be engaged whether it be in public service or in social justice work or in international development work, students who want to do work that is aimed at bettering the conditions of historically marginalized groups of people who are oppressed that can be along lines of race that can be along ethnicity that can be engendered it can be a long lens of ability. You meet all sorts of all sorts of different forms of oppression that we try to hold onto throughout this program and to think about how engineers, one, need to be careful about how they do their engineering and what they maybe need to think about and not just what they need to think about, but what other voices they need to be engaging with, but also how they might sort of build their careers such that their engineering work is directly aimed at or indirectly oriented to words sort of improving the life conditions of others.
LAURA: And so engineering scholars it’s a twofold type of program where the first semester that they come in it’s seminars and so you don’t do as much with the seminars but you’re heavily involved and you’re the instructor for the second half of it. So what does it take when you’re in that class?
KHALID: Yeah. The first of the seminars really help set students up for that class. It provides a lot of a heavy lifting background, getting students sort of oriented towards what’s going on. Also creates a really solid cohort of people who look out for one another who are sort of mission aligned. They have similar goals and what they want. And so they think it’s really helpful for them to come to know each other through that process. Then when they enter into the course, which, I’ll say that the course for anyone who’s not an ES2 – they can only get in through an application. The last two years we’ve had 200 people apply for the like 35 remaining spots. So it’s super difficult to get into the course if you’re not in ES2. So this is sort of a pathway into this class as well, a little selling point for why ES2 is valuable, and we do it that way because ES2 really gets students ready for this class in many ways, the seminar before. Then in that class it’s an AC course so AC, American Cultures requirement, is the only universal requirement. Every undergraduate at Berkeley has to take an AC course and this satisfies that requirement, and it’s a class that’s essentially about race. It’s called the American Cultures requirement. There are a number of fantastic courses out there and they’re meant to…It comes out of an acknowledgement that this is the Senate faculty following on the third world liberation movement, and then later the anti-apartheid movement, came to feel like no one should graduate from Berkeley not understanding how important race is as a sort of social structure and how that manifests in material ways for people. And so that requirement, the faculty came to agree, and you can imagine how hard it is to get all the faculty on campus to agree on one thing. They agreed that yes every student to take a course that relates to this, and it doesn’t mandate exactly how that course looks. There are courses in all different disciplines that are AC. This is the only AC engineering course right now, because usually students go into social science or humanities space to take that AC course. We’ve brought this in the engineering to get students that think about how does engineering relate to race, and in what ways can we see, sort of particularly through the lens of the environment and environmental justice, how do, in America, how do different racial groups experience the environment differently and how is their lived environment different. Pulling on the long history of environmental justice work in America that that sort of demonstrates the ways in which there are pretty difficult and disturbing forms of marginalization – exposure to pollution and exposure to contaminants – and this isn’t equal for everybody. Obviously you can imagine poor people are more heavily exposed than wealthier people, but also along racial lines, people of color are disproportionately exposed to harmful toxins in the environment in the United States.
And so this course is meant to think about that, but also to think about what role engineers played in building that built environment that’s led to some people be exposed in different ways than others, and how might we do better. How might we think about our engineering work in a way that doesn’t reproduce forms of marginalization? And let’s go a step further, how might we do engineering work that helps ameliorate alleviate and prevent the possibility of that happening in the future?
LAURA: So what kind of work can you expect to do if you’re in the class?
KHALID: A lot of reading. It’s a reading heavy course, and I would say don’t shy away from that. I think [it] will help you learn how to read and read well and work through sort of difficult tasks and I missed them and capture the important points. So that’s sort of I’d say at the core time spent is a lot of reading. But aside from that, students spend a lot of time thinking about different groups in California. We think about African-Americans, we think about Asian-Americans, we think about Latino and Hispanic Americans, we think about Native Americans, and we think about the ways in which sort of deeply specific how their experiences of the environment – and not in some broad way, like here here is how you know Asian Americans experience the environment. No we’re going to look at Asian-Americans, particularly Laotians, living in Richmond, California, and what is their reality and how do they experience the environment and what what sort of problems are they facing. We’re going to think about Native Americans living up near the Klamath River in Northern California and what sort of struggles are they having around water and and what sort of things are getting in the way of them living their lives, really, at the root of it.
So that’s sort of topically…Before we get into those specific pieces, we’ll spend a lot of time thinking about the role of expertise. How is it that an expert is trained to view the world? What what does an engineering education do and what way does it treat you to define a problem which then results in how you solve the problem, and how do others define problems? What other things do they take into account, what other voices, what other types of knowledge, what other methods do they use to identify problems and define them and think about solving them so we can sort of broaden the way engineers think about problems.
LAURA: I know over the summer quite a few that the students can do research. Is that through the course or through the program?
KHALID: The other big part of the course is that there are a number of community based projects. So we have a number of projects where students go out into into various communities and work on specific projects related to environmental justice. So, we’ll have projects in East Oakland related to air pollution. There’s a foundry where a lot of residents in the area are concerned about air pollution. This last year, students developed an app that helps residents that live around there report air pollution concerns that they have, so the Bay Area Air Quality Management District can take those into account. In fact, I think this week or next week students are going to be meeting with the Director of Engineering over there to talk about how this might work into the work they’re doing. And this project happens in collaboration with the community partner, that one in particular with Communities For A Better Environment. But we also have projects in Richmond with Asian Pacific Environmental Network, we have projects with the watershed project also in Richmond. We’ve had projects in the Salinas Valley and also in the Central Valley working on water. We’ve worked with Community Water Center. We’ve worked with California Rural Legal Assistance, historically a sort of very famous group. We’ve worked with Environmental Justice Coalition for Water, this most recently in Salinas Valley thinking about nitrate pollution that’s sort of rural in unincorporated areas and people’s drinking water.
So we have all these projects that they’re not always what we would traditionally see as an engineering project. It’s not that you have a bunch of quantitative measures you draw a box around it you come up with a solution and you hand it off, but there are projects that have an engineering component that related to drinking water, they’re related to air pollution, they’re related to flooding in Richmond. They have an engineering component to it, but the way we address the problem is much broader, and it often involves dealing and working with various partners, it involves engaging with community members, involves thinking about engineering more broadly, and how, you know, how might doing a survey and focus groups be related to engineering problem solving? How might going to community meetings and discussing with community folks about what they want in their own communities be related to engineering problem solving? So there’s that piece that happens in the class, and then many students continue with these over the summer. They form partnerships with these organizations. There’s some funding available to help them facilitate that. And then they continue doing this work throughout the summer.
LAURA: That’s nice, so it’s not just all the reading – you actually get to go and do like this real world application to what you’ve been reading about.
KHALID: Yeah, totally. And you know in the class we have, in addition to the reading, we have some problem sets that are pretty common in engineering classes, where we try to make them really applied. We make you go out there and deal with real world data, like go to the census and find all this information about three different zip codes and look at how it’s different or the same, and draw some conclusions – really to get students to to get into the meat of the world rather than these abstract sort of constructed problems as a textbook. So we don’t have a textbook.
LAURA: Is there any one project that someone’s worked on that stands out the most to you?
KHALID: That that one developing that app around air pollution is really interesting. There is a lot of work happening in Richmond around the Richmond Greenway, and Berkeley has an interesting relationship to this because we have some property in Richmond – the university has some property in Richmond. And there’s lot of questions about how that property is going to be developed or what it’s going to be used for, and who gets to decide. What is the role of people who live there and have lived there for generations in deciding how that area will be developed and change? And along the Richmond Greenway, there are a number of projects that we’ve been engaging with different community groups to think about flooding in water. One of them has been helping with creating rain gardens, so students have done everything from helping to do a little bit of design work – and it’s preliminary because their first few students so they’re being they’re sort of engaging in something that’s a little new for them – but they’re helping with some design work around rain gardens and also constructing them, working with local residents to construct rain gardens to deal with areas where there’s a lot of flooding, and how do we capture that water so that the Greenway is a space where people can use it and not walk through sort of a swampy area. There’s that, and I think doing those projects, that particular set of projects stands out to me in part because it’s involved a number of components. One was designing sort of stormwater infrastructure. Two is actually building that stormwater infrastructure. The third is some groups have worked on projects education-related going into schools that are around the Greenway – there are a number of schools in close proximity to this area – and teaching elementary school, middle school, high school students, concepts around ecological engineering and stormwater treatment and and really coming up with creative lesson plans where students are building their own little rain gardens or BIOS whales and putting water through them and seeing how they work and getting to understand both the scientific principles behind them, but also getting some sort of hands on creative work. So there’s all these different ways in which that has manifested. That’s been kind of interesting to do work up there.
LAURA: And so the Engineering Scholars as Engaged Scholars, ES2, it’s for freshmen and transfer students.
KHALID: Yeah, totally, and it makes for an exciting group of people. Each brings their own things to the table. I have to admit I especially love the transfer students because a lot of them are bringing a little more sort of life experience to it and they are a little farther along in their educations. But the freshmen, I feel like it’s super exciting because it really helps set them a longer trajectory within engineering, and I want to also say that while this class has a real sort of environmental justice focus and environmental focus – I’m trained as an environmental engineer; I kept the class sort of in that framework a little bit – I think it really applies to a number of different engineering disciplines. You know the folks who made the app those are computer scientists right, electrical engineering and computer science. We have a number of mechanical engineers who are in it. So we have every sort of discipline within engineering gets represented in this program and in the class and they all have something to sort of contribute to thinking about engineering and the environment and how that in engineering in society and how people engage with engineers and engineering projects.
LAURA: And I know you’re getting to design a new website that’s going to back up your work that you’re doing in the program. Do you want to tell me a little bit more about the website?
KHALID: Super excited about this. With the help of a fantastic web designer, we are creating this super cool site. The onus is on me this summer to get the content up there. He’s done the design work where it’s going to be map based, and there’s going to be a map where you can sort of view historical projects that students have done. So if it all comes together by the end of the summer we’ll have about 25 projects on there that will have little pins and you can search by topic, you can search by community partner, you can search by what year the project was done and you can see photos, you can see some of the deliverables that students created in the projects. And you can get a sense of what issues were they working with and how they work with that. How did they work with those issues. We’re also going to have a lot of the teaching material up there. Eventually, we’re going to have little videos from all the people who have been involved in teaching and creating the course. This has been a real collaborative effort – a lot of people have contributed so much. I feel a little disingenuous. I’m always put up front, as you know, here’s the guy who teaches the class. But there’s like an army together with me that teaches his class. We always have GSIs, graduate student instructors, who are involved in the process. This past year we had a particularly exceptional GSI, Jess Goddard, who really developed some incredible projects and saw students through in mentorship, and you’ll see those showing up on the Web site. So just a little little self-promotion, the website address is going to be 157AC.berkeley.edu. So 157, that’s the number of course, 157AC.berkeley.edu.
LAURA: That’s going to be great. I’m looking forward to seeing that when it’s all put together.
KHALID: I am too.
LAURA: And so, just because I know you’re really interested in social justice, can you tell me what exactly does social justice mean?
KHALID: That’s a hard question. I think when I think about…Let me come at a different angle a little bit. When I think about social justice, I think about equity in a historical sense, and I think about the histories of marginalization of oppression, and how we might both put a stop to structures that lead to oppression – Not just the actual manifestations of oppression but actual structural reasons why they happen. Things don’t happen by mistake. If they were just mistakes I think they’d be easier to fix. But think about what are the structural reasons that leads them and also address a world where we have sort of a historical trajectory that has advantaged some people in disadvantaged others. And how might we address that in a way that leads to a more equitable world along different sort of social frameworks, whether that’s ability, gender, class, race, ethnicity, citizenship. All of these things you know particularly today we see a lot of concerns in the world as massive refugee crises. We have more refugees than ever in the history of humanity. We see a lot of political grandstanding and a lot of sort of oppression being spouted from microphones at the highest places of power right now, and it’s really concerning about not just the words, you know, people can say whatever they want, but it’s the material effects of those words. You know, everything from things that that may seem little to you know people are talking about increased bullying in school because of the political rhetoric in the United States right now. This has effects on children that has effects on the decisions they make as they move through their lives.
And so thinking about how we might work with folks who have been historically marginalized towards a more just relationship with one another, so that we don’t sort of those of us who are who are existing in places places of privilege don’t just capitalize on our privilege and use that to our own advantage, but perhaps we can undermine our own privilege so that others can share in the sort of both material and social benefits of the places where we live.
LAURA: And so as our engineers come in, even if they’re not part of this Engineering Scholars program, is there any advice that you have for them that they should look at, or what they should try to do, or which they should take into consideration as they are planning their schedule or planning their careers?
KHALID: Enjoy your summer. You’re about to enter Berkeley. Make the most of the summer between now and then. I don’t know if it means you go to the beach, or you go to the mountains, or, you know, play video games, whatever you want, but make the most of it. Enjoy it, relax, just enjoy this moment when you are done with high school or are you are done with community college and you have a pause between institutions and you can really spend time with your family with your friends. I think that’s I would say first and foremost. After that I’d say build up a habit of reading. Pick some books that you’re interested in, whether it’s New York Times Bestseller list, or go to a publisher you like or, pick a website – not one that produces fake news. Pick something that you don’t usually read – email me, I’ll suggest some websites – just to sort of challenge your own thinking, but more to build a habit of reading. Become a reader so that you can read other people’s ideas. Maybe step away from the TED talk thing and go into the book thing a little more and try to inculcate sort of a hunger for knowledge and information and scholarship. I think that’s really valuable. If you’re hungry for knowledge when you come to Berkeley it will make the time you struggle a lot easier because you’ll be struggling not because you feel like you’re being pushed backwards but because you’re trying to climb for something and you want that thing you’re climbing for.
And I find for myself you know I’m motivated more by a carrot than a stick. So if I want something I’m willing to work harder for it than if someone’s pushing me to do it. So you know build a hunger in yourself for learning and really see Berkeley as a place as a special place where you will be able to learn a lot from a lot of really bright well studied sort of committed folks here and and take advantage of it when you’re here. Don’t worry about your resumes. Don’t even worry about GPAs. Worry about what you’re learning.
Make sure you’re here to learn and put all those other things aside because those are all sort of things that I think will push people down a little bit and you’ll miss out on opportunities to learn here that don’t exist in other places so develop a hunger for learning before you come. And maybe brush up on your math physics and chemistry too.
LAURA: Well thank you so much for coming today. I really appreciate your time. Is there anything else you wanted to add that you don’t think we covered?
KHALID: No, that’ll be it. I just want to say welcome to all the folks who are coming. I look forward to meeting many of you joining this ES2 program. It’s a really special program with a really excellent group of people, and it will be what you make it, so join the program and don’t just join it to sit on a rollercoaster, but join it to sort of get in the driver’s seat and help sort of shape what this university is.
LAURA: And the ES2 program is now open for applications, so you could check it out on our Web site at engineering.berkeley.edu/ES2 And hopefully you’ll take a look at the program learn a little bit more about it and apply and be part of it next year. And thank you so much and we’ll talk to you again next week.
KHALID: Thank you very much.