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The Theatre of Humanitarian Engineering


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An experimental role-playing course designed by an interdisciplinary team of faculty from engineering and the humanities puts students imaginatively into a complex nineteenth-century context as they consider how to provide a waste management solution for an expanding urban population. This role-playing game (RPG) puts students in the roles of actual people living in a turn-of-the-century industrial city in central Massachusetts. While immersing themselves in the roles of engineers, industrialists, elected officials, workers, scientists, public health officials, inventors, and city residents, students learn and practice engineering concepts (engineering design, stakeholder analysis, mass balance, sewage treatment, material properties and selection, sewage properties and conveyance, statics and stress, filtration and chemical precipitation, and so on). These engineering concepts are not abstracted from social, political, and economic considerations. Rather, engineering is imbued with social context. The RPG offers students opportunities to reflect on economic, geographical, economic, and philosophical issues while learning the technical skills they need to make informed decisions to address the needs of a rapidly expanding population.

Date created
  • 6/24/17
Resource type
  • 2017 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition
Rights statement
Last modified
  • 2020-09-28



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