For over 30 years, Kevin Jones, Ph.D., distinguished professor at the Department of Materials Science & Engineering (MSE), has taught students not only how to be better engineers, but also how engineering influences the world around them.
In 2010 he collaborated with Sophia Acord, Ph.D., associate director of the Center for the Humanities and the Public Sphere and other faculty members from the University of Florida College of Liberal Arts and Sciences to create an introductory level, interdisciplinary course focused on both how materials have changed how we evolve as a society, as well as how society has changed how we use materials.
This year, he was awarded the Michael Ashby Outstanding Materials Educator Award from the American Society of Engineering Education (ASEE) for the landmark materials education course, The Impact of Materials on Society.
The Michael Ashby Outstanding Materials Educator Award recognizes distinguished and exceptional contributions in materials science and engineering education and is intended to honor an individual with demonstrated notable leadership in the materials education area.
Understanding the interaction between sociology and engineering is considered a growing need as engineers become more concerned with social challenges such as sustainability and entanglement, according to Dr. Jones.
“I try to constantly remind my students that as an engineer you’re not designing for yourself, you’re designing for other people,” Dr. Jones said. “With that in mind, our primary goal as we developed the class was to create something that helped them understand that engineering is inherently a social exercise.”
The course is made up of weekly modules featuring social principles; different materials, such as steel or ceramics; and also includes case study presentations; lectures and activities from a variety of campus faculty to help drive home the interdisciplinary nature of engineering. For instance, one task for student groups is to create an idea for a new product but substituting the material currently used for that item with a different material – and then examining the far-reaching implications such a change could set in motion.
“When we get them to start asking these types of questions, the students begin to realize how entangled they are with society. Once they recognize that, their product has a better chance of success,” said Dr. Jones.
“The profound influence of this course on engineers early in their careers and on materials science education as a whole cannot be overstated,” said Michele Manuel, Ph.D., MSE department chair. “It’s increasingly a mainstay among engineering educators.”
Since its launch, the course has proven so effective that it has been adopted by more than a dozen other U.S. universities, as well as universities in Europe, Africa and South America.
“Thanks to the support of the National Science Foundation, the Materials Research Society and Pamela Hupp, their Outreach Coordinator, we really couldn’t be happier with how the course has grown and matured over the years since we first introduced it in 2010,” Dr. Jones said.