What Makes a Good Engineer?

| April 29, 2022

The new Good Life Discussion Series allows USC Viterbi students to ask such big questions in a safe, supportive setting

USC VIterbi senior Ashley Dunning (Photo/Marc Ballon)

USC VIterbi senior Ashley Dunning (Photo/Marc Ballon)

What makes a good engineer? What responsibilities to society do engineers have? How can an engineer find purpose in life? How can engineering become more inclusive?

A group of 18 USC Viterbi students, with the help of two graduate student moderators, grappled with these and other big questions on Thursday, April 14 at the inaugural Good Life Discussion Series, a new initiative in the recently launched Engineering in Society Program.

For an hour in the Ming Hsieh Board Room, students engaged in intense dialogue with each other, exploring issues all too often not addressed in the classroom, including diversity, class, technological addiction and ethics. They listened intently and politely to one another, learning as much as teaching.

Ashley Dunning, a senior majoring in biomedical engineering, said good engineers should care about more than just solving problems. “It’s not just about coming up with a solution but a solution that does more good for the environment and society than harm,” she said.

Aaron Cruz, a senior majoring in chemical engineering with an emphasis in petroleum, said, “Engineers need to think about cause and effect. The ultimate goal of engineering is to do good.”

That ethics continuously came up during the Good Life is no accident, said Martha Townsend, the initiative’s creator.

“I hope that the students find the conversations lively and engaging,” she said. “I hope that they’re prompted to think about the importance of their future work and the impacts it might have on the world. I hope that these discussions connect them with others who may also be seeking meaning.”

“The Good Life builds on Aristotle’s notion of ‘The Good Life,’ wherein citizens cultivate reason by engaging in scientific inquiry and deep discussion and working toward the happiness that comes from living a life of virtue,” Townsend added.

Students at the inaugural Good Life Discussion Series (Photo/Marc Ballon)

Students at the inaugural Good Life Discussion Series (Photo/Marc Ballon)

USC Viterbi expects to sponsor three Good Life discussions per semester, with about 20 engineering students per session.

With the aim of “changing the conversation about engineering education,” USC Viterbi recently launched the Engineering in Society Program, an expansion of the Engineering Writing Program. Engineering in Society wants to equip USC Viterbi students with the ethical and communication skills to flourish in an ever-accelerating and fast-changing world.

Another key component of the Engineering in Society Program is the Viterbi Ethos Project, the first phase of which is partially funded by the Coalition for Life Transformative Education.

The Ethos Project seeks to develop engineering students’ character, identity, and purpose. It currently includes the Good Life, as well as a re-imagined Freshman Academy; student-generated engineering podcasts; and presentations by USC Viterbi students to local 6 – 12 schools.

The Good Life and other projects and courses add a humanities-based quality to a USC Viterbi education, Engineering in Society Director Steve Bucher said. “With the EiS program, we hope to have a unique curricular and extra-curricular presence in the Viterbi academic culture,” he said. “Students need opportunities like ‘Good Life’ as part of their intellectual and ethical development.

“While we can’t necessarily teach them to always make the right choices, we can show through offerings like this that such discussions have value in the education of an engineer,” he added.

Adam Novak, a junior double majoring in computer science and East Asian languages and cultures, and president of Shift SC, a new club that promotes “human-centered and socially responsible technology,” said he considered the Good Life a great addition to USC Viterbi’s extracurricular offering.

“I found this incredible. These are exactly the kinds of discussions we need more of,” he said. “We can learn from each other, and I find it so inspiring to hear everyone’s thoughts on technology and its role in the world.”

Published on April 29th, 2022

Last updated on April 29th, 2022

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