Ethical Issues in Engineering:
Engineers are always trying to solve problems to improve people’s lives. As a result, a major ethical issue that arises is the question of, “Is this solution the doing the most good for the most amount of people?” Of course there are innumerable factors that make a solution helpful or detrimental to the people it is going to serve, however, in relation to my study aboard experience, I have come to find that culture plays a huge role in the process of solution development. For example, many of the learning experiences on this trip revolved around how smartphones and technology have been used to solve the problems caused by the expansive population in China. Since many people do not have the means to transport groceries or other goods to and from their apartments, they rely on e-commerse sites to ship things they need right to their doorstep. E-commerse companies have recognized that most of their users cannot afford laptops or desktop computers and therefore to develop the best solution to meet their consumers’ needs, they have invested money into developing mobile friendly websites. These companies have even taken it one step further and incorporated cultural preferences, such as crowded and colorful displays, into their sites.
Having the opportunity to learn about innovations like these in China has made me aware that engineers must have a thorough understanding of the culture of the area where a particular problem arises. I think this conscientiousness is important because it humanizes the problem at hand; problems are not black and white, but rather they’re colored by the experiences of the human condition. Therefore the solutions engineers develop have to be tailored to meet the needs of another human being whose life may be worlds apart from the engineer’s.
Educational Breadth as Personal Development:
I think its important to make oneself uncomfortable in order to grow as an individual. I am constantly amazed by the underlying connections that mysteriously link our world especially when it comes to engineering. However, in order to recognize such connections, an individual has to educate him/herself is many different areas of study. As an engineer, this is not necessarily something I have the privilege of doing as most of my studies consist of math and science classes. That being said, this trip was very important to me as I believe it significantly helped me to understand the value of experimental learning.
Anyone can read about a particular topic to learn about it. For example, I took a class on religion and culture in East Asia. Therefore, going to China I was familiar with many aspects of Chinese culture and could recite the facts I had learned and even explain things I saw once I was there. But I don’t think I truly understood what I had learned until I experienced it. I could explain the precepts of confucianism and taoist values, but it wasn’t until I actually got to China that I saw how these cultural/religious aspects are deeply intertwined in their culture, from the artwork displayed in Chinese universities inscribed with messages urging the importance of learning from literature (a confucian value) to the design of commoner’s homes in a way that harmonizes with the natural world (a major principle in taoism).
Study abroad opened my eyes to just how big the world is and how important it is to develop a sense of cultural empathy. I think now more than ever it is important that people make an effort to understand each other cross-culturally instead of making specious judgements. And sometimes you can’t fully understand a culture just from reading about it; you have to be willing to place yourself in a foreign environment and engage in learning through observation. Professionally, I think this skill is going to pay off as a working engineer. Learning to understand and appreciate another culture is going to help be develop better the best possible solutions for the problems I tackle.
Lifelong Learning and Continuing Education as Professional Development:
It’s no secret the the world and the technology we use are constantly changing and evolving. I think that any professional must practice critical thinking throughout their career and constantly ask themselves questions like “Are my thinking and views still applicable in today’s society?” And I think the best way to evaluate one’s perspective in relation to the outside world is to stay updated on current events and breakthroughs. For me as an engineer, this involves constantly learning and reading about technological advancements. This would be especially important if I were living in a place like China where some of the most rapid development in the world occurs. Seeing the booming success of the smartphone industry in China has made me realize that change occurs so quickly its almost impossible to rely on a set knowledge base for one’s entire career and one must be constantly learning to stay competitive in his/her field.
The Social Environment of Professional Life:
I think, like most of my peers on the trip, the differences between the social environments between Cheetah Mobile and TE Connectivity were very different. While Cheetah Mobile worked hard to maintain a welcoming work space by including elements like a daycare, workout facilities, and activities for stress relief, TE Connectivity seemed strictly focused on productivity and less on employee happiness. Although these companies are in different fields and TE Connectivity was more factory based, I still think its important to work somewhere where you feel valued and are treated more like an individual rather than just a member of a company. For example, I wonder if the ever serious workspace at TE Connectivity makes factory workers less inclined to do their job thoroughly. Therefore, does this result in products not being thoroughly checked and poor quality control? It’s hard to answer but something I definitely think should be considered from both the viewpoint of the employee and employer.
Furthermore, being a women in engineering presents additional social challenges. When we were touring the TE Connectivity factory and I was walking with a group of my male peers, one of the tour guides asked if we were engineers only looking at and addressing the males in the group. It was a small nuisance but it made me consider the type of environment I might have to work in one day at an engineering company. For women, I feel like companies like Cheetah Mobile, with a daycare and breastfeeding rooms, present a much more productive social environment.
Functioning of Multidisciplinary Teams:
Before Plus3, I can’t say I had much experience working in a group with students outside of engineering. It was interesting having the opportunity to work with business students who had knowledge about subjects I hadn’t even heard of before. The biggest takeaway I got from working in a multidisciplinary group was that it requires a lot of trust. Since I knew nothing about business or economics, I relied solely on my business student group mates to explain things like a SWOT analysis to me. That being said, I think it would give one a great professional advantage if an individual were to have a thorough understanding of both engineering and business concepts. An individual with this ability would be a powerful member of a multidisciplinary team because he/she could help facilitate conversation between members on the team who have solely an engineering or business background.
It is hard for me to imagine that any major innovation or company comes to be without the work of a multidisciplinary team. Like I mentioned earlier, our world is so interconnected that it would be impossible to create smart, helpful products and services without input from individuals in multiple disciplines. I think Chinese website design is a good example of this notion. Perhaps professionals in information sciences gathered data on the widespread use of e-commerse in China. Maybe sociologists noted the aesthetic properties most preferred in Chinese culture. Using this information companies were founded were computer engineers or computer science professionals constructed a user-friendly website and business professionals worked to improve the logistics, marketing, and financial management of the company.
Some Final Thoughts:
Plus3 was an unforgettable experience. I think it presented countless, unique learning experiences that I never would have had acquired in a classroom. I am grateful for having the privilege the study abroad and for all the amazing memories and friends I made on this trip. I also want to thank the Asia Institute for their incredibly well run and educational program. Additionally, I want to thank Dr. Li and Jordan. I know they did a lot of hard work behind the scenes to make sure the program run smoothly and I think every single student on the trip truly appreciated their efforts.
I’m so appreciative that I had the opportunity to travel to China with Pitt’s Plus3 program and would do it all again if I had the opportunity!