Implementing Social Justice Projects in Thermal System and Mechanical Design Courses

This project is a continuation of an ongoing curricular reimagining project designed to integrate social justice into a thermal systems design course and a machine design course, both taught within the Mechanical Engineering Department. We are passionate about this work because we know that our engineering students will eventually have a far-reaching impact on human lives, which presents unique potential, responsibilities, and accountability to society. To develop engineers' understanding of this potential and responsibility, we believe that discussions of social justice need to be integrated at multiple junctures through the engineering curriculum, especially in the spaces deemed purely technical.

Our Team

Emily Wannenmacher

Student Researcher

Third-Year Mechanical Engineering Major

Focus: Thermal System Design Course Group

Jaxon Silva

Student Researcher

Fourth-Year Liberal Arts and Engineering Studies Major

Focus: Thermal System Design Course Group

Erin Moss

Student Researcher

Fourth-Year Mechanical Engineering Major

Minor in Ethics, Public Policy, Science, and Technology

Focus: Mechanical Design Course Group

Yumi Aguilar


Fourth-Year Industrial Engineering Major

Minors in Psychology and Gender, Race, Culture, Science & Technology

Focus: Mechanical Design Course Group

Victoria Siaumau

research team manager

Cal Poly Alumni, BA in Comparative Ethnic Studies / BS in Child Development

Minor in Psychology

Focus: Mechanical Design Course Group

Thermal System Design Course - Fall 2020, Spring 2021

Jennifer Mott Peuker

Mechanical Engineering

A proud graduate of Cal Poly Mechanical Engineering program, Dr. Mott returned to teach at Cal Poly in 2014. Dr. Mott has a love for thermodynamics (and social justice), especially in the areas of sustainability and energy usage in buildings. She has a passion for working with students and supporting each student as they need to be supported. Her door is always open to discuss life, struggles, successes and class work.

Mechanical Systems Design Course - Spring 2021, Summer 2021

Lauren Cooper

Mechanical Engineering

Dr. Cooper, an alumni of Colorado School of Mines and the University of Colorado Boulder, has a passion for mechanical engineering, human centered design, and engineering education. She is dedicated to developing a curriculum that emphasizes sociotechnical thinking and social justice topics alongside technical content, specifically within her Mechanical Systems Design course. 


  • We would like to thank the Northrup Grumman Foundation for sponsoring our project and the Cal Poly College of Engineering Summer Undergraduate Research Program for providing us with the opportunity to work on this project.
  • We would like to thank our faculty advisors, Dr. Jennifer Mott and Dr. Lauren Cooper, for their guidance and advice throughout the project.
  • We would also like to thank Dr. Jane Lehr for participating in our weekly Learning Together discussions.

Project Video

Our Project's Digital Posters

Thermal System Design Course Group

Mechanical Design Course Group

Learning Together Discussions Bibliography

Cech, E. (2020, September). Understanding Engineering Education Culture. [Video]. 

Crenshaw, K. (2016, October). The urgency of intersectionality. [Video]. TED

Dyer, R. (2016). The Matter of Whiteness. (P. Rothenberg, Ed.). Rachel Losh.

Ong, M. (2005). Body Projects of Young Women of Color in Physics: Intersections of Gender, Race, and Science. Social Problems, 52(4), 593–617.

Pauley, A. (2021). Thinking about Racism in Engineering Education in New Ways. Technology and Society.

Riley, D. (2012). Engineering thermodynamics and 21st century energy problems a textbook companion for student engagement . Morgan & Claypool.

Riley, D. (2017). Rigor/Us: Building Boundaries and Disciplining Diversity with Standards of Merit. Engineering Studies, 9(3), 249-265.

Saetermoe, C.L., Chavira, G., Khachikian, C.S. et al. Critical race theory as a bridge in science training: the California State University, Northridge BUILD PODER program. BMC Proc 11, 21 (2017).

Subramaniam, B. (2000). Snow Brown and the Seven Detergents: A Metanarrative on Science and the Scientific Method. Women’s Studies Quarterly, 28(1/2), 296–304.

Tulshyan, R. and Burey, J. A. (2021). Stop Telling Women They Have Imposter Syndrome. Harvard Business Review.

Vitores, A., & Gil-Juárez, A. (2016). The trouble with ‘women in computing’: a critical examination of the deployment of research on the gender gap in computer science. Journal of Gender Studies, 25(6), 666–680.


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