vocate for human-centered engineering and even to serve as
boundary spanners in multidisciplinary teams.
As an entry point, engineering students at ASU can enroll in
a unique course, Introduction to Human Systems Engineering
(“HSE 101”), that situates content encountered in introductory
psychology classes within engineering contexts. This new
course offers potential to infuse psychological science into the
engineering mindset for a new generation of practitioners. As
part of a National Science Foundation funded project, researchers are evaluating the curriculum to study how HSE
instruction shapes students’ attitudes toward engineering and
psychology. One project, with IRB approval, surveyed convenience samples of students enrolled in HSE 101 or a parallel
engineering course (“EGR 101”) near the end of the semester.
Several questions elicited students’ perceptions of HSE goals,
methods, and utility. Preliminary analyses focused on freshman students with a stated intention to pursue a non-HSE
Unsurprisingly, many EGR 101 freshmen reported minimal knowledge of HSE. A few students were open-minded
but hinted that usefulness was limited to only “specific
applications of the engineering process.” In contrast, freshmen engineering majors enrolled in HSE 101 were better
able to define HSE and its relevance. For instance, one
student wrote “human systems engineering is the understanding of how technology relates to and affects humans. It
is how we interact, use, and better technology,” and that “it
broadens our understanding of what engineers do.” Another
engineering student responded that “HSE means learning
about human behavior and why we do certain things. Knowing this allows us to better understand how things work in
the world around us and how we can change things to
improve human life.” Finally, some students began to articulate empirical approaches such as “conducting experiments” and studies “to see if something can be made more
efficient for users.” That is, students recognized that HSE
can empower engineers to adopt a data-driven approach for
aligning engineering to human concerns. Engineers could
engage in research to gain “a better understanding of how a
person will physically or emotionally react” to a design.
Although this survey was preliminary, the responses were
suggestive of the benefits of HSE 101. Exposure to HSE
principles seemed to help students realize the value of
addressing human concerns. For students intending to pursue “traditional” engineering, HSE coursework might lead
to greater openness toward multidisciplinary teaming with
social scientists and for working on teams that include
end-users, SMEs, and stakeholders.
The solutions for many pressing challenges require engi-
neering innovations that are guided by a keen awareness of
human goals, needs, abilities, and limitations. Thus, for
societal issues like cybersecurity, ensuring water access, or
resilient infrastructure (NAE, 2017), a multidisciplinary ap-
proach is needed—problem-solvers must bridge engineer-
ing and psychology to make technological solutions that
actually work for people. HSE explicitly advocates for the
empirical application of psychological science to human-
centered engineering problems, and thus provides a valu-
able approach for multidisciplinary engineering teaming.
Across two narrative HSE cases, this article sought to exemplify these ideas while offering concrete lessons learned
that might facilitate multidisciplinary engineering teaming.
These lessons emphasized team formation processes that
proactively recruit diverse and boundary spanning members, and which encourage team members to discuss and
reconcile their distinct approaches and beliefs from the
earliest stages of teaming. In addition, these lessons highlighted the value of administrative support in facilitating
team success, as well as opportunities for team members to
learn from and teach each other.
Two potential strategies for enacting these lessons within
multidisciplinary HSE teams were outlined. One strategy uses
institutional centers to bring researchers and experts together in
a productive manner, and the other approach educates engineering students to approach psychology as a valuable component of engineering and problem-solving. These dual administrative and instructional approaches may be highly
generalizable. HSE at ASU is meaningfully located within the
Fulton Schools of Engineering, which necessarily shapes how
HSE faculty engage in research and teaching (e.g., grants and
student populations). These strategies, however, might be fruitfully replicated in other disciplines and departments. To build
a future in which multidisciplinary teams of engineers and
psychologists work together seamlessly, it makes sense to
consider both sides of the equation. At ASU, HSE education
might also help traditional undergraduate and graduate students in psychology further appreciate the powerful role of
technology in human behavior, and research centers such as
CHART can strive to recruit and inspire psychologists who
might not realize the essential value of their expertise for
solving engineering problems.
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