Bridging the Gap Between Engineering and the Global World

Bridging the Gap Between Engineering and the Global World

A Case Study of the Coconut (Coir) Fiber Industry in Kerala, India

Shobha K. Bhatia, Jennifer L. Smith,
ISBN: 9781598296235 | PDF ISBN: 9781598296242
Copyright © 2008 | 58 Pages | Publication Date: 01/01/2008

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Over the last two decades, globalization has had a profound impact on how we view the world and its sustainability. One group of professionals that lies at the heart of sustainability is the engineers. Engineers are trained problem solvers, required to implement technical solutions and are at the forefront of the development of new technologies. Although engineers play a critical role in sustainability, traditional engineering programs typically only focus on the technocentric and ecocentric dimensions of sustainability, providing little training on the sociocentric dimension. With more and more interest in sustainability, it is becoming increasingly important to also provide engineers with an awareness of sociocentric issues and the necessary skills to address them.

The aim of this book is to provide engineering educators with a real-life case study that can be brought into existing courses to help bridge the gap between engineering and the global world. The case study focuses on how our engineering study of different natural plant fibers for soil erosion control led us to small villages in Kerala, India, where marginalized women workers often stand waste deep in water several hours a day, clean and beat coconuts by hand, and separate and spin coconut (coir) fibers into yarn by hand, for very low wages. The case study provides insight into the three dimensions of sustainability (technocentric, ecocentric, and sociocentric) and how they come together in a typical engineering problem.

Table of Contents

Reinforcing the Classroom
Natural Plant Fibers for Engineering Applications: Technocentric and Ecocentric Dimensions of Sustainability
The Coir Fiber Industry in Kerala, India: Sociocentric Dimension of Sustainability
Case Study

About the Author(s)

Shobha K. Bhatia, Syracuse University
Shobha K. Bhatia is Laura J. and L. Douglas Meredith professor and professor of civil and environmental engineering at Syracuse University in Syracuse, New York. She has made significant contributions to both engineering research and engineering education. Her engineering research has focused on the application of geosynthetics and natural materials in waste containment, road and building construction, and erosion control. She has more than 80 publications; has received funding from the National Science Foundation (NSF), the United States Environmental Protection Agency (USEPA), the New York State Department of Transportation (NYSDOT), and many other private organizations; has participated in national and international conferences; and has served in numerous capacities, such as vice president of the North American Geosynthetics Society (NAGS), member of the Technical Coordination Council (TCC), and member of the International Activity Council of the Geo-Institute of the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE). She has also been extensively involved in engineering education. She is codirector of the Women in Science and Engineering (WISE) initiative at Syracuse University. She has also been part of national initiatives to increase the number of women in leadership positions in academia through her projects funded from the NSF ADVANCE program. She played an important role in the NSF-funded Engineering Education Scholar Program, which was designed to prepare young faculty for academic careers. She is also the recipient of a NSF Faculty Achievement Award for Women for excellence in research and leadership in training future engineers and has received several national and international awards, including the International Network for Engineering Education and Research (iNEER) Award for Excellence in Fostering Sustained and Unique Collaborations in International Research and Education.

Jennifer L. Smith, State University of New York, College of Environmental Science and Forestry
Jennifer Smith is an assistant professor of construction management and wood products engineering at the State University of New York College of Environmental Science and Forestry (SUNY-ESF) in Syracuse, New York. She recently completed her MA degree in public administration from the Maxwell School of Syracuse University and a PhD degree in civil engineering from Syracuse University. Her engineering research has focused on characterizing geotextiles for use in filtration applications and the fundamental properties and performance of sustainable natural fibers, such as wood, straw, coconut, and jute for erosion control. In addition to taking courses in environmental economics and policy, her policy research has focused on the social impacts of natural fiber use, in particular how globalization can be used to create opportunities and sustain women coir workers in Kerala, India. She has more than 20 publications, several of which have received awards, and is a member of the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) Geo-Institute Committee on Geotechnics of Soil Erosion and the North American Geosynthetics Society (NAGS). She has 8 years of experience as a geotechnical engineer for local engineering firms and is a licensed professional engineer in New York. She currently teaches courses in sustainable construction and construction management.


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