By: Eli Freund, Editorial Communications Manager, UConn School of Engineering
Launched in 2012, The Engineering for Human Rights Initiative between the School of Engineering and the UConn Human Rights Institute is an opportunity for engineering students to immerse themselves in the world of human rights, through research and classroom time, with a focus in risk management, climate resiliency, life-cycle analysis, impact assessment, and several other synergistic topic areas.
Kevin Musco, who graduated from the School of Engineering in May, with a dual degree in Electrical Engineering and Human Rights, shared why he joined the program, and how a focus in human rights can help engineers.
At the conclusion of my first year at UConn, I realized that while engineering was an incredibly deep field of study, there were so many other disciplines to delve into. Picking up a minor in human rights made the most sense; it was as multidisciplinary as anything else offered, and I knew it was a hotbed issue in political and social spectrums.
My first ever human rights course was “Assessment for Human Rights and Sustainability”, taught by Professor Shareen Hertel (ENGR/HRTS 3257). Being an engineering course, I expected it to similar to other math-heavy classes and require lots of formulas and problem sets. It ended up being rigorous in a totally different way; we learned about different environmental and social factors and how they were being tackled using a human rights framework. Professor Hertel and Professor Allison MacKay, from Ohio State University (the course was jointly taught live with OSU) spoke of various NGOs and other actors working to mitigate these issues.
After my exceptional experience in that joint course, I expanded my academic horizon to include business administration, philosophy, history, english, economics, film studies, and political science courses, all though a human rights lens. After a few semesters, I was so enamored with the study that I declared a dual degree, and it was truly one of the best decisions I made during my undergraduate career at UConn.
I graduated with a Bachelor of Science in Electrical Engineering and a Bachelor of Arts in Human Rights, both in May 2019.
I considered entering the engineering job market immediately out of undergrad, but after careful consideration I realized that service would better align with my ultimate career goals. My plan is to attend law school starting in the Fall of 2020, and my gap year will be spent working directly with students in underserved schools in Miami, Florida with City Year through Americorps. For the moment, I’m spending my days studying for the LSAT, which I’ll take on July 15th.
Law school has always been of interest, as I have a few cousins who are practicing attorneys. However, the interest became a solidified goal when I took Constitutional Rights and Liberties with Professor Virginia Hettinger last Fall. We studied landmark Supreme Court cases and their subsequent impacts on American society, which opened my eyes to the pivotal effects judges can have, and sitting on a federal bench immediately became my career goal.
This is a challenging question to answer. I think most people familiar with engineering would consider a formal study of it to be almost entirely vocational; they might see it as a means to an end (obtaining a job). But with human rights, there is no jointly associated profession that immediately comes to mind. Rather, a study of human rights truly changes one’s subconscious to ask more questions of the world around us and how we effect it.
These sorts of questions arise all the time, but can be to engineering problems related to the environment (“Is the component I’m designing going to be manufactured in a particularly hazardous way?”), manufacturing (“Are there companies in my supply chain which use unethical labor practices, such as child labor?”), cybersecurity, global health, access to electricity, and so much more.
Some may counter that it is not the role of a practical engineer to care about these sorts of larger issues, but I would contend that all engineers are working to better humanity, no matter how far-fetched it may seem. Regardless, a human rights education forces the learner to approach their world from a very broad perspective, and I believe this change in mindset could have a huge impact on future innovation.
For me, studying human rights has increased my ability to view people, cultures, and places previously unfamiliar in a much more objective manner. We all form biases based on our unique experiences, but I believe there is great value in approaching certain topics without a mindset full of emotion and preconceived notions. Of course, emotion serves a very important purpose; it is a mechanism by which we earn trust, gain respect, and prove our interest in something. But too much emotion can cause us to be short sighted and narrow minded, especially when we attempt to engage with people of differing backgrounds.
In relation to law, I strongly believe that my human rights education will strengthen my ability to represent clients. People are immensely complicated, and finding solutions to problems where multiple parties are in dispute requires an ability to look both narrowly and broadly at the information presented, which my education has sharpened.
The field of human rights offers something for everyone. For those who currently study the natural or applied sciences, concepts from human rights can be applied to “humanize” subjects which otherwise lack a prominent social aspect. People who are more interested in the humanities or social sciences can broaden their mental horizons and apply their work to this relatively new and rapidly developing field. Regardless, all who engage with human rights in an academic sense will have an advantage in modern political discussion, as universal rights will undoubtedly come up during the election process.
For more information on the Engineering for Human Rights Initiative, please visit: https://engineeringforhumanrights.uconn.edu.