My research history has been at the intersection of engineering systems and public policy. As an environmental engineering undergraduate at Howard University, I first became interested in the intersection of engineering and policy during a lecture on environmental justice by Prof. Kimberly Jones, now the department chair of civil engineering. As I came closer to graduating and was weighing my options for graduate study, Prof. Taft Broome encouraged me to pursue study at the Department of Engineering and Public Policy (EPP) at Carnegie Mellon University. Carnegie Mellon was uniquely situated for preparing me to participate in research at this intersection—especially incorporating environmental and public health components. Not only was the engineering-policy nexus foundational to EPP training, but our proximity to the University of Pittsburgh allowed me to strengthen my dissertation research by being exposed in my coursework to fundamental public health disciplines such as epidemiology. Eventually, I completed my dissertation studying the question of whether the Stage II Disinfection Byproducts (DBPs) rule is adequately protective against the public health impacts of brominated DBPs.
That led me on a trajectory that expanded my interests in the intersection of public health and environmental engineering to also include infrastructure systems analysis. After a postdoctoral fellowship at Johns Hopkins, I began to investigate infrastructure resilience from a range of perspectives. To this point, my research methods had been primarily a combination of empirical simulation and statistical analysis. However, over the past several years, I’ve come to the position that characterizing infrastructure resilience requires a characterization of the networks of human actors owning/managing/operating infrastructure systems and using infrastructure services as stakeholders. This, in turn, led to an interest in the development of qualitative methods to create a theory called protocol driven resilience which describes the way infrastructure systems self-reorganize after being disrupted. Investigating protocol driven research involved case studies that were based, in part, on semi-structured qualitative interviews.
At the same time that my interest in qualitative methods to study infrastructure resilience was emerging, I also began to develop an interest in engineering education research, specifically engineering identity formation. I am currently engaged in my first engineering education project investigating the influence of engineer identity production in engineering judgments conveyed in writing. I find engineering identity particularly compelling because students who identify with the profession early in their professional trajectory persist in engineering studies and are more likely to enter the profession. However, the development of identity in pre-college students is strongly related to involvement in extracurricular, authentic engineering projects. I am personally interested in the present proposal because it takes this one step further: does participation in authentic environmental engineering projects promote development of environmental engineering identities. I think that investigating the processes that are involved is particularly important to building a culture of health because engaging pre-college students interested in engineering in public health could expand their capacity for building an organic culture of health and prepare them to enter public health professions.