Engineers have long been obligated to serve the public good, but the demands on engineers to make ethical and informed decisions have never been higher—nor more complex—in today’s rapidly changing, globalized, and technology-driven world. There is a pressing need for engineering professionals not only to maintain technical expertise, but also to demonstrate greater psychological, emotional, and ethical acuity in decision-making and design.
Funded by an Accelerator award from the Office of Public Engagement, this project aimed to build the capacities of engineering students and practicing engineers to be resilient and effective professionals, in order to better serve the public good. The project was a collaboration between Memorial University, Professional Engineering and Geoscientists of Newfoundland and Labrador (PEGNL), Safer Mindfulness Inc., and the Canadian Engineering Education Challenge (CEEC) initiative. We sought to 1) host a province-wide community dialogue about building resilience and mindfulness in the engineering profession and 2) to develop, pilot and evaluate a professional development training module for the engineering community that is grounded in the theory and practice of mindfulness.
Mindfulness is defined as the awareness that accompanies a state of open, non-judgmental attention, oriented to the present moment. Introducing mindfulness practices in a work context has been shown to improve leadership practices, employee well-being, workplace resiliency, self-awareness, and individual self-efficacy. Although mindfulness programs have been studied in various professional contexts, few initiatives exist that explore mindfulness in engineering. This project builds on groundwork laid with the support of a 2019 QuickStart grant.
In Phase 1 of the Accelerator project we hosted a 2-hr province-wide virtual consultation (workshop and focus group) on April 24th, 2020 with 26 registered members of Professional Engineers and Geoscientists Newfoundland and Labrador (PEGNL). Participants had an opportunity to discuss what resilience meant to them, and what professional development gaps exist around fostering resilience in a professional context. Participants were then introduced to the concept and practice of workplace mindfulness and to mindfulness in the engineering context through a 60-min presentation by Andrew Safer of Safer Mindfulness Inc. The presentation covered fundamental concepts and an introduction to some basic mindfulness practices. A half hour discussion followed, reflecting on the presentation and addressing mental health and well-being in the engineering workplace. Participants completed an online survey following the consultation that asked for feedback on the potential usefulness of a longer mindfulness-based professional development opportunity. On a scale of 1-7 (1=not useful at all; 7=extremely useful) participants rated the content of the workshop at an average of 6 ("Very useful") in terms of its potential usefulness to their professional development.
In Phase 2, and in partnership with Professional Engineers and Geoscientists NL (PENGL) we hosted 3 offerings of a 4-part lunchtime series "How to build professional resilience through mindfulness training" during June 2020, July 2020 and September 2020, which were open to engineering and geoscience professionals and students. Each workshop series was 4 hours in duration and counted towards informal PD hours under the PEGNL Professional Development program. Participants who attended all four sessions were awarded a certificate of completion.
The session topics were as follows:
Week 1: Navigating stress and uncertainty through mindfulness (1hr)
Week 2: How mindfulness can support innovation and problem-solving (1hr)
Week 3: Build more productive and respectful relationships with mindfulness (1hr)
Week 4: How to gain more control over digital distraction through mindfulness (1hr)
All sessions were conducted live remotely (and recorded).
Most participants were based in Newfoundland and Labrador, but some participated from elsewhere in Canada and the US. 193 people attended at least one session of the 3 offerings, and 84 participants received certificates of completion. Forty-nine responses were collected that gave feedback on the sessions.
Phase 3 collected overwhelmingly positive feedback from participants on the pilot: 80% of survey respondents (n=49) either agreed or strongly agreed with the statement "Overall the workshop series content was relevant to me on a professional level." Similarly, 79% of survey respondents (n=49) either agreed or strongly agreed with the statement "Overall the workshop series content was relevant to me on a personal level."
Phase 3 further proposed to refine the modules for "on demand" delivery for PENGL members, and to examine the potential to offer training modules in a national or inter-provincial context. This part of the project has been delayed mainly due to the ongoing pandemic but project collaborators are now actively discussing opportunities to continue the work beyond this pilot stage.
Safer Mindfulness Inc
Canadian Engineering Education Challenge
Professional, scientific and technical services Educational services