People-first engineering

People-first Engineering graphic

Closing critical gaps and elevating all people

For us, people-first engineering is both a goal and a practice.

Through our people-first framework, Michigan Engineering is reimagining and reshaping what engineering can be – at Michigan and beyond – enabling all engineers to have a positive impact on the world and build a future that will elevate all people.

Our framework builds upon Michigan’s greatest strengths and is a blueprint for how we aspire to teach and practice engineering.

People-first engineering can only be fully achieved
when all three parts are present and fully activated.

Excellent engineering

A requirement for any top engineering school

At Michigan Engineering, we’re fortunate to have access to some of the strongest academic and research capabilities in the world, and we’re leveraging that strength to reimagine what engineering can be.

Our position as one of the top engineering schools is what enables us to advance our people-first principles from the conceptual to the practical. We empower our engineers with the fundamental technical and team building skills they need to truly transform our world.

Convergence of

Fostering a culture of collaboration

We leverage the University of Michigan’s full ecosystem of world-class schools to solve human problems on a global scale. On a campus with leading business, medical and liberal arts colleges, we share buildings with social scientists, auto manufacturers, doctors and artists. Our students and faculty draw upon critical insights, expertise and wisdom from across a wide range of academic disciplines. 

And with 11 top-ranked colleges and more than 100 top-ranked programs, the University of Michigan is the best possible environment for transformative integration across disciplines.

Equity-centered values
& global worldviews

Equipping engineers with human skills

We are committed to being a leader in equity-centered engineering. By equipping our engineers with the skills to understand problems from multiple perspectives, we can reevaluate established assumptions and rebuild systems to better serve all people

We strive to embed our equity-centered values in everything we do. We’re fostering conversations about justice, equity, diversity and inclusion among our students, faculty and staff. We’ve launched new courses and learning objectives focused on empathy, ethics, cultural awareness, race, ethnicity and bias. And we’re actively recruiting students, faculty and staff with diverse backgrounds.

Fundamentals in action

New U-M robotics undergraduate program to meet surging demand for roboticists

An inclusive-by-design degree program centers on how an embodied intelligence senses, reasons, acts and works with humans to establish a pipeline of people-first roboticists.

Teaching engineers to put people first

By comparing two disciplines, researchers will discover effects on inclusion and how students think about engineering.

Collaborative breakthroughs

Open-source patient model tops industry standard

Tested without needing hospitals to share data, the method for developing the model could speed further improvements in medical prediction tools.

‘It’s like you have a hand again’

An ultra-precise mind-controlled prosthetic.

Reevaluating established assumptions

‘Solving for equity’: A Michigan Robotics course flips the script on engineering ed

ASEE Prism magazine explores how linear algebra could level the playing field.

NextProf returns to University of Michigan as successful multi-institutional collaboration

This future faculty program developed by Michigan Engineering has expanded into a national partnership to diversify the next generation of academic leaders.


Stephen Forrest:

Engineering has enabled innovations throughout history, with the pace rapidly accelerated over the last several decades.

Lola Eniola-Adefeso:

Engineers have built up our physical and digital environment. They’ve expanded our understanding of health care and taken us beyond our world.

Cindy Chestek:

But the engineering of the past was mostly about being bigger, stronger and more efficient.

Elliot Soloway:

Historically, engineers have not been aware of the ways that the applications of their work have unwittingly impacted the distribution of wealth, power and privilege in society.

Lola Eniola-Adefeso:

We know there has been harm, safety systems designed with one body type in mind, facial recognition software that is inherently biased.

Stephen Forrest:

We have the ability, with our current knowledge, to look back and see how we could have done things better.

Grace Hsia:

There are better ways. We can reimagine what engineering can be.

Elliot Soloway:

We can reevaluate established assumptions, and rebuild systems to better serve all people.

Cindy Chestek:

To truly tackle this, we can’t just do more of what we’ve been doing.

Grace Hsia:

We have to work together across boundaries to intentionally close those gaps.

Stephen Forrest:

The next generation of engineers must be globally-minded thinkers who build and rebuild to improve the lives of all people.

Lola Eniola-Adefeso:

Here at Michigan Engineering, we have a unique environment to do things differently, and we’re leveraging that to set our sights on how engineering can elevate all people, not just some.

Why people-first engineering?

In 2021, we conducted research both internally with our own students, faculty and staff, and externally with peers and industry leaders to explore where the field of engineering is headed, and how education needs to get us there. 

Research partners: Huron Consulting Group, RF | Binder

Scope summary

  • Peer benchmarking
  • Media analysis
  • Surveys: sent to 1,744 peers and 367 recruiters  
  • In-depth interviews: Industry, College leadership, faculty, staff
  • Focus groups: Chairs/directors, faculty, PhDs, undergrads, first-years

The research identified:

  • Technical excellence and innovation will continue to be key attributes for leaders in engineering education and industry. 
  • The social impacts of engineering are also essential, but engineering education is less able to address this area. 
  • Prioritizing “people” and “humanity-focused” impact is the direction scientific leadership such as IEEE, ASEE and the NSF are headed.

Through that research, we refined our framework for doing and teaching engineering—one rooted in equity that leverages the strengths of our University of Michigan ecosystem and expertise.