Public defence in Water and Environmental Engineering, M.Sc. Meeri Karvinen

More support for early career university graduates to catalyse the societal sustainability transformation

Public defence from the School of Engineering, Department of Built Environment
Four students in front of a wall-sized image of a city map.
Picture: Janne Wikström

Title of the thesis: Supporting agency for sustainability: Exploring the contributions of universities and workplaces to the sustainability competencies and agency of engineering graduates

Doctoral student: Meeri Karvinen
Opponent: Professor Hannu Heikkinen, University of Jyväskylä, Finland
Custos: Associate Professor Marko Keskinen, Aalto University, School of Engineering, Department of Built Environment

More support for early career university graduates to catalyse the societal sustainability transformation

The global sustainability crisis requires urgent actions from all sectors and actors of the society. This dissertation focuses on how universities and workplaces support early career engineering graduates to act for sustainability. Graduates have a potential to catalyse the needed societal sustainability transformation, bringing new science-based insights from their education. However, when transitioning to the working life, graduates are challenged by the new social and cultural environment, which may create a threshold to act. The requested, active role of graduates also sets requirements for the education to integrate all the competencies necessary for employment, early career success, and sustainability contributions.

Based on this research, both universities and workplaces should pay more attention to how they support the sustainability efforts of graduates. The research shows that while the employers expect proactive and independent sustainability contributions, the graduates seem to lack understanding of how their work contributes to sustainability, as well as power to impact on sustainability.

As a result, a hybrid competency profile is suggested for engineering education, combining disciplinary expertise with comprehensive and future-oriented thinking, proactive mindset, and sufficient knowledge of sustainability. To educate for this profile, the dissertation recommends employing such pedagogical approaches that help students to understand their personal and disciplinary field's role in promoting sustainability, encourage critical reflection, and improve action orientation. The suggested profile and pedagogies require intensified support and training from the universities to the educators, and collaboration between the education, working life, and graduates to strengthen the role of graduates as catalysts of sustainability transformation.

The approach to the transition phase of graduates has remained underemphasized in sustainability and engineering education research. This dissertation thus brings a new perspective to the ongoing efforts of embedding sustainability in university education and opens a discussion on the need to also develop working life practices to support and utilise the sustainability knowhow of graduates. The focus of this research was on the Nordic universities and the water and environmental engineering field in Finland.

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