When Mental Walls Lead to Physical Walls: The US-Mexico Border Wall, Art, and Public Conversations about the Social Responsibility of Engineering

  • Madison May Macias Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering, Arizona State University
  • Peter Pohorily College of Integrative Sciences and Arts, Arizona State University
  • Jorge Morales Guerrero School of Sustainability, Arizona State University
  • Darshan M.A. Karwat The Polytechnic School, Arizona State University
Keywords: engineering, border wall, US-Mexico border wall, social responsibility, infrastructure, immigration


The fact that engineering is involved in highly political issues—from climate change caused by fossil fuel extraction to how we understand truth itself because of deepfakes—makes it imperative that we find new ways to highlight the crucial role that engineers and engineering play in shaping society, and new ways to hold engineers and engineering accountable.  We have designed, built, and installed an interactive art installation called When Mental Walls Lead to Physical Walls to generate public conversation about the social responsibility of engineers and engineering, using the US-Mexico border wall as a case study.  We find that the politically charged nature of the topic might make it difficult for attendees to speak directly to ideas of social responsibility.  At the same time, the installation provides opportunities for attendees to question, critique, and reflect on the effectiveness and impacts of the design of the border wall and the motivations engineers might have in working on this project.  With proper planning and execution, the installation can be used as a research tool to understand how diverse audiences—from engineering students to those who may not have any experience in engineering—understand the role of engineering in society.


Author Biographies

Madison May Macias, Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering, Arizona State University

Madison Macias is an Arizona native and undergraduate student earning her bachelor's degree in Mechanical Engineering with concentration in energy and environment. She works with local organizations to foster interest in STEM fields among girls in primary school. She enjoys studying the future of sustainable cities, green infrastructure and non-lethal solutions. 

Peter Pohorily, College of Integrative Sciences and Arts, Arizona State University

Peter Pohorily is a fourth generation Phoenix native, Peter presently studies at Arizona State University concentrating on Innovation in Society and Sustainability. After completing his undergrad studies, he will go on to earn his masters in Science and Technology Policy. Peter seeks work that dives into the most complex issues of the 21st century. He is interested in how to advance science and technology responsibly to better serve society, through innovative policy. Peter dedicates his time volunteering, and is passionate about engaging with local communities throughout Arizona and the world.

Darshan M.A. Karwat, The Polytechnic School, Arizona State University

Darshan M.A. Karwat is an unexpected academic, an aerospace engineer by training, with a background in combustion chemistry and sustainability ethics from the University of Michigan.  He is the lead of re-Engineered, an interdisciplinary laboratory focused on embedding environmental protection, justice, and peace in engineering.  Before coming to Arizona State University, he, as an AAAS Science and Technology Policy Fellow, worked at the US Environmental Protection Agency on climate change resilience and community-based air pollution monitoring, and then at the US Department of Energy as the Technical Lead of the Wave Energy Prize. 


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10 Mar 2020
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