Critical Innovation Studies


As universities define their missions in terms of innovation, it is imperative that students explore its cultural, historical, and political meaning. My courses ask how innovation became a dominant frame for knowledge work across the arts, design, engineering, humanities, and natural and social sciences. For this work, I received Virginia Tech’s 2014 XCaliber Award.

I developed the course Innovation in Context with my former student Kari Zacharias. The course invites students from all disciplines to critically analyze the ideals and practices of innovation, introduces them to the STS toolkit, improve team-based skills, and instill methods of self-reflection. Innovation in Context is the introductory class to an interdisciplinary minor in Innovation, a collaboration among STS, Engineering Education, Pamplin College of Business, ICAT, and the Provost’s Office.

Science and Technology Studies

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My repertoire of STS courses includes Engineering Cultures, a class about how engineers contextualize the world as they change it and it changes them. Course modules travel around the world, examining how what counts as an engineer and engineering knowledge has varied over time and across place. I also have taught classes on the history of technology, material culture, and modern American utopias.

At the graduate level, I have taught our history of science survey course, and with my colleague Sonja Schmid, I co-designed our department’s Intro to STS seminar. Additionally, I offer advanced courses in the history of science and technology such as Progress and Decline: Normative Visions of Technology.

Human Centered Design

I was a co-founder of the Human Centered Design (HCD) interdisciplinary graduate program (IGEP). Directed by Steve Harrison, HCD is a graduate certificate program that cuts across three colleges at Virginia Tech. It is also a key pathway for anyone interested in Virginia Tech’s individualized interdisciplinary doctorate. Students take courses in clusters of “design studies,” “understanding people,” and “design realization.” My contributions include Origins of Innovation and Interdisciplinary Cultures of Design.

Graduate Advising

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I have had the good fortune of mentoring talented PhD students across a range of topics. Recent PhD recipients include Dr. Kari Zacharias, an ethnographer of interdisciplinarity; Dr. Justin Shanks, who studied the history of technology-enhanced pedagogy; Dr. Jongmin Lee, whose dissertation on the role of scientists and engineers in the EPA blended environmental history, engineering studies, and science & technology policy; and Dr. Monique Dufour who works at the intersections of the history of science, the medical humanities, and history of reading. Dr. Zacharias is currently an assistant professor at Concordia University, Montreal; Dr. Shanks is a postdoctoral fellow at Montana State University; Dr. Lee is currently an Assistant Professor at the University of Science and Technology, Korea; and Dr. Dufour is Virginia Tech’s first Collegiate Assistant Professor.

My goal as an advisor is to work intensely with students to connect their interests to emergent areas of STS scholarship and identify careers that serve their strengths. Current projects include a history of engineering expertise in Korean damn-building, and an exploration of religious values in humanitarian design.