Empathy is the new black

Current education practices face a challenge when it comes to teach college students in the 21st century. Education is becoming more about excelling in a job rather than forming contributing agents of this world.  In fact, the evolution of social sustainability and responsibility in college students—empathy—does not change during students’ four years of college experience. Students often show a decrement on the social responsibility area by a decrease in the volunteering and community engagement activities in which students participate during college (Bielefeldt & Canney, 2016). Furthermore, when measuring levels of empathy among college students as measured by the four subscales of the Interpersonal Reactivity Index—perspective taking, fantasy, empathic distress, and empathic concern—engineering students show lower levels of empathy than other college students from other majors such as health care, social sciences, or humanities (Rasoal, Danielsson, & Jungert, 2012).

Different pedagogic approaches can help to teach students about empathy and community thinking. For example, role-playing community members during a mock city meeting, or asking students to interview those stakeholders that may be impacted by our work and write a reflection. When students shared their reflections with classmates can help them recognize multiple stakeholders needs (both direct and indirect) and empathize with stakeholder groups as part of their daily tasks. The 21st century brings many challenges, and moving towards collectivistic values, empathizing with others, will give strong resources to face them.



  • Bielefeldt, A. R., & Canney, N. E. (2016). Changes in the Social Responsibility Attitudes of Engineering Students Over Time. Science and Engineering Ethics, 22(5), 1535–1551.
  • Rasoal, C., Danielsson, H., & Jungert, T. (2012). Empathy among students in engineering programmes. European Journal of Engineering Education, 37(5), 427–435.