In today’s Insights, we are delighted to hear from Marie Stettler Kleine, Lake Institute’s 2020 Lake Institute Doctoral Dissertation Fellowship recipient. We asked her to share about her research and experience studying how engineers give their time, expertise, and dollars to “do good” and how their religious and secular values impact the forms of their philanthropic practice on the ground.
Describe your project and how you became interested in this topic.
I study how and why engineers “do good.” My project compares this alternative mode of engineering at three universities—Baylor University, Colorado School of Mines, and the University of San Diego—a Baptist, public, and independent Roman Catholic university, respectively. I study how religious and secular values impact what “doing good” means and looks like at these institutions. I became interested in this topic as an undergraduate engineering student myself, working on a communal latrine project in Ghana. I began asking questions about why engineers participate in this work and the kinds of change engineers wanted to make, and then went to go explore these very questions in the Science and Technology Studies Ph.D. program at Virginia Tech.
How does your work connect with faith and philanthropy?
I study how engineers give their time, expertise, and sometimes dollars to “do good.” I am also interested in how engineers’ values, particularly their individual religious or secular values impact what this form of philanthropy looks like on the ground. I think that while my research fits squarely within Lake Institute’s work at the intersection of faith and philanthropy, there are also some aspects of my research, like the study of engineers’ professionalization that brings something new to the Lake Institute community. I think that is what is wonderful about interdisciplinary spaces like Lake Institute. While Lake Institute brings people with common interests together, everyone brings something unique to the intersection of faith and philanthropy.
What have you been most surprised by in your research?
I have been surprised by how many people are interested in contributing to and learning about the “common good” but address this interest in radically different ways based on their individual and institutional positionality. The engineers I study and learn from are interested in my research findings. Similarly, I have found great conversation partners and potential collaborators in scholars of philanthropy, humanitarianism, religion, development, engineering education, and science and technology studies, along with historians and anthropologists. It has been fun to be engaged in both scholarly and practitioner-oriented conversations in all these domains.
What seems most relevant to your work at present, especially in 2020?
I am incredibly grateful to have completed my dissertation fieldwork before 2020. The practical parts of the work that I am doing have not changed too much, as the plan was to spend most of 2020 writing. However, the engineers that I study are engaged in incredibly timely issues, and I have seen increasing dialogue amongst these “engineers for good” regarding how they can combat COVID-19 and become part of the larger conversation about racial inequality and injustice in this country.
How did you hear about our fellowship? What would you suggest to someone who might want to apply?
I became familiar with the Lilly Family School of Philanthropy through my time interning in philanthropy at what is now Saleforce.com. Since then, and because my work continued to be focused on religious values and humanitarianism, I learned of Lake Institute. Throughout my graduate studies, I kept the Lake Dissertation Fellowship in mind, especially as I finalized a timeline to defend. For those that might want to apply but are unsure of whether their research fits within the Lake Institute’s vision for the Dissertation Fellow, I would encourage you to go and look through the past participants of the award. I think that you will find that the fellowship recipients have quite a diverse range of research interests, methods, theoretically framings, and disciplinary training. I hope this diversity encourages those that might otherwise hesitate to apply—know that Lake Institute is an equally diverse community of scholars and practitioners at the intersection of faith and philanthropy interested in supporting your work.
What’s next for soon-to-be Dr. Kleine?
I plan to defend my dissertation in December, and then I will be a Post-doctoral Fellow at the Colorado School of Mines continuing my research and helping to develop graduate-level humanitarian engineering curriculum. I look forward to continuing my research with and of engineers that are dedicated to making sustained, impactful, and positive change. Thanks so much to Lake Institute for supporting my work during this crucial time in my graduate studies, making these next steps possible.
by David P. King, Ph.D.
At the School of Philanthropy, we most often define philanthropy as “voluntary action for the public good.” Yet there are always inherent complications and contradictions when private interest meets public needs. As Marie Stettler Kleine’s research demonstrates, not only should we be concerned with the how and the why people donate, volunteer, or serve, but also more deeply, what does it mean to “do good?” Kleine notes her surprise in how many people frame their humanitarian efforts as working toward the common good even if they may radically differ on what they mean.
How would you define the common good? Today, the nature of philanthropy in democratic societies has become a central topic in the midst of growing inequality and debates over what constitutes a just society. The thinkers and doers inside philanthropy describe it in many forms. Through our education and training, research and scholarship, and public conversations, Lake Institute has sought to open up these questions as our work intersects with faith, philanthropy, and the future of American communities.
Philanthropic scholars, fundraisers, and nonprofit leaders miss the larger point if they are only focused on the motivations of donors and mechanics of giving. Philanthropy is rooted in humanistic inquiry sustained across multiple traditions as they differ across historical, geographical, political, cultural, and religious contexts. And for our purposes at Lake Institute, the intersections of faith and giving are ideal locations to explore the nature of philanthropy as the vital future of civil society.
Some imagine a foundation grant or an individual donor’s major gift. Others would include the change dropped into a Salvation Army red kettle or the tithes placed in the offering plate. Still, others might think about the online crowdfunding for a local grassroots advocacy organization or the public-private partnership of a billionaire seeking to mass produce a Covid-19 vaccine. Whether described as philanthropy and charity, giving and volunteering, or even generosity and prosocial behavior, these collective practices have long played a key role in our communities on local, national, and global scales.
Of course the intersections of faith and giving are complex. Examining the ideologies, practices, and critiques of religion, philanthropy and their roles within society is not easy. Yet, the effort would lead to a fuller picture of philanthropy with new voices and actors present to expand who counts as a philanthropist and what counts as a philanthropic practice. It would help us to explore how these traditions have conceptualized the common good in the past. It would also provoke scholars and practitioners to a new imagination in order to address the adaptive challenges religious institutions must face in working together for the common good in the present.
Insights, a bi-weekly e-newsletter, is a resource for the religious community and fundraisers of faith-based organizations that provides:
- Reflections on important developments in the field of faith and giving
- Recommended books, studies and articles
- Upcoming Lake Institute events