Emerald & HETL Outstanding Doctoral Research Awards

Winner's story

The 2023 winner of the Emerald and HETL Outstanding Doctoral Research Awards is Martha Elena Núñez López, whose groundbreaking work explored strategies for reforming education in sustainable development (ESD) within a higher education institution in Mexico.

Martha Elena Núñez López

Dissertation title: Supporting the sustainable development of Mexico: an investigation into the reorientation of an undergraduate industrial design curriculum
Institution: Tecnológico de Monterrey, Mexico
PhD obtained at: Birmingham City University

Under its five-year national development plan, the government of Mexico prioritises the need for quality education to make significant progress in economic and social development.

According to data from 2017, only 17% of students obtain their higher education in Mexico, which is the lowest among Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) countries. For her dissertation research, Martha Elena Núñez López explored ways to reorient the undergraduate Industrial Design curriculum to enhance education for sustainable development (ESD) at Tecnológico de Monterrey (TEC), a higher education institution in Mexico.

Recognising poverty as a significant barrier to higher education in Mexico, institutes like TEC provide various scholarships to prospective students. Dr. Núñez, who has had a longstanding affiliation with TEC, believes that scholarships are a powerful tool for enhancing access to higher education in Mexico. "I began my higher education study in Architecture as an undergraduate student at TEC in August 1994. I received a 90% scholarship to study at the University's high school and undergraduate programme in Architecture. Subsequently I gained a 100% scholarship for a Master of Science degree in Civil Engineering and Construction Management. In 2008 I was appointed as a full-time professor and Director of the Industrial Design Undergraduate's programme at TEC", she recounts.

The lack of emphasis on ESD poses yet another obstacle to Mexico’s sustainable development aspirations. Through her research, Dr. Núñez devised a practitioner-led and collaborative curriculum reformation process. This process encompasses three phases or cycles: (1) defining the scope of reform, (2) formulating curriculum interventions, and (3) reviewing changes through student focus groups.

An innovative aspect of the curriculum interventions was the creation of an online sustainable development learning space, facilitating the integration of traditional and contemporary digital learning methods. Furthermore, the focus groups actively solicited student feedback, encouraging reflection on the findings from these interventions.

The findings of Dr. Núñez’s research suggest that the incorporation of an online learning space and the adoption of collaborative feedback mechanisms significantly contributed to the stellar success of the curriculum reform. "The collaborative methods of the interventions, combined with the online learning space, inspired a creative and collaborative approach to educational change, resulting in the reorientation of the Industrial Design curriculum," observes Dr. Núñez.

In addition to aiding in the design of effective changes to ESD within the Industrial Design curriculum, Dr. Núñez’s research serves as a resounding affirmation of the power of collaborative, practitioner-led action in addressing sustainability challenges in Mexico. "The outcomes of the study exemplify the ability of practitioner-led action research to address complex problems across national and global sustainability agendas, involving the motivation and commitment of others in contributing to improving education for sustainable development in Mexico," Dr. Núñez concludes.


An innovative method to reform education for sustainable development in Mexico

Mexico’s five-year national development plan underscores the need for quality education to foster sustainable development.

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Title: What makes for successful collaboration with Indigenous people?

Background section: Mexico’s five-year national development plan underscores the need for quality education to foster sustainable development.

Study question: Timely reforms are essential for enhancing education for sustainable development (ESD) within Mexico's higher education system.

Methodology: The Roadmap of an Undergraduate's Industrial Design Curriculum Reform in Tecnológico de Monterrey

  • Determining the scope of reform
  • Formulating curriculum interventions
  • Reviewing changes through focus groups

Results: Highlights of the reformed curriculum

  • Online SD learning space
  • Collaborative approach
  • Reorientation of the Industrial Design curriculum

Key message: Online learning platforms for testing interventions and collaborative ways of review can help incorporate useful changes into the ESD curriculum of higher educational institutions in Mexico.

Supporting the Sustainable Development of Mexico: An Investigation into the Reorientation of an Undergraduate Industrial Design Curriculum

Martha Elena Núñez López, Tecnológico de Monterrey, Mexico; PhD obtained at Birmingham City University