Global Engineering: A Holistic Approach

Dr. Annette Berndt, an English professor from the University of British Columbia (UBC) in Vancouver, Canada, visited Rose-Hulman on Friday, March 14th, to present her new interdisciplinary curriculum inspired by the inroads of engineering education that the Engineers Without Borders (EWB) chapter at UBC has paved. EWB-UBC chapter took different approaches to the communities in the global south than EWB at Rose-Hulman. They seek overseas connections in Africa by providing plans for small local businesses and occasionally sending short-term volunteers to Africa to support ventures in researching, testing, or expanding their projects, whereas EWB-RHIT focuses on designing and directly implementing sanitation projects.

Prior to her presentation, three current and past executive members (Jung, Marcel, and Nate) of EWB-RHIT gave her a campus tour and shared their appreciation of the valuable learning experience gained through participation in EWB and the unique learning environment provided by Rose-Hulman. She was very amazed by the small class sizes at Rose-Hulman, as she commented that she could hardly ever see classes with 35 students or less.

During her presentation, she explored various concepts and changing definitions of “global engineering” against a backdrop of professional Codes of Ethics, accreditation criteria, and teaching theories, which have conveyed traditional bracketing of the narrowly technical domain from its social contexts. She emphasized the idea of the global/holistic engineer, as she quoted “the engineer of the future applies scientific analysis and holistic synthesis to develop sustainable solutions that integrate social, environmental, cultural, and economic systems” from Dr. Amadei, the founder of EWB-USA. To illustrate her theory on global and holistic engineering, she designed a course known as Applied Science 263: Technology and Development, which evolved from an EWB-UBC seminar back in 2001.

The course was aimed at tackling sociotechnical problems occurring in several underdeveloped regions in India. For example, an artisanal community in India was facing challenges including the insufficient use of indigo dyes and low efficiency of kilns used to handcraft bells. A variety of majors including music, international relations, economics, fine arts, and engineering joined the effort to build a small business model for the community and draft a kiln design that was eventually approved by a technical committee of professors in UBC.

Chris Prychon, a 2011 mechanical engineering major from UBC, commented, “This course lets you take a step back and remind yourself why you became an engineer.”

The article on Global Engineering and course descriptions can be found at Global Engineer [pdf]

-Article written by Jung Fang