Engineering with purpose

Teaching a family about water

CVEN Senior Lecturer, Dr Fiona Johnson is one of the driving forces behind the Faculty’s much anticipated humanitarian engineering course intent on meeting the growing demand for more ethics-focussed engineering practice to support the emerging development of both national and international communities.

A new multidisciplinary course called Fundamentals of Humanitarian Engineering is planned for delivery to interested third year students across the Faculty from 2018. The course will centre on authentic real world problems and how to create the best engineering solutions to further the wellbeing and welfare of communities and groups in disadvantaged circumstances all over the globe.

As the Faculty is already actively involved with international non-profit organisations Engineers without Borders (EWB) and Engineering World Health (EWH), the school’s commitment to offer a humanitarian engineering course is the logical next step. The program will be structured to allow undergraduate students to develop their capabilities in humanitarian engineering as part of their degree. Johnson contends, “They will develop skills to help them deal with environments and contexts outside standard engineering scenarios, in terms of identifying need, resources and constraints, while considering the needs and sensitivities of the communities they are working with.”

While engineers have important roles to play in terms of the way that they can solve these types of logistical challenges, the community needs to be engaged in the process.

Dr Fiona Johnson - Senior Lecturer

Johnson explains that humanitarian engineering is a human-centred approach that focuses on two main areas: disaster response and preparedness, and long-term sustainable community development. “It is important to remember that there is a community behind the need. While engineers have important roles to play in terms of the way that they can solve these types of logistical challenges, the community needs to be engaged in the process. They are essential to its short-term success and long-term sustainability.” Johnson says.

She says the concepts of “appropriate technology” and “capacity building” are a fundamental part of the new course. They provide context in the planning and design of infrastructure and technology in areas such as water and waste management, energy supply and distribution, and assistive technologies. Students will learn through case studies, guest lectures, workshops and project work that illustrate humanitarian engineering principles.

It is envisaged that in the future, projects will be offered across a majority of engineering schools, drawing on support from other disciplines, centres and partnerships including the Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences, the Institute for Global Development, Nura Gili and UNSW’s involvement in the PLuS Alliance partnership. Humanitarian Engineering projects can be aligned across the Faculty to pool together a broad range of engineering expertise. Faculty-wide participation means projects have the potential to be informed by a multitude of engineering disciplines from civil, mechanical and electrical through to chemical, biomedical and renewable energy.

First year students keen to get started have the option of enrolling in the EWB Challenge offered as part of the first year ENGG1000 course where the top four projects are considered for implementation in the EWB partner community.

For more information visit the Civil Engineering Desk at UNSW’s Open Day - Saturday 2 September 2017.

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