Exploring Humanitarian Engineering opportunities

​​Dr Lauren Gardner with the teamDr Lauren Gardner (CVEN) recently spent two weeks in Nepal as an academic mentor for Engineers Without Borders' Humanitarian Design Summit. The Summit gives students the opportunity to meet people in the local community, but also students and academics from different universities in Australia and internationally. At the same time, they gain leadership skills, an international experience and an appreciation for the role of human-centred design and technology in creating positive change in communities.A student with a local boy

The Design Summit is a potential opportunity for both staff and students who have an interest in or curiosity about humanitarian engineering. Applications for the next summit are open now, closing on 2 September, with trips going to Nepal, India and Cambodia this December.

Also on the trip was PhD student Laura Montano Luna, supported by New Colombo Plan funding. "The role of an academic mentor is to provide support to the students during the design process based on our engineering experience and critical thinking," says Laura, "But I was also a student with the opportunity to learn about humanitarian engineering while embracing new cultural experiences."

Groups of about fifteen students, guided by two or three mentors from EWB, industry or academia, work on developing solutions for needs they identify in the local community.

On this trip, the students started with a few days in Kathmandu for orientation, learning about local culture, human centred design and what kinds of contributions they could make to communities in Nepal, before being split into smaller groups to spend a week or so in different communities, hosted by an EWB community partner.

The most valuable about the trip is the hands-on interaction and relationship building with the students...

Dr Lauren Gardner

Supported by translators, the students get to know the community, its strengths, priorities and needs, and work to identify a need that they could help to address. The students develop simple, sustainable, low-tech designs, prototype them, and present them to the community for feedback.

The program is not really intended to make a lasting impact in the community – it is an educational program above all else, and a unique cultural immersion experience for the students who participate. In the longer term, the experience might spark an interest in humanitarian engineering that a student will follow through on in the future.

When asked what she found most valuable about the trip, Lauren said, "I think the hands-on interaction and relationship building with the students, which I don't always get in my large classes". She also found the unique experience of living with a family and engaging with their community to be just as valuable for her as it was for the students.

"Meeting the other mentors, who were academics and professional mentors from all over the world and all disciplines of engineering was also very rewarding," she says.

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