EWB UCD Branch has hugely successful 2014

Since the Engineers Without Borders UCD branch was set up at the beginning on this year, 2014, two main goals were set down:

  1. To encourage interest and involvement in science and engineering.
  2. To encourage consideration and discussion of the challenges facing sustainable engineering in both the engineering and wider community.

EWB UCD sees primary and secondary schools as a key place to promote engineering and science. We aim to do this through practical hands on applications of the fundamental principles. In one instance this was a Primary School workshop on energy transfer which took the form of building slingshot cars. The students were first encouraged to consider the different types of the energy that exists, how the cars would be powered, the role of friction etc., and then they were allowed to build and shoot the cars. The marrying of the basic theory with a focused and fun practical application not only gave a taste for the enjoyable aspects of engineering, but also offered a more rounded way for the students to understand the topic of the workshop.

A second workshop took place in a secondary school and was on the topic of water in the world, specifically water filtration. As the target group was older, the topic was slightly more complex. Still, the majority of the workshop consisted of the students attempting to procure and build their own filters. This stage was hindered by the real-world constraints of money, resources, politics and education in an attempt to simulate a real international market. Of course such a complex issue cannot be dealt with in any great depth in a single hour, but EWB believe that offering an interesting and fun taste of the engineering and science is what is important. Once students are interested, they will be able to investigate for themselves.

The important thing about the workshops we used is that they are all available on the internet. The free access to the material allows further investigation by interested teachers or students. As it was only our first year, EWB UCD haven’t yet created any workshops of our own. However, that will be a future target for the group.

One of the ways EWB UCD attempted to engage with the general student body was a competition aimed to promote sustainable design in collaboration with UCD Volunteers Overseas (UCDVO). The competition took the form of a single day design on the topic of disability in developing countries. The assessment criteria for the challenge were based on the EWB ethos on sustainable design:

  • The design should be economically viable.
  • The design should maximise the use of local resources.
  • The design should have minimal impact on the environment.
  • The design should consider the community for which it is designed.

The last point is in many ways the most important as social considerations influence all aspects of a design. For example, the economic viability of the design is not only the cost of the project, but also how it affects the economy of the target community. Will it create jobs? Will it promote industry? Or will it have some opposite effect? These considerations are crucial because when there is a positive social impact, the communities will have more of an incentive to work with the design and ensure its success. EWB UCD aims to promote this ethos through workshops and talks which actively involve the students.

The competition was a small event, but despite time limitations the results were excellent. The focus was the development of a learning environment for children with disability in Kisiizi in South West Uganda. Competitors were tasked with designing an interactive classroom for Kisiizi hospital, making use of information received from volunteers who have worked in Kisiizi in the past. Teams presented proposals on classroom layout for maximum interaction, table and seating design for both student comfort and safety, accessibility for wheelchairs, techniques for reducing social stigma and proposals for economic sustainability.

While this competition was dominated by engineering students, the goal for any future competitions would be to bring together multi-disciplinary teams. The insight gained by having students from diverse backgrounds working together would allow for a more comprehensive exploration of the problem at hand.

A key issue with any design challenge based away from the target community is the difficulty in contacting the community for which the design is planned. Without that direct link, considering the social impacts of the design can be difficult. However, this does not remove the benefit of such a design exercise. The ideas generated can be brought to the target community in the form of proposals. With their guidance and input, those proposals can be altered to fit both their needs and their desires. This approach can then lead to a more lasting and more sustainable design.

Cormac O’Meadhra
Engineers Without Borders UCD