Engineering and Beyond

By Abraham D.

When you begin your studies as an engineering student at the University of Maryland you have all these great aspirations of what you want to accomplish as an engineer. As engineers progress through their careers they begin to consider the impact they will have on society and the legacy they will leave behind. The Engineering for Social Change course gave me an opportunity to take a step back and consider the implications of my work and pursuit of knowledge.

Taking five to six technical courses a semester has become a systemic grind we’ve come to expect as we try to cram an engineering degree into four years. The Engineering for Social Change course is a necessary break from the constant mind-numbing exercise of learning without much evaluation. This course challenged me to think about my actions as an engineer. Before taking a decision it is necessary to consider what the possible unintended consequences could be and how to mitigate them. The course taught me that a successful engineering project combines strong engineering concepts with beneficial societal, environmental and personal concerns.

The guest lecturers were a great addition to the course. The lecturers showed us how even in one’s own profession they can have a positive impact without being a rich philanthropist or work for a non-profit full time. Indeed, the lecture on “Giving Away Money Wisely” by Dr. Jennifer Littlefield led me to reevaluate the meaning of overhead and how charitable organizations spend their money. I will admit that before this lecture I would not donate to organizations with what I considered a “huge overhead.” In the lecture, however, the professor showed Dan Pallotta’s TED Talk on our perception of charities and how little overhead means nothing if the amount of good work that can be achieved is small.

During the semester-long project, our team focused on the problem of electronic waste known as e-waste. I learned that even though e-waste only makes up 2% of landfills in America it is the source of 70% of the overall toxic waste. The project was also a great learning experience as we initiated contact with our non-profit (World Computer Exchange) ourselves and presented our ideas to them. I had no prior experience working with a non-profit in this way nor did I know much about the e-waste problem the world had. This course allowed me along with my classmates to discuss the non-profit we intend to fund in a way that I had not experienced in any class before, and for that, I am truly grateful.

This course was an amazing learning experience and a break from the usual. I would recommend this course to anyone interested in the impact of their work beyond the usual engineering concepts. This course adds the necessary human aspect missing in most engineering courses. If I’ve learned anything I’ve learned to consider the possible unintended consequences and their effect on the world we live in.

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