Engineers: Problem Solvers

By Sarah K.

When I first heard about ENME467: Engineering for a Social Change I didn’t know what to expect.  What does an engineering course based on social change entail?  Will this really help develop the technical skills necessary to become a profession engineer, as most technical electives are designed to do?  This course did all this and more!  Not only did it make me a more conscientious engineer, but it also showed me what I could change about my day to day life.

Engineering for a Social Change really opened my eyes to careless habits I had developed.  Our topic for this semester focused on waste.  Waste includes anything from discarded electronics to food loss and even plastic waste.  As an individual, I was shocked at how much trash I would throw out on a weekly basis.  After listening to Mark Freedman’s lecture on “Waste to Energy” I decided to try and keep all of the trash I make in a week to see my contribution to the landfill problem.  I didn’t even last four days before I had to throw the accumulating garbage out.  That was simply eye opening, and without this class I probably would’ve never realized my contribution to the problem.  We all think that we are the exception.  I’ve personally thought things along the lines of I don’t waste food, I always clear my plate! when in reality, I don’t always finish what I eat and I do throw away leftovers.  This class made me realize that even when you think that you aren’t contributing to the problem, you probably are.  And the first step to solving the problem is to acknowledge your part in the issue.  As engineers, we are tasked with solving the problems of tomorrow.  How can we do that if we ignore our own contribution to current issues?

Engineering for a Social Change has also taught me a lot about the discipline of engineering.  Engineering is more than just technical know-how.  It is the application of technical knowledge in order to solve today’s leading issues and make the world a better place.  Engineers can not only do this by using their technical skills, but by also applying their technical knowledge to philanthropic opportunities and to public policy.  Engineers should be involved with Engineers Without Borders, or Habitat for Humanity, or even by offering their skillsets to their community in whatever way they can.  As engineers, we have the ability to make such an impact on the world, but only by taking advantage those opportunities.  We can also make a difference by going into public policy.  Engineering and other STEM professionals are needed now more than ever in law.  With the rising threat of climate change, the introduction of autonomous vehicles, and the introduction of artificial intelligence, engineers are needed to make federal and state regulations.  So often in engineering courses we forget the impact that engineering has on society.  Having a class that emphasizes our impact really puts into perspective what engineering entails.

I would highly recommend this course for engineering majors, and even for it to be integrated into the Mechanical Engineering curriculum.  It was a great experience to have worked with a real nonprofit organization to come up with a solution they’re facing, and apply to the $10,000 Neilom Engineering for a Social Change Grant.  Overall, I think engineering students would benefit by studying social change and ethics.  ENME 467: Engineering for Social Change expanded not only my knowledge of the impact of engineering, but also showed me how to be a more careful and meticulous citizen.

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