Important Lectures and Lessons

By Zelalem D.

Engineering for Social Change? That was my first reaction when I first heard about the course. I honestly didn’t know what to expect until the first day of class.  From Engineering for Social change class, I have learned a lot about things that I unintentionally do every single day but can have a big negative impact on our environment as well as on the community health. I also learned that the importance of engineering ethics that is how to honestly serve the community in my engineering skills in the future. I came from a country which has a very limited basic infrastructure, like access for clean water and electricity, so I know what it means not to have access for basic human needs. The reason I wanted to take ENME 467 (Engineering for Social Change) is that I wanted to learn how I can contribute to change the situation in the community particularly in Ethiopia. Engineering for social change taught me how to give back to the community, how to work with people in different background, how to practice my engineering knowledge following basic engineering ethics, how to interact with organizations and work along. Out of all the lectures presented throughout the semester, “Waste to Energy” given by Mark Freedman, Covanta and ‘Ethics” by Adm. Millard Firebaugh, are resonated in me.

Waste to energy lecture is one of the most interesting lecture that has given in this course. The presenter described the problem and the solution his organization came up with. The major problem that he described is that the society still lack deep understanding of the danger of the pollution, and most families still don’t sort out a recyclable waste from the trash. I was one of the many who don’t separate plastics and trashes until Mr. Freedman lecture. In the town where I grew up, littering a very common thing and causes big damages in many ways. Although schools and different NPOs try to educate the community about the danger of the littering especially plastic materials, it has been difficult to achieve the goal breaking economic challenge and people still litter. As a result, drainages get stuck and flood run on the road ever summer, in some cases the road get cut in two, cause traffic accidents and many more problems. Engineers can and should solve this problem by working with community. Philanthropy is another way of handling waste. Food and electronics donation can solve waste problem and help the people in need, so I learn that engineers should involve in social service.

Another important lecture that impacted me is the “Ethics” by Adm. Millard Firebaugh. Considering the amount of damage that could happen because of irresponsibly work of engineers, making sure engineers follow engineering ethics a very critical part of this course. I believe one of the main reasons that undeveloped countries have poor infrastructure is bad work ethics and corruption, especially in industries and manufacturing sector. For instance, in Ethiopia, roads get washed up in one summer rain and a dam that supposed to provide power for millions has collapsed after a few years of its inauguration. No one in Ethiopia knows the real reason why these kinds of loss happened in a country that can’t afford to rebuild, other than the government and may be the engineers. But, some independent investigators suggested that the engineers were corrupted and the design didn’t meet the specifications. Engineers should know better and always strive to serve the community and work for social change. I think it is possible to achieve and to work for social change, but it wasn’t taught before. Engineering for Social Change, “Ethics” lecture gave me a better understanding of what I as a future engineer should serve for a social change not just for the profit.

Finally, taking Engineering for Social Change has taught me how much positive impact individuals, specifically engineers can have in the society. Philanthropy, engineering ethics, and waste for energy are some of the lectures that I personally took away from the course.


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