Who Needs Help the Most?

By Michael W.

Engineering for Social Change helped qualm the doubts that had developed about choosing mechanical engineering as my major. A large part of my college experience has been bouncing back and forth between completing engineering assignments and rushing around to plan and execute fundraising events for UMD’s chapter of Students Helping Honduras. Travelling to Honduras for a volunteer trip opened my eyes to a number of things about the basic necessities of life and the things that bring fulfillment. On one side was a dread to complete the next engineering assignment, and on the other side was a vigor and passion to take action towards helping the people of Honduras. On one side was bland engineering assignments, and on the other side was a meaningful cause that I enjoyed pursuing. Throughout my years being an undergraduate, it’s been hard to draw meaning from my engineering curriculum. In most of my classes, professors rarely talked about meaningful applications for the concepts we were learning. Whenever professors did talk about curriculum relating to our futures as engineers,
they talked about us learning the skills to succeed as employees for an engineering firm and make a lot of money. Growing up, I’ve always wanted to pursue something that would help others. Even when thinking about what engineers do in the U.S., my mind was always drawn to helping those at the bottom. I’ve always ask the question: Who needs help the most? When thinking about this, my mind goes back to those who struggle to gain the basic necessities of life such as: food, clean water, light, shelter, safety. Engineering for Social Change restored my hope in the idea of mechanical engineering lining up with the things I’m passionate about seeking to change in the world. The very first lecture by Dr. Robert Grimm was exciting and engaging, as it talked about the complexity involved in ‘doing good’. Further lectures provide useful information that generated a lot of thought and discussion in the classroom. The open discussion within the classroom was another aspect of the class that made it interesting, engaging, and unconventional. No other engineering class that I’ve been in has involved a round circle where students were free and encouraged to ask questions and give input in regards to the discussion. Being able to add to the discussion made it feel like I was learning a lot more and gaining more from the class. I additionally enjoyed the diversity of topics introduced in the class. One class that is an example of this is the “Flint Michigan Water Crisis” lecture given by Siddhartha Roy. His lecture revealed several issues with ethics that can come
about and potentially go unnoticed. The Flint, Michigan case demonstrates that alternate agendas can influence actions of individuals within organizations that potentially put other people’s health or wellbeing at risk. Mark Ruffalo’s water non profit partnering with the opportunistic sponge salesman who was spreading false information in an effort towards a business venture is an example showing that there takes a lot more to doing good than just having the intention to do good. Initially, Mark Ruffalo believed that what Scott Smith was doing was legitimate. In regards to the grant process, maybe for the future that a greater amount of time spent in open discussion about the grant decision could potentially shed more light on the varying factors of each option. I believe the the open discussion about the grant proposals was a powerful means of stimulating and generating new thought about each proposal that could potentially be expanded on with further days of reflection. Perhaps two days of discussion and a week in between could stimulate a deeper discussion of the details of each proposal. Overall, the class was one of my favorite classes at UMD. In may regards, the class was an incredible learning experience.

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