Why Are We Here?

By Aakash P.

This semester in Engineering for Social Change is the first instance that the definition and role of an engineer was challenged in an unconventional way. This course enlightened me to the fact that an engineer is not just a memory bank of formulas, algorithms and derivations but a well-rounded intuitive thinker who should not just create a solution for a profit, but to make a positive impact on society. And engineering solutions do not have to be a design or invention, but can be public policy as well. Our decisions as engineers affect the people around us, and they need to be made carefully to benefit the environment, people, and the economy. The skills learned in ENME467 have never been touched upon in previous mechanical engineering courses.

One thing that stands out from this class from all other engineering courses is the art of debate. Having a semester long grant awarding process led to passionate debated from choosing an issue to focus on to choosing which non-profit organization to give the grant to. Debates in sensitive areas such as poverty, malnutrition, climate change and more, lead to self-reflection. This class taught me that at some point, one needs to look beyond the cost, revenue, risk, opportunities and think about the ideals one holds dear to themselves. These ideals, values are what drives decisions that impact many others. There were many opportunities in class where self-reflection was needed. On the first day we were asked, “Why are you here?” That along with assignments such as a statement of interest and theme papers helped me realize that as an engineer, I want more than just a lucrative job; I now want to seek a career where my decisions benefit someone other than myself. The lecture by Mrs. Hirani on how one should measure success talked about balancing money vs. meaning which stuck with me when it comes to choosing a career path.

This class is relevant to engineering students today because of its emphasis on sustainability. Our world has limited natural resources with a growing population. Professor Kim’s lecture on the future of engineering was very sobering. Engineers are trained to progress technology, but to what extent? To the point where everything is automated and humans are unemployed? Engineers should not aim to replace people, but to empower people. The importance of people in the world is overlooked in a technology-advancing world. As today’s engineering students we need to encompass sustainability in all of our practices. Reducing waste, saving energy, creating jobs, decreasing economic class gaps, access to clean water: all responsibilities of an engineer even if they are not obvious.

Aside from the lessons of learning about yourself, designing for sustainability and the future, Engineering for Social Change provides real world experience. Dealing with actual grant money, proposals, the Ideas for Social Change Challenge and interacting with non-profit organizations prove that philanthropy is a desirable act, but a difficult one. There’s an abundance of social issues that need attention, help and money. This means being culturally sensitive and carefully considering every aspect when providing a grant. It means as an engineer to think technically, socially, globally, sustainably, economically and humanly.

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