Medical professionals, missionaries and other volunteer organizations work to bring emergency relief to natural disaster and poverty victims. But other career fields can provide aid as well. For example, engineers often build emergency shelters and design sustainable technology to provide assistance and hope throughout the developing world.
Humanitarian engineering is defined as “design under constraints to directly improve the well being of underserved populations.” It has roots dating back to the French Revolution, when a group of engineers at the Ecole Polytechnic decided to use their technical skills to work for social justice.
More than 200 years later, engineers remain dedicated to helping those in need. Today’s socially conscious engineers, many of whom are students, work in underdeveloped communities to benefit those at the bottom of the economic pyramid. For example, seven engineering students at Dartmouth College recently visited the village of Banda, Rwanda, to design and build a small-scale hydropower system, which will provide lighting for local residents. After the system was installed, the students trained the villagers on its operations and maintenance.
Recently, the American Society of Mechanical Engineers (ASME) created a Web-based, open-source project hosted by Western Kentucky University, in which engineers and engineering students collaborated to design a human-powered water purifier for use in the developing world or disaster areas. ASME is a partner with the group Engineers Without Borders-USA, which operates more than 400 projects in water treatment, renewable energy and sanitation in about 45 developing countries worldwide. Engineering schools, such as Valparaiso University in Indiana and the Colorado School of Mines, are teaching the value of the engineers’ worth to society by establishing a humanitarian engineering minor within the core curriculum.
At ASME, a good mechanical engineer is many things, among them a public servant. Going forward, ASME will encourage engineers to use their skills and expertise to create lasting solutions to improve the quality of life of individuals and communities in need. For information about ASME, visit twww.asme.orgt.