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Engineering for Sustainable Development

Name: Qais Feroz

Year: Class of 2013

Hometown: Frederick, Maryland

Major: Mechanical Engineering

When I first came to JHU as a freshman, I wanted to pursue Mechanical Engineering because I was very interested in cutting edge technologies and their applications.  Mechanical Engineering was good because it is a broad field in the sense that you can work on things ranging from Micro Electro-mechanical systems (MEMS), prosthetic limbs, airplanes, or wind turbines.  This was a good field for me because over the course of four years, I would have time to build interest in one of the many fields, as well as be exposed to all of them.

It was my interest in being introduced to all the applications of Mechanical Engineering that led me to take Introduction to Engineering for Sustainable Development (EN.570.110) during sophomore spring.  As most people at Hopkins, there is at least a little bit of interest in helping other people, but one of the problems with Engineering is that there is a dedication to technical applications of the fields, but little attention is spent on the social implications.  A one hundred level class about developmental engineering seemed like an easy A and a little bit of exposure to the problems of the world.  I wasn’t quite aware that the class was probably going to be my favorite class at JHU.

In the course, we looked at an overview of the different fields of issues in the developing world, through Professor Erica Schoenberger, Environmental Engineering professor and minor program director and the TA’s experiences, a variety of great guest speakers, for example, Major General Jeffery W. Talley’s presentation on the rebuilding of Iraq’s most violent neighborhood, and parts of reading of books touching on a variety of fields, like international women’s rights, or growing up in Sub-Saharan Africa.

The final project for the class is what finally helped decide the career path I wanted to pursue.  Students get into small groups, and are assigned (or choose) fields to work in.  My group was Energy; other examples were information technology, water, waste management…  We decided to develop a hypothetical plan for the government of India on how to safely electrify the slums of Mumbai.  We did this through reading case studies of similar projects in Sao Paulo, Brazil, and smart grid/small scale energy generation technologies being proposed in Germany.  The things I read and saw made me want to pursue developmental engineering, and using my Mechanical Engineering skills, energy in developing countries.

As discussed earlier, one of the problems with engineering work is that in order to effectively and sustainable solve developmental problems, the engineer would need to develop skills that concentrate on working with people.  This becomes part of the reason why the minor is so important.  Someone pursuing the minor works with Professor Schoenberger to develop a concentration they want, and what I chose was things that I am not usually exposed to, so we built a program combing sociology and anthropology.  These fulfill the humanities requirements in the Engineering curriculum, as well as expose me to fields that engineers disregard but are essential to developmental work.  At the same time, non-engineering majors can be exposed to the technical considerations that they are not exposed to.  In the workplace, effective teamwork comes from knowing what the people around you are capable of, and knowing how to divide tasks while still understanding the goals of the group as a whole.  NGO’s and groups like the World Bank require these skills.

The minor requires a class that teaches methods for gathering and evaluating information in a developmental context.  I took Biostatistics in Public Health (AS.280.345), but other classes like Logic of Anthropological Inquiry (AS.070.319) or Research Methods for the Social Science (AS.230.202) also fulfill that.  Three classes must be grouped in a specific theme, like a discipline (Anthropology, Economics…) or region of the world.  A total of five classes, in addition to the introduction class and the final seminar, are required, with three above 300-level.  As a new minor, there is specific attention paid to each student’s concentration, which is why I was able to have a concentration in Anthropology/Sociology.

The minor introduces the importance of cross discipline awareness in developmental work, in the academic setting.  Enhancing the goals of the minor involve working as a student with these principles in mind, with groups like Engineers Without Borders, Engineering World Health, and a variety of other Hopkins groups.  In my point of view, it’s important not to get too caught up in the “Hopkins Bubble” and remember that a lot of work is need in the city of Baltimore as well, so I decided to work in a tutoring program for Inner city eight graders, concentrating on STEM, called ACES.

So if you want to pursue developmental work, it is important to be able to understand what will be required for you in the work place.  If you are more like me, and wanted to help but didn’t know how, the introduction class will be great for you, and it is very likely you would want to pursue the minor.  Sustainability Engineering is a growing field, because people are now starting to understand the importance of building projects that continue to grow once the aid workers leave, and the college environment is a great area to introduce you to these concerns.

Click here to access more information about the Engineering for Sustainable Development Undergraduate Program of Study.

To further your exploration of this academic program and ask any question you may have of current students, be sure to visit the Hopkins Forums’ Academics: The Insider Perspective as well as the Engineering for Sustainable Development questions thread.