A team of Environmental Engineering IEP Minor students represented UCL at the Grand Finals of the Engineers Without Borders (EWB) Engineering for People Design Challenge, which took place at The Crystal venue in London on June 20, 2018.
Ayobami Adeyemo and Pritam Kapadia from UCL Chemical Engineering, Isha Kulkarni and Amelie Chen from the Department of Civil, Environmental and Geomatic Engineering, and Antonio Gonzalez from UCL Mechanical Engineering did fantastically well to get to this stage, making the last 36 teams out of a shortlist of 80. Over 6,000 students from across the UK took part in the Challenge this year, with each team choosing to focus on one of seven design areas.
Now in its seventh year, the Engineering for People Design Challenge is intended to give ‘students the opportunity to learn and practice the ethical, environmental, social and cultural aspects of engineering design,’ as the EWB website details. Having reached the Grand Finals, Ayobami, Pritam, Isha, Amelie and Antonio were then tasked with pitching their design solution to a judging panel comprised of industry professionals. Unfortunately, the UCL team did not progress any further, but their achievement and experience is still to be applauded, particularly seeing as this was the first time UCL had participated in the Challenge. The overall winners were the University of Glasgow, with Manchester Metropolitan University claiming the Runner’s Up spot, and Coventry University the People’s Prize.
MEng Civil Engineering student Isha Kulkarni explains how the UCL team, working within the theme of Water, designed a solution for water scarcity in Kibera, a deprived district of Nairobi, Kenya. ‘It was interesting approaching this topic from not just the technical point of view, but also prioritising socioeconomic and sustainability considerations in the design process,’ Isha noted. ‘Working in such an interdisciplinary and diverse team (we represent three engineering disciplines and five countries) also brought a range of perspectives to the table, helping us to develop a semi-centralised rainwater harvesting and purification system. The design incorporates a roof retrofit, rainwater collection, storage, treatment and redistribution – all for clusters of four to six local households.’
The Design for People Challenge is part of the first module in the Environmental Engineering IEP Minor. A series of three related modules, the IEP Minor doesn’t change degree titles, but does allow students to explore in-depth a different area of engineering/another discipline, such as modern foreign languages, plus work with peers from other engineering programmes. Forming a core part of the Integrated Engineering Programme (IEP) – UCL Engineering’s innovative and award-winning teaching framework – the IEP Minor currently includes subject areas ranging from intelligent systems (AI) and ocean engineering to biomechanics and entrepreneurship. The IEP framework is followed by the majority of UCL Engineering undergraduate programmes, and emphasises creativity, applied learning, interdisciplinarity, teamwork, and an awareness of the social context of engineering.
Isha was effusive in her praise of the IEP, detailing how the teaching framework’s focus on ‘soft skills’ proved useful whilst completing this challenge. ‘After two years as students on engineering programmes that follow the IEP framework, the teamwork and communication skills we have gained after numerous Scenarios and Engineering Challenges have been an incredible boon to participating in the Engineering for People Design Challenge. UCL Engineering’s approach to teaching through problem-based learning and interdisciplinary work made the EWB Challenge very exciting for us, complementing our regular discipline-specific modules and allowing us to use the theoretical knowledge we have learnt so far.’
Isha also acknowledged the benefit inherent in having such an interdisciplinary team. ‘It was very satisfying to see how our skills came together, helping us design a complete engineering solution. From mine and Amelie’s experience with sustainable design and spatial analysis, to Antonio’s application of fluid mechanics in designing our pipes, and Ayobami and Pritam’s knowledge of treatment systems and maintenance, it was a seamless combination of everybody using what they knew already while also learning novel things from research and each other.’
The IEP Team congratulate Ayobami, Pritam, Isha, Amelie and Antonio on their excellent achievement in reaching the Grand Finals, and the exciting learning experience this has afforded them.