Eco Club Q & A June 2014: Engineers Without Borders

The Eco Club Q & A profiles a campus-based student club that has an environmental and/or social interest. In this column they explain what they are about and what projects they are involved in. In this edition we focus on Engineers Without Borders (EWB) and talk to Jules Scott-Hansen (2014 President) and Dom O’Connor (2014 Vice President).

Some quick facts: When was EWB founded and how many members do you have?
J: EWB is a global organisation. In NZ it started up in 2008. D: At University we have 240-odd members. We also have a professional chapter in Christchurch.

In a few sentences, what is the focus of your club?
J: We try to promote sustainability and development through engineering. Humanitarian or developmental engineering is a big part of what we do. We try to get students to think outside the box a little; because some people might think, ‘oh I’ll do engineering and do a certain line of work’ and they may not think there is an opportunity to, for example,  work in developing communities. They may think you need to be a social worker or a doctor, but there is definitely a need for engineering skills in developing communities as well.

D: Yes, we want to show students the influence engineers can have in terms of helping people come out of poverty or developing communities.

J: So we promote “engineering in context”: being an engineer but also being part of society; being a human being and not just a number cruncher.

Can you give an example of the projects EWB is/has been involved in?
J: We have done overseas projects, like installing solar panels at schools in Samoa and Tonga. At the moment there is a project going in Vanuatu where they are installing a rainwater harvesting system, which is going to supply three villages with drinking water.

D: Also, locally, through last year’s Odyssey Design Challenge, we helped a community in the Bay of Islands. This community is very isolated and it has a lot of energy supply issues. The design challenge was to come up with some sort of system to provide this community with energy security. Students came up with a whole bunch of ideas and the community really took it on, which was really cool.

How is sustainability relevant to your club?
J: We promote sustainability. We are not a sustainability club per se but we focus on sustainability in regards to our projects. For us “sustainability” means: you implement something that is going to stick around. You don’t use disposable water filters, and also, you want something that the community can maintain and grow. And little things as well, for example, when we are selling coffee for donations, we like to use bio-degradable cups and sell re-usable coffee cups with our logo on it

How do students have an opportunity to participate in sustainability issues through your club?
D: There’s a lot of ways for that to happen. Through the Odyssey Design competition for instance and also, all first year engineering students do an EWB design competition as part of one of their papers.

J: That is a university design challenge that is run in New Zealand and Australia. It focuses on things like waste management and renewable technologies. It looks at a certain community each year and identifies several different issues in that community. So for example one team may be looking at sustainable energy supply for a village, another on how to dispose of solid waste and another on sanitation systems.

D: Those are quite direct ways to be involved with sustainability but there are indirect ways as well. We put on speaker evenings for example, where we bring in a guest speaker, which gives students a chance to hear about interesting topics.

J: And then we run something called the in-school program, where volunteers go teach year 9 and 10’s about sustainable engineering and development work. We do this with different schools in Canterbury as well.

So for future EWB members: Who should join EWB?
J: Anyone really! But definitely people who are interested in social development, working with NGOs. And it can be engineering students but it can also be, for example, social development students, geography students, commerce students. Because engineers might have the technical skills but you also need people with the soft skills as well, and they can help the engineers develop their social/communication skills.
D: If you have the mind-set of wanting to help other people, EWB is the perfect organisation. And as Jules said, they don’t have to be engineers, there are so many other skills sets you need for a project: marketing people, communications students.

Famous last words?
J: For students: make the most of your university experience by thinking about the future and how you can make a positive impact on the world. And it is definitely not too early to start at uni by getting involved with a club like us or with the student volunteer army or with anyone who wants to create positive change.

Check out these links for more information on EWB at UC or EWB New Zealand.


Also, for more examples of eco clubs and how you can get involved with sustainability, check here.


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