Engineering a More Sustainable World

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An engineer is a professional that is called to use their knowledge and skills to build useful devices in the service of mankind. What motivates me as a professor of mechanical engineering is the opportunity to introduce this idea to students. Most students think of engineering as a degree that will give them a good paying job. They see themselves as future employees- cogs in a wheel. They rarely see themselves as future professionals that can pro-actively use engineering skills to promote a peaceful and just existence for all people. I strive to show my students that engineers impact society in both positive and negative ways; and as professionals that are tasked to innovate and manage technology. They have an opportunity to commit themselves and their careers to the improvement of both human life and the larger community of life, for present and future generations.

I am particularly interested in the technology imbalance between the richest and poorest nations of the world- sometimes referred to as the north and south divide. Certainly, a technology infrastructure that can provide clean water, sanitation, food and shelter for all people cannot be built without the assistance of engineers. However, despite yearly expenditures on development aid of more than 100 billion dollars, there are very few engineers involved with the real needs of ordinary people in material resource poor countries. Most aid dollars are designed by and implemented by economic and political interests. It is time for an entire generation of engineers to step up and be change agents. I have been introducing my students to real problems in West Africa and in the Caribbean. I insist that every engineer look at issues from a nuanced multi-disciplinary perspective. Real solutions are holistic and engineers must actively collaborate with people from different disciplines: sociology, business, language and communications to name a few. I have worked with eleven faculty members from seven different departments. These multi-disciplinary teams enable deeper solutions that I hope will be long lasting. Over 60 students at UST have participated in these active-learning projects and have had the opportunity to travel to interesting locations and experience radically different cultures.

Engineers need to build a sustainable world and be active stewards of our finite natural resources. I am passionate about the transformation to clean energy technologies and have conducted research with low energy techniques to cool space. My students and I have worked on storing food as well as room cooling. I have worked with local, national and international non-profits to dry underutilized food in island countries that suffer from food shortages. I have traveled with students to St. Vincent in the West Indies, to Mali in West Africa and to clean energy sites in Iceland.
It is amazing how much opportunity there is for someone with a thermodynamics background to impact real people with low-cost low-energy drying and cooling technologies. What motivates me is the opportunity to educate a new type of engineer- an engineer devoted to a just distribution of technology and resources.

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