Global EngineeringUmair Muhammad -
Posted on: January 19, 2011
By Umair Muhammad
The idea of global engineering lies in the wider concept of global citizenship. To be a global citizen means to adopt an outlook that is not limited by national allegiances, a notion which then provides a basis to work for the betterment of the world as a whole. It has perhaps been most succinctly portrayed by the American revolutionary Thomas Paine in The Rights of Man: “My country is the world, and my religion is to do good.”
Finding itself within such a framework, the idea of global engineering puts focus on the role of the engineering profession in actively contributing to the creation of a better world. The potential dividends of such a venture are vast. The tools and insights which are at the disposal of engineers allow us to shape the world, literally and otherwise, in profound ways.
In order to make noteworthy contributions, global engineers need to not only take into consideration that which goes on beyond our countries’ borders, but also more readily adopt as our own types of work which are conventionally not considered to be within the boundaries of the engineering profession. Although popular perception may be different, engineers spend much of their time addressing non-technical challenges, which range from those that are interpersonal to the broadly political. The range and intensity of non-technical challenges is only augmented when a global engineering perspective is adopted. For example, measuring greenhouse gas emissions as part of an asset management scheme clearly involves more types of challenges than if the scheme was seen as simply a “local” project.
Additionally, along with taking into account the worldwide impacts of our work in the prevailing geopolitical setting, global engineers should explore ways in which our work can help to define new realities in international relations. New priorities need to be set in order to find resolute solutions to the longstanding problems of hunger, thirst, disease and housing; and novel problems like anthropogenic climate change and worldwide resource depletion. The ongoing debate over the process of economic globalization can serve as a conduit through which we transmit our views on what global relations structures should look like. Again, we will have to assert ourselves in places which are not seen as our traditional domains to contribute in a significant manner. Beginning with what would be considered our areas of expertise, such as addressing socio-technical challenges that have to do with international water bodies, we can expand into other areas which affect the work we do. We have to creatively employ our capacity for problem-solving in order to modify intermeshed social, economic, political, and earthen landscapes for the benefit of the global community.
Large scale adoption of the ideals of global engineering can only come through changes in the engineering mindset, starting at reforms in university education. Engineering students should be graduating with an understanding of civics, global governance, and issues like international aid and development. Increasing the employability of engineers in a globalized environment should not be the primary focus of the reforms, but rather, emphasis should be put on increasing the ability of engineers “to do good.”
The University of Waterloo chapter of Engineers Without Borders has a team dedicated to working on advancing the idea of global engineering through education reform and public outreach. We seek to work with students and faculty to modify how and what aspiring engineers learn. If you think you may be interested in joining our global engineers team, or exploring other areas in which EWB works, visit our website (uwaterloo.ewb.ca) or come to our meetings, times posted on website.