October 27, 2014

Sci + Tech | March 17, 2014
Sustainability in engineering
Global Engineering Week aims to fill gaps in McGill curriculum
Written by | Visual by Tamim Sujat | The McGill Daily

“Sustainability” may be the buzzword of the day, but it has initiated conversations on how to address current societal and environmental issues and develop a more promising future. We are still far from a truly sustainable society, one where economic demands, environmental resilience, and social equity are fully balanced.

Global Engineering (GE) Week, which will be hosted by the McGill chapter of Engineers Without Borders (EWB) this week, aims to address these issues. EWB hopes to promote the global engineering movement and highlight the importance of non-technical skills in engineering that are often overlooked in engineering curricula.

Engineers without Borders is a Canadian not-for-profit organization that aids in global development projects and aims to raise awareness about related social and political issues. They distinguish themselves from other sustainability-oriented groups at McGill such as Trottier Institute for Sustainability in Engineering and Design (TISED), and Sustainability in Engineering at McGill (SEAM). Marc Chelala, director of communications at EWB, told The Daily, “[EWB] has been misconceived by faculty as being another sustainability group and overlapping with SEAM and TISED, but [sustainability] is just one of our goals. There is also a focus on human issues, ethics, and social responsibility.”

Topics covered during GE week will include green building, water justice, and gender equality. “There’s not a lot of focus for electrical engineering students on the impact of their work on the environment. There are discussions in civil, mechanical, and chemical engineering on how to be environmentally friendly, but there is a not a lot for information technology.” said Paul Takayesu, vice president of Global Engineering McGill.

One of the ways GE week will try to improve skills outside the classroom is by holding debates on various controversial issues such as nuclear energy and genetic engineering. According to Takayesu, “The idea behind that is that engineers know how to communicate. We’re not really taught that much and some people don’t take it too seriously in class.”

On the national level, Global Engineering is trying to implement GE certificates in universities. The program aims to expand the role of engineers as global citizens while complementing existing engineering programs. Steps are already being made across Canada; the idea has been drafted and accepted at electrical engineering department at the University of Calgary.

It is possible that the GE certificate will be seen at McGill in coming years. “They are now looking at McGill and Concordia, and are trying to set up meetings. […] So things are moving, but it’s always going to be slow,” said Takayesu.

Many members of the engineering faculty like the idea in principle, but are not ready to implement it just yet. “I think it’ll take a few more steps to get people on board,” admitted Takayesu, “I think there is not a doubt that profs want to see change as well […] but they don’t want to put themselves out there and put in all this extra time when they don’t have support from everyone else. And that’s where EWB can come in to help and give their support.”

Chelala continued, “It’s interesting because everyone defines sustainability in their own way. It’s not just about the environment and being eco-friendly. It’s about being considerate of the cultural, human, and social aspects.”

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Global Engineering Week will be held from March 18 to the 21. More information can be found on the Global Engineering Week at McGill Facebook event. All events are free.

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