Students learn to engineer humanitarian solutions


The fieldwork tour to Samoa provides important hands-on experience to all participating students studying the Humanitarian Engineering major

16 June 2017

Thirty students from the University of Sydney will gain a deeper understanding of the important role engineering plays in the developing world when they embark on a unique fieldwork tour to Samoa this July.

The upcoming trip is in partnership with Engineers Without Borders Australia (EWB) and part of the Global Engineering Fieldwork unit, a core component of the newly-introduced Humanitarian Engineering major requiring students to be based in either a developing country or indigenous community.

Between 3–16 July participating students will interact with local Samoan communities to learn about their culture and language, attend workshops and develop a project scope for a real-world problem as identified by the community.

"Samoa was selected to gain an understanding of the challenges facing our Pacific Island neighbours, such as finite resources and the increasing frequency of natural disasters," says Dr Jacqueline Thomas, who oversees the major within the School of Civil Engineering.

"Students will learn about the challenges of climate change in the area and gain vital hands-on experience by working directly with communities to scope engineering projects as part of a five-day village hosted stay.

"The diverse skills learnt whilst undertaking this major will set our graduates apart when they enter the workplace. We know engineers with skills and experience in humanitarian work are needed throughout many industry sectors."


Engineering Honours / Commerce student Brian O'Callaghan was involved in the previous engineering fieldwork trip to India

It is a testimony shared by combined Bachelor of Engineering Honours (Civil) / Bachelor of Commerce student Brian O'Callaghan, who undertook a similar Design Summit tour to India over the summer holidays.

"Prior to the start of this semester I was afforded the chance to witness first-hand how engineering solutions can meet agricultural challenges in India," says Brian.

"The several weeks travelling to different communities provided me with many opportunities to apply the knowledge I had learnt in the classroom and construct solutions in real-world situations.

"It enriched my understanding of the social and environmental impact engineers must weigh up when designing any new product or technology."

Understanding how to better serve disadvantaged communities or groups – something often overlooked by traditional engineering and technology projects – will be at the core of the Humanitarian Engineering major, the first of its kind in Australia.

Humanitarian engineering addresses authentic human problems through applying diverse engineering skills to development, disaster and remote community contexts.

It is about meeting the needs of communities globally, including the application of engineering processes and technology to improve water and sanitation, waste treatment, construction methods or disability access as well as provide affordable housing – all while maintaining a focus on sustainability and appropriateness.


The Humanitarian Engineering major is the first of its kinds in Australia, providing students with the knowledge and skills needed to address global issues

Our major provides students the crucial knowledge and skills required to plan, implement and maintain projects in rural Australian areas and developing countries.

It also enables students to explore international aid and development whilst learning from experienced practitioners and industry partners on how to work in disadvantaged communities, fragile states and communities in disaster recovery.

"Our engineering undergraduates are socially conscious and motivated to use their engineering degrees to help solve global problems, many of which exist in developing countries due to poverty and the increasing frequency of natural disasters," notes Dr Thomas.

"The Humanitarian Engineering major is designed to give these future engineers the initial knowledge needed to begin applying their skills effectively to development, disaster and indigenous contexts."