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Engineers want to make a difference for third world

by Archives January 30, 2002

Engineers Without Borders (EWB) held its first conference at McGill from Jan. 24 to 26. Participants included international students, delegates and speakers.
EWB is a Canadian organization dedicated to bridging the technological gap between developed and developing nations.
“We want students to get a better understanding of the challenges out there,” said George Roster, one of the two co-founders of EWB, “to see how technology fits into the greater problem.”
The greater problem, according to Roster and Parker Mitchell, another co-founder, is the lack of technology prevalent in developing nations. They see engineers and engineering students as having an opportunity to use their specialized skills toward the improvement of living conditions in the developing world.
Roster and Mitchell, both 25, conceived the EWB just six months after graduating from the University of Waterloo. Their aim was to create an efficient, organized and useful body that would couple their concerns about international social problems with their engineering training.
“In real life, you can improve cars [and] buildings,” explained Mitchell, “but that’s mostly unsatisfying. When you can apply your problem solving skills to real issues, you feel like you can make a difference.”
“I think it’s a misnomer that engineers don’t care about social matters,” added Roster. “There is a huge social component in engineering.”
Their youthful idealism proved contagious. Now 2-years-old, EWB has 2,000 members and over a dozen university chapters across Canada. The conference at McGill is hosting close to 200 of those members and is the first in what both founders hope becomes an annual affair.
Alexandra Conliffe, a third-year mechanical engineering student at McGill, is the president of the McGill EWB chapter.
“We wanted to unite all the satellite chapters,” said Conliffe. “It’s the perfect way to see what we can all do, how we can grow, and to cement our values.”
The conference featured panel discussion groups where students sat among invited delegates debating over various technological issues of the developing world, as well as speaker forums and informal seminars.
The two topics that were focussed on were: the role of technology in helping to improve the quality of life in developing nations and the role of engineers and engineering students in helping to cultivate the appropriate technology and to use their skills to the betterment of the developing world.
Conliffe pointed out that not only could students use the conference to meet others from all over Canada but to network, to make contacts for future projects and research. “There is great exchange going on between students and the delegates.”
Speakers included academics, intellectuals, the Red Cross, Bell Canada Enterprises, Capital One and even Bunker Roy, founder of the famous barefoot college in India where basic educational skills are taught to students.
Though Concordia has a renowned engineering department there is no EWB chapter on campus.
“We’d love for Concordia to get involved with us,” said Mitchell sitting next to a nodding Roster. “After all, the greatest resource we have is a motivated student.”
For more information you can consult the EWB website www.ewb.ca or talk to Conliffe for more information mcgill@ewb.ca.

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