Global Engineering and Science for a Small Planet

University of Colorado Professor and LEEP Fellow Bernard Amadei’s brown bag lecture “Global Engineering and Science for a Small Planet” challenged the audience to ask themselves if today’s engineering and science graduates have the appropriate skills and tools to contribute to the building of a more sustainable, stable, and equitable world. Specifically, Amadei questioned whether graduates are equipped to be the change-makers, peace-makers, social entrepreneurs, and facilitators of sustainable human development that the 21st Century requires.

Amadei started by stating that while he does not know what sustainable engineering is, he knows what it is not. He suggested the audience should consider if current education schemes place enough emphasis on teaching students to take a broad view of engineering challenges that looked beyond the student’s narrow expertise in technical engineering. Further, Amadei urged that an effective engineer should have the ability to understand tradeoffs and synergies from a variety of perspectives, including narrow (local) and broad (global) views, that place the challenge in an appropriate context, including social considerations.

In order to teach students to be effective observers and approach each challenge with humility, Amadei believes that engineering curriculum should incorporate more courses in humanities and opportunities for students to get on the ground and get their “boots dirty.”  Such opportunities can help students understand how design interdisciplinary solutions that have both depth and breadth. In partnership with LEEP, UC Boulder (UCB), and the Federal University of Acre (UFAC), Amadei will be teaching the first pilot short course on sustainable community development. The course will allow students from UFAC and UCB to get their boots dirty with an on the ground experience working in a multidisciplinary team to help a community in Acre move toward sustainable development.

Ultimately, Amadei hopes for students to graduate with the ability to start examining problems from a perspective that includes humility and a sense of awe and wonder – an ability to step back and consider what it means to be a human being on the plant. This perspective can inform a systems approach that considers both qualitative and quantitative factors and incorporates an ethical overlay. In closing, Amadei reminded the audience that it is structure that controls behavior; a student’s ability to change his or her mindset will have the greatest impact on how effective he or she will be as a global engineer.