Sustainable Development Field Practicum: A Fundamental Part of the EDC Curriculum

EDC students Rebekah Daniel (second from left) Nicholas Valcourt (right) during practicum in Morocco

No education in humanitarian engineering would be complete without a significant experience in a developing community. At the Mortenson Center for Engineering in Developing Communities, this objective is fulfilled through the Sustainable Community Development Field Practicum, which is a critical component of the EDC curriculum. The practicum provides students with hands-on experience that requires them to synthesize and integrate knowledge acquired in EDC coursework and other learning experiences, and to apply theory and principles in a situation that approximates some aspect of professional practice in engineering and international development. The practicum is designed to help students:

  • Understand the meaning and importance of global engineering practice;
  • Understand the purpose and utilization of field methods including community-based needs assessment, monitoring and evaluation, and household surveys;
  • Understand and observe common elements among planning models and be able to develop a plan for an engineering intervention addressing a global issue, e.g., water supply, housing, or energy;
  • Understand major implementation issues, common barriers to implementation, and strategies for minimizing barriers to implementation;
  • Identify and observe strategies for scaling up and sustaining engineering solutions;
  • Apply planning, monitoring and evaluation skills to real-world problem solving; and
  • Strengthen important career skills of leadership, effective teamwork, and mastery of competencies in global engineering.

EDC has cultivated a cadre of host organizations for the practicum experience amongst non-profit organizations, development organizations, consulting firms, and the private sector. Students are placed for a period of three weeks up to several months, depending on their availability and the host organization’s needs. Host agencies are selected to match the engineering interests of the students and cover a range of specialties including housing, water, wastewater, public health, renewable energy, bio-medical technology, disaster/risk preparedness, construction engineering and management, water supply/sanitation/hygiene (WASH), roads/bridges, as well as development policy and planning. Recent examples of practicum placements include:

  • Building pedestrian footbridges in Panama (Bridges for Prosperity)
  • Assessing the impact of WASH programs on women and girls in Mozambique (CARE)
  • Designing and evaluating rainwater catchment systems in Morocco (Dar Si Hmad)
  • Conducting baseline assessments for WASH services in Nicaragua (Second Mile Water)
  • Designing materials and training in disaster resistant housing  in Indonesia (BuildChange)
  • Assessing the vulnerability of the built environment in India (GeoHazards, Inc.)
  • Evaluating water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) programs at the community level in Peru (CONAPAC) and school WASH projects in Zambia (WASHplus-USAID)
  • Information and communication technology applications (World Bank)
  • Transforming agricultural waste to resource in the Phillippines (Natural Composites, Inc.)
  • Energy audits of housing for the Navajo Nation (Diné College)
  • Surveying household water treatment and cookstove technologies in Guatemala (Casas por Cristo)
  • Application of the International Aid Transparency Initiative (Water for People)

The 2015 host agencies include new opportunities with the US Army Corps of Engineers (civil engineering structures) and the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research – South Africa (prosthetics for low income communities).

Host agencies expect the students to deliver professional results, in a variety of formats, at the end of the practicum assignment.  In addition, the students detail their experience and lessons learned in a report submitted for graduate course credit to the Mortenson Center. These reports are evaluated by Dr. Klees, who also supervises the students’ field experiences and determines their final grades. Says Dr. Klees:

To see the students take what they have learned in their EDC curriculum from the classroom to the field is very exciting. Students come back from the field with fresh insights into the challenges of global engineering as well as the rewards. Facing the impacts of poverty, conflict, disasters, and displacement on developing communities is a life-changing event for many students. Also satisfying for me is the feedback we get from each host agency at the end of the assignment. Without exception in 2014, each host agency gave an excellent evaluation of their student’s skills and performance.

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