As part of the Design for Developing Communities program, a handful of Cal Poly students traveled to Malawi in December 2013.
Engineering and business administration students are coming together to explore new ways to help those living in poverty, thanks to a $10,000 Sustainable Vision grant from the National Collegiate Inventors and Innovators Alliance.
The purpose of the grant is to give students from Engineers Without Borders (EWB), the Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship (CIE) and Cal Poly Entrepreneurs (CPE) a chance to work together and see what they come up with, industrial and manufacturing engineering professor Sema Alptekin Ervin said.
Though she is a faculty member within the engineering department, Ervin has been going to the CIE’s monthly meetings for a few years and has been exposed to entrepreneurship ideas. Ervin — who wrote the grant application — said she is looking at what the students can accomplish together rather than “being in silos,” which reduces each student’s impact.
Engineering students may be able to build a bridge or hospital for a community, but they want to make sure the development is sustainable, she said. If EWB were to go back in five years, they want to make sure it’s still there and possibly being maintained by local residents, Ervin said. That’s where business administration students can help, according to Ervin.
“That’s the main idea,” Ervin said. “We want to increase our impact that we make in our global communities while providing learning opportunities for students.”
Along with Ervin, the multidisciplinary grant was developed by Kathy Chen, materials engineering department chair, and Jonathan York, an Orfalea College of Business professor and CIE co-founder.
One of the first tasks for Ervin and her team is to develop a web-based platform to bring together students, faculty and projects.
“Think about something like Craigslist, but dedicated to humanitarian projects,” Ervin said. “We will post our project ideas there and it will be open to Cal Poly community to post their ideas.”
But according to Ervin, $10,000 isn’t going to go very far. The team is also reaching out to the Central Coast community, which might be interested in helping with the projects.
The team has until June 2015 to deliver what they proposed, which is to bring the two clubs together and come up with ideas to help communities.
“We are looking at it from educational point of view right now,” Ervin said. “The grant is actually just to implement the work and then seek additional funding.”
For EWB President and mechanical engineering senior Vanessa Lasseson — the first female president of the club — the grant will help the chapter with research for their projects, though there won’t be any direct implementation, she said.
EWB has four international projects in Nicaragua, India, Thailand and Malawi and one local project, which is dealing with erosion control.
Lasseson’s mother is from the Philippines, so Lasseson used to travel abroad when she was younger. She said those trips taught her how lucky she was to live in the United States. Lasseson lived in an apartment, which she said was “nothing really middle-class or high-class,” but compared to where her relatives lived in the Philippines, it was “extremely amazing.”
She became an engineer because she wanted to help people with the skills she learned in college, she said. She joined EWB because it lined up with her goals.
“It was basically a perfect crossroad between engineering and helping others,” Lasseson said.