Engineering has managed to become a core component to the development of the modern world. We build the software behind the smart phones that rules generation Y, the tall skyscrapers populating cities – some that will go up as high as a kilometer in the year 2020 (With Dubai leading the way). We’re taught to see the world as it is: in a logical and systematic manner. And then, naturally the next step we take after analyzing the world around us is asking what can be done to improve it.
However, if you look around us, nearly half of the world’s population of 7 billion people live in poverty. On our tiny planet, the world’s supercomputers get more powerful every year, we get thinner iPhones every now and then, and several multi-billion dollar companies are now built off of our collective ADHDs. Yet people’s houses are getting smaller, their plates bearing less and less, and approximately 22 thousand children dying every day. That’s an entire town of innocent humans being wiped out by the time you go to bed tonight. Now I don’t want to be a ‘Debbie Downer’ here, but there’s something wrong with this picture. We’re obviously getting smarter, but why aren’t we getting better as a species? Here at UofT, I think it’s safe to say that we’re doing a great job at starting to get to the root of that answer and then doing something about it.
Over the past 8 months, I had the incredible opportunity to work with ILEAD (The Institute for Leadership Education in Engineering) on a complex-problem solving program called the GAME which isn’t the kind of problem you would find in textbooks or exams but the kind you would see in the plight of a homeless person on the streets of Toronto. Every group that participated in the GAME found complex problems they wanted to try and solve. Throughout the program, a few key ideologies and methodologies were taught to the group of very talented and driven engineers.
First of all, we learned the value of teamwork and how important of a role empathy plays in it. We also learned that complex problems do not have a fixed, ‘best solution’. They have the best ‘fit’ solution instead. And these issues do not get solved within days. They can take weeks, months, or even years. We learned that it’s a lot like unraveling a rubber band ball. You analyze it first to see if there are any obvious giveaways to the solution. After that you start tugging at bands that you think would unravel the most bands in one pull and you keep trying and experimenting until you’ve unraveled the ball.
This analogy can be used to describe the general steps one can take to fix some of the biggest problems that are consuming the planet. We need people who can use math and programming to analyze a problem, find possible gaps and system loopholes, and then do something about it – even if that means getting your hands dirty with technology. We need people who will not winch at the thought of facing an incredibly complex problem, framing it as a system, breaking it into manageable functions and improving those functions for a better overall output.
With UofT facilitating programs like ILEAD, Engineers without Borders, and the Engineering society that all promote leadership and empathy as part of the self-growth process, I think we’re doing a fine job at preparing our students to go onto become philanthropic Engineers and do their bit for the world. One such example is Michael Klassen (EngSci 0T9 + PEY), a very driven alum who works with ILEAD now as a consultant. After graduating, he went on to work with Engineers without Borders for three years, spending the majority of his time in places such as Ghana to apply his engineering skills towards the betterment of a developing country. Likewise there are dozens of engineers from UofT who went on to make a difference in the world of non-profits. As UofT continues to emphasize the importance of fostering leadership and empathy among its engineering students, we’re going to see a greater rise in philanthropic engineers among our alumni. And to be quite frank, the world needs more of them now, more than ever. Just remember, it all starts here at Skule first. So find a problem, find some friends, and start brainstorming whenever you can. Who knows what could happen!?!