A Message From Our Departing President

One year ago, I took over as EWB Sheffield’s President aiming consolidate our activities and develop the society. A year later, we, as a Committee, have done just that.

Developing relationships in the faculty has opened up the society to great deal of support that we hadn’t previously utilised. Particularly, redefining the role our academic mentor plays in supporting the society and forging links with the Engineering Faculty’s Student-Led Project fund has allowed the societies’ voice to be heard at higher level discussions. This in turn has allowed the Committee to make decisions based on a firmer understanding of the bureaucracy of university life. This allowed and will allow projects greater access to support and money going forward.

EWB Sheffield was also proud to host its first Designathon this year. The Committee agreed at the start of the year that the Society’s role should develop to provide more events for our membership. The Designathon idea was spawned out of this goal and soon took shape as the Autumn floods in Sheffield decided our engineering problem.

After a long initial planning phase to organise logistics, the Committee were mobilised to draw up a brief and plan for the day, as well as organising judges and catering. By all accounts the day was a great success with feedback that will allow the new Committee to develop the event further next year with the lessons we have learnt!

Looking back on how far the Society has come, I am incredibly proud and grateful of what we have achieved as a Committee. I could not have hoped for a better group of people to help spread EWB’s aim of working towards sustainable engineering and make achieving that goal this year such a joy!

All that is left is to thank this year’s Committee and wish next year’s good luck, especially Nathan Strathdee who will be taking over my role! I hope you all enjoy it as much as I have.

Alastair White

EWB Sheffield President 2019-2020

Outreach

The EWB Sheffield Outreach program has been a great success this year. As with all the other projects, we are devastated to have had to end so soon but can be proud of our accomplishments. In total, we delivered the EWB Water for Everyone Everywhere workshop to a total of eight year five and six classes in over five different primary schools in the Sheffield area.

As part of the Water for Everyone Everywhere workshop, we encouraged the classes to consider the ways that they use water in their daily lives and how difficult they would become if they were suddenly unable to access clean water less readily. Inevitably, most came up with initial responses like you would become smelly or you would die. However, with minimal guidance, they began to understand that not having access to clean water would affect all aspects of their lives. For example, in a recent session the issue of not being able to wash your hand was raised by a few students, something vital in ensuring public health but sometimes not available in less developed countries. Furthermore, the children were encouraged to consider the ways water is collected and distributed and the contaminants that can prevent water from being usable.

Of course, this was all just build-up to the main event, building a water filter. The children were all given coarse gravel, fine gravel, fine sand, cloth, a rubber band, a cotton wool ball, and a cut off 2-litre bottle in groups of four to five to construct their filters with. We were meant to have coarse sand as well, but I never got around to testing the sand I bought from B&Q. Something I’m sure all the volunteers got sick of explaining repeatedly to every class we went to! However, the kids didn’t seem to mind and built great filters anyway with minimal guidance from us. 

Then comes the testing, where I got to pour a weird concoction of mud and water into each filter one by one. Inevitably, I was always asked if the muddy water was, in fact, coke because of the 2L bottle it came from. However, after watching the water pour into the filters and the smell that it produced, the children were left with no doubt as to the contents of the bottle. Once the water had taken its time to seep through the sand and other materials; the children, and often the volunteers, were amazed that the filters managed to improve the water quality as much as they did. This activity, although very fun, is designed to get the children working together to create a solution to a real-world problem, the essence of being a real engineer. Throughout the sessions, the volunteers and I repeatedly stressed to the classes that the best way to solve many of the issues facing our world is to become an engineer and each of them have the power to make a positive impact.

After all the testing was done, we opened the floor to any and all questions the children may have about what they had done in the session today, what it means to be an engineer and university life. Usually, the children had very few questions about what we had just done in the workshop and instead wanted to hear about being an engineer at university. 

One common question was to ask what the coolest thing we had built was. Unfortunately for me, I haven’t built anything cool enough for the kids’ standards and instead had to turn to the experience of my volunteers. In one session a volunteer said that they had once built a fish that could swim around a pool for one of their modules. This hijacked the topic of any further questions the children had, all they wanted to hear about was the fish. Furthermore, we were always impressed by the interest the children had in studying at university and even becoming engineers at such a young age.  They often asked questions such as how long it takes to become an engineer, what sort of tests do I need to take, and what are some of the things I will end up doing. Even their more silly questions such as “Do you get lunch breaks?“ and “Will we have to walk in between classes?” were incredibly useful in helping them to understand what life at university is really like as opposed to what they hear from movies or TV shows, especially if none of their close family has been to university. 

To combat the challenges that we face currently and those of the future, the world needs more engineers.  Hopefully, through our Outreach sessions this year, children from a diverse range of backgrounds have learned more about what it means to be an engineer and maybe some that had never previously considered becoming one feel interested in pursuing it further. I have every faith that the future generations are more than capable of confronting these challenges and I hope that the work we have done this year has equipped them to achieve their dreams in some small way. Thanks for a great year everybody!

  • Seth Roberts is our outgoing Outreach officer. If you’d like to apply for this or another role on our committee, please email ewb@sheffield.ac.uk with a short video and written paragraph about why you are suited to the role. A full list of positions is available at: https://www.facebook.com/events/642094143244465/

Designathon!

As a committee, we decided that we wanted to host a design event in November 2019. At this time, the streets of Sheffield were wild streams. Public transport was closed, people were being evacuated from Meadowhall and the city of five rivers was a collection of flooded valleys. We decided to run an event based around flooding, an issue that is likely to affect an increasing number of people as the climate crisis accelerates. 

One of our key objectives was to expand participants’ outlook beyond the world of western engineering and consider how design might be approached in an area with a significantly different cultural, socioeconomic and environmental context. Bangladesh was an obvious foci. Severe flooding occurs every 4 to 5 years in Bangladesh and covers more than 60% of the country.

This causes suffering, damaging communities and claiming lives. The problem is also getting worse due to a series of environmental factors, including the climate crisis.

Image: Bangladesh Floods | Humanitarian Coalition

The creation of the designathon was a feat of collaboration. Helen and Alastair, our efficient Secretary and President, worked efficiently to plan the logistics of the day from start to finish.

Considering the strike action and growing global pandemic that coincided with our event, this was no mean feat. This left Kristel, Margo and I to create an interesting brief and research pack for the participants. This experience taught me masses about how to communicate large amounts of information sensitively and effectively. The experience of emailing contacts in Bangladesh and EWB-UK also gave me great experience of long distance collaboration. Something that I think will be useful in the coming months!

Over the weeks before the event, there were many late nights writing the brief, reading heavy papers on Bangladeshi geography and politics and emailing back and forth with various catering companies. By the Wednesday before the event, we’d finished everything that we needed to do.

The night before the event, the university cancelled all lectures and events in the fight against COVID-19. I received this news in the pub. Suddenly, we had a decision to make. 

I’ll spare you the minutiae of the decision process but it meant long, late night discussions and an early morning meeting.

Eventually, we decided to go ahead with a series of safety measures. Throughout the day, the teams worked together well to understand the brief and come up with solutions. They quizzed the various academics well and the presentations at the end of the day were as impressive as they were varied.

The winning presentation!

The feedback from the event was gratifying, my favourite line being: “the whole day was beautiful.” There were also constructive comments asking for more structure, workshops and practical sessions. I hope to respond to these by making our next event even more successful!

On the whole, I felt the day was extremely successful. The attendees enjoyed it and there was innovative conversation about how engineering could be ingenious, local and place people and the planet at its heart. I learnt masses about event organisation and communication and I’m certain that attendees will have developed their understanding of the devastating effects of the climate crisis and how engineering can alleviate suffering.

Finally, I’d like to thank everyone who collaborated to make this event happen. I’ve included a short list below but may have forgotten some!

Alastair White

Helen Meutermans

Margo Sulek

Kristel K Bedregal Portugal

Richard Collins

Helen Wright

Tim Wilmshurst

Sally F Cawood

And all the attendees!

If you’d like more information about the designathon, or access to our resource packs, please get in contact at: njstrathdee1@sheffield.ac.uk

Blog!

Hi! We’re hoping to use this space to host articles and blog posts from our members and the wider engineering community about sustainable development and engineering for environmental and social justice. We envision it as an online space that we can all use to learn about how the skills we learn at university can be used to change the world for the better. If you’re interested in seeing your article up here, please email it to njstrathdee1@sheffield.ac.uk.