Thoughts on STEM education, sustainable business, women engineers, etc. 

Development Engineering: What it is and Why it Matters

Over the past month, Julia Kramer (fellow PhD student, Clevelander, friend) and I put together a piece outlining what constitutes the emerging field of development engineering, how it's different from engineering, why it matters, where it started, and where it's going. Julia and I both were lucky enough to get involved with development engineering programs during our undergrads (at Penn State and Michigan) and so have been thinking about the nature of development engineering programs for some time now. Writing the piece provided a great opportunity to reflect on our academic space and think about how the ecosystem could change to lead to greater levels of social change. The full article from Impact Design Hub can be found here and the introduction is below! 


Development Engineering: A Critical Overview

Development engineering is an emerging field that brings together communities, businesses, students, faculty, NGOs, and governments, as well as for- and non-profit organizations, with the intention of working collaboratively to solve global challenges. It is, by design, a multidisciplinary field that bridges engineering with social sciences such as economics, public health, and gender studies alongside business and entrepreneurship for societal benefit. In order to understand where this new field is headed, both independently and within the broader context of impact design, it’s important to understand where it came from as well as its current state of development, which is what this overview sets out to do.

The history that paved the way for the emergence of development engineering, as well as the drivers behind it and the core tensions that currently characterize it, will all be explored here from our perspective: two current PhD students in the Development Engineering program at U.C. Berkeley. The authors have seen the academic side of development engineering within the university setting as well as the entrepreneurial side, a perspective gained through each having run technology-based ventures in the healthcare space.

Because it’s a nascent and rapidly growing field, development engineering has its challenges, as all sectors of impact design do. However, this growth is coupled with an increase in opportunities to both accomplish the social work that the field sets out to do, as well as to begin addressing the internal challenges development engineering faces. Thus, the field has significant potential to make impactful changes to the contemporary social issues faced by society at local and global levels.

Read more! 

On Perseverance..

The news since November has been.. depressing. Every article seems to reinforce the idea that the world has gone crazy. Listening to NPR for 15 minutes often makes me want to curl up and hide under a blanket. All of this has made me deeply appreciative for the the representatives that do exist in government who reflect my views.

On a different side of the spectrum, I'm entering the end of my graduate studies and am full on dissertation work mode. There are lots of days I don't feel like thinking about the sustainability implications of technology cycles. But I've tried to keep at it little by little, recognizing that completing my dissertation will lead me to achieving higher level goals in the future. However, if Elizabeth Warren, Kamala Harris, and Bernie Sanders can roll up their sleeves and get to work facing huge odds and working alongside a lot of people I'm sure they don't like -- I can get up, go to work, and keep trying to finish. They provide a great lesson in perseverance and tenacity - two traits I hope to continue exhibiting throughout my life.

My dissertation topic didn't turn out how I had hoped because of a series of events that were out of my control. But that same sequence led to some really incredible and unexpected opportunities also. We can't control what happens in the world or in our lives, but we have to keep fighting for what we want to see come to fruition. 

Just some motivating thoughts on a Thursday afternoon! 

Is science really objective?

Last weekend I spent Friday and Saturday at the Editorial Committee meeting for a journal I work with called Annual Review of Environment and Resources. The meeting brings together 8 faculty from all around the globe to discuss pertinent environmental issues. Everyone brings a different perspective to the conversation as the board consists of experts in policy, ecosystem services, climate science, agriculture, energy, and public health. At one point, the conversation turned to the objectiveness of science - and I've been thinking about this ever since. If we as scientists and engineers were truly objective then we would be a lot less picky about what we work on. I realize for chemists or biologists once you learn highly specialized analytical techniques you tend to stick in the same problem zone out of necessity.. but for engineers - the same analytical toolkit we receive through our training could be applied to a myriad of issues. But we all have our interests, our passions: "I'm an air quality person, or a water person, or a _____." And those passions come about as a result of our experiences in life or in our previous education, as well as because of highly influential mentors. In my case my mentor and advisor at Penn State set me down a road of looking at radically multi-disciplinary work as the norm, and trained me as a researcher to take on large messy problems. So now, when I'm presented with the opportunity to work on something narrow - such as my PhD dissertation - it largely doesn't appeal to me. I'm subjective. I have my biases. Every researcher does. And we all bring those biases into our work -- we can't help it. Does this make our work subjective

I don't really know if there is an answer to this - people say "You have to acknowledge your biases." From a practical standpoint you can list your funding sources. But say for instance you are politically liberal and working on climate change. Should you also have to list in your work you're a Democrat? Or is the biases and opinions that we all bring into our work what makes science rich? Just some thoughts on a Friday morning.. 


No. 5: The Science of Scaling

On Monday, the Blum Center for Developing Economies held an event called "The Science of Scaling." With reps from academia, USAID, the private sector, and NGOs in attendance, the day provoked a lot of conversation around how enterprises and initiatives can grow to reach the impact so fervently desired. Many of the speakers discussed RCTs and the need for measurable impact, as well as the need for a persistent team -- as this work is hard. Here are a few other take-aways I got from the day: 

  • You need to do your due diligence: As much as innovators would like to move quickly from one community to the next, there's no good way to get past the preliminary groundwork. Interventions take time, because they are really dependent on developing relationships. No matter how much the innovator believes in the impact of their work, it's not going to take hold until the community equally values it. 
  • You need to do marketing: Social enterprises are not exempt from investing in marketing. A need exists for enterprises to disseminate their messages. What people often overlook is having a distilled message around what is the action you want your audience to do. I find this is particularly true in academia... academics get lost in the broader conversation and forget to clearly state -- what is the takeaway. 
  • You need to be a translator: Making any form of impact requires talking to people of different backgrounds in a large variety of roles. As an innovator you need to be able to translate your message across disciplinary lines. Unfortunately, engineers are barely trained to communicate let alone become effective communicators in this fashion. But we as a society are missing a common language between researchers of different disciplines -- congruence is needed for implementers, value creators, and business specialists if our work is to be effective. 
  • You will need to fight through accumulated nonsense: This last point is kind of tangential, but one of the speakers was discussing the current state of our global economy and how it is flooded with what he called "accumulated nonsense." I really liked that phrase. So many examples were given in this week's presidential debate alone -- that global warming is a "hoax perpetuated by the Chinese", that Americans "pay high taxes", etc. None of these things are true. If you are a person fighting the status quo, this is what you have to fight in order to make the truth be known. I thought this was a quite salient and timely point! 

No. 4: Go Time

The classic San Francisco summer weather has set in - 50 degrees and gloomy - so I am on the couch under a pile of blankets watching the Olympics. I definitely have surprised a lot of my CA friends over the past few weeks with my level of knowledge about the Olympics, and in particular the women's gymnastics team. Seriously though, they're the best.  Very excited to watch over the next few weeks as I'm studying for my qualifying exam. 

Quals is the last big hurdle of the PhD pathway, aside from writing the dissertation itself. It's a 3-hour oral exam where I present my dissertation proposal for 30 ish minutes and then am questioned by 4 faculty members for the remainder of the time. Sigh. It's daunting. But as a major advocate for technical communication I see it's value as a necessary part of the training. 

Anywho here's what's going on this week: 

From the Pictures

  • It's incredibly gloomy here. 
  • Last week Nathan and I went to the Sonoma Valley Museum of Art to see a talk on the Craft of Surfing - an exhibit currently ongoing.
  • I debated stealing this chalkboard from the trash loading dock near my office but it wouldn't fit in the car. 
  • It's also cold (I know I'm whining) but that means sweatshirt weather and I'm rocking my new American Giant hoodie -- a birthday present from my brother Dan. 

What I'm Reading

 What I'm Working On

  • Finishing up the draft of my quals proposals. phew. 
  • Determining the future strategy plan for Annual Reviews of Environment and Resources (and learning about the new journal development process!) 
  • Thinking about the role of the university as an incubator 
  • Studying the role of female entrepreneurs in gendered enterprises 

Quote of the Week