Humanitarian focus: New Engineering Minor at ANU

Sunset over rice fields South East Asia
Wednesday 6 February 2019

The ANU College of Engineering and Computer Science is now offering students a minor in Humanitarian Engineering. The program commences for study in 2019.

Humanitarian Engineering is an emerging field that focuses on using engineering to work with disadvantaged, marginalised and vulnerable individuals and communities both domestically and internationally.

The minor will adopt a multidisciplinary approach to problem solving, and focus on using Engineering principles to drive positive societal outcomes. ANU is at the forefront of the discipline, and was the first university to develop a later year humanitarian engineering course as an elective in 2015, which is now part of the minor. The minor will be one of only a handful of award programs in the area across Australia.

Jeremy Smith, lecturer and program convener, said that while ANU has previously offered many Humanitarian Engineering opportunities, having a formal minor will “give more of a structured pathway for students to think about how their engineering and technology can have a positive impact on human well-being and quality of life, particularly for marginalised and vulnerable communities, both in Australia and overseas".

Smith said students who study the minor can expect to have the opportunity to collaborate and engage with students across the campus, including environmental science, development studies and Asia Pacific studies.

"One of the biggest strengths of ANU is that in those areas we have world class researchers and academics and international collaborations, so it’s tapping into the globally recognised expertise of the ANU".

According to Smith, the skills that students have gained are transferrable to all areas of engineering.

"What we're finding is students that have been involved with Humanitarian Engineering opportunities feel they are more employable for any engineering role, regardless of if it's got a humanitarian or development focus or not".

The Humanitarian Engineering electives have traditionally attracted a diverse cohort, reaching 40-45% women, which is one of the few programs that is close to reaching the College's strategic initiative of reaching a 50/50 gender split.

Within the minor there are many opportunities for students to study and work overseas, and put their skills into practice. The University has partnered with for-purpose organisations such as Engineers Without Borders Australia (EWB) and Unbound Academy, providing opportunities for students to undertake international Design Summits. Lucy Steadman was just one on them.

These opportunities are often supported by programs such as the Federal Government Department of Foreign Affairs New Colombo Plan, with scholarships available until 2022.

Thomas Larkin, a final year Engineering/Arts student said that completing an EWB Design summit in Cambodia, as well as his honours project in Papua New Guinea opened his eyes to the possibilities of human centred design.

"I went into that experience thinking it was going to be more about me using my Engineering skillset to help disadvantaged communities in Cambodia, but what I learnt over the two weeks there was that it was a lot more about them teaching us how to behave as human centred designers".

During his time overseas, he managed to develop his capabilities in a ‘real world’ environment.

"One of the big things I've been able to get out of it is developing not only design skills, but also project management and communication. I think being able to have that cross cultural communication and managing many clients from diverse backgrounds, as well as clients that might be all over the world is a valuable skill”.


Updated:  10 August 2021/Responsible Officer:  Dean, CECS/Page Contact:  CECS Marketing