UMD Engineering Course in Social Entrepreneurship Will Support Building Wells in Africa

During this season of giving, students in the University of Maryland's Department of Mechanical Engineering course 'Engineering for Social Change,' are supporting the gift of clean water to communities in Africa. On Tuesday, December 15, the class awarded Bread and Water for Africa® this semester's $10,000 grant.

Established by Professor Emeritus of Mechanical Engineering Davinder Anand and piloted during the spring 2015 semester, the Engineering for Social Change class introduces young engineers to the ideas of social change and social entrepreneurship through the intersection of concepts from both engineering and philanthropy.

"The course evolved from the pilot program last semester by bringing in a new project tuned more to the work mechanical engineers are best at—our Ideas for Social Change Challenge," explained Course Manager Dylan Hazelwood. "This pushed the students to create a holistic solution to a problem facing their chosen community anywhere in the world in three areas—energy, water and food—focusing not specifically on the product but the issues surrounding the implementation of their solution."

Throughout the course, students learn from both engineers and leaders in nonprofit organizations about the value and impact of their actions as engineers. And for many students, who have spent their academic years solving problems through calculations and crunching numbers, the class offers a whole new approach to how they view solving problems. It asks them to look past the numbers, to see how their engineering decisions can potentially impact individuals and communities beyond the solution.

In a class blog post, engineering undergraduate Caldwell Clarke writes, "Engineering is not just plugging in formulas or building things. It is about thoughtful decision making. As engineers, our decisions have the potential to have a huge impact on how the general public lives and interacts. This means that the decisions we make every day can create social change, and it is our responsibility to ensure that this change is what we want to see in the world."

In addition, the class culminates in awarding one $10,000 grant—provided by the Neilom Foundation—to a nonprofit organization of their choosing. The mission of this semester's grant was for students to evaluate, and choose for support, an organization operating in the Washington, D.C./Baltimore metropolitan area that is actively involved in creating a tangible impact in water quality either locally or internationally.

This semester's grant award, made to Bread and Water for Africa®, will help support their goal of building a hand pump water well to serve the Hill Station Primary and Secondary Schools and surrounding community in Freetown, Sierra Leone.

(L-R) Bread and Water for Africa® Director Bethlehem Tessema, Professor Emeritus of Mechanical Engineering Davinder Anand and Course Manager Dylan Hazelwood

"Clean water development is one of our major programs that we focus [on] as our name indicates," explained Bread and Water for Africa® Director Bethlehem Tessema, "Every year, we build at least one water well in Africa as our budget permits. In addition, we always know water is life, and it affects almost everything, including health, education and the future of the children."

Bread and Water for Africa® has established a goal of building a total of three wells in Sierra Leone, which is still recovering from the Ebola outbreak of 2014. The first well, in the community of Waterloo, is soon to be completed. The grant money, combined with the matching funds contributed by Bread and Water for Africa®, will make it possible to complete the second well early in 2016. The mission of Bread and Water for Africa® is to promote positive change in Africa by supporting and strengthening grassroots initiatives for community self-sufficiency, health, agriculture and food self-sufficiency and education.

"Students learn engineering is more than designing and/or creating something," said Tessema on the value of student engagement in philanthropy. "It is part of our lives, and important that [it] positively impact our lives when students think and apply their knowledge efforts for the well-being of humanity."

Engineering for Social Change Class of Fall 2015

The Neilom Foundation, a non-profit established by Anand provided this semester's grant funding, and the class is conducted by the Center for Engineering Concepts Development (CECD) in partnership with UMD's Center for Philanthropy and Non-Profit Leadership in the School of Public Policy.

Published December 22, 2015