Sheffield University's annual Global Engineering Challenge is a cross-faculty event aimed at developing its students' ability to take on real-life engineering projects. Taking inspiration from the award-winning Engineering for People Design Challenge, created by Engineers Without Borders in 2011, it aims to prepare students, the engineers of the future, to become globally responsible engineers. Engineers Without Borders is a network of engineers, organisations and Universities that grew out of the voluntary work of a group of around 60 engineers who gave their time and creativity to solve engineering problems experienced during the Ethiopian famine disaster of the early 1980s.
In order to tackle the engineering challenges of the 21st Century, it is important to possess teamwork, design, problem-solving, communication skills and global awareness, as well as technical knowledge. The aim of the Sheffield University Global Engineering Challenge Week is to introduce and develop these transferable skills, by working in a cross-faculty team to tackle a real-life engineering project. This experience gives students an insight into how to approach the 'big questions' of their future career.
For the Sheffield University annual Global Engineering Challenge, twenty or more projects were drawn from recent Engineers Without Borders (EWB) Challenges. Projects in the past have included:
• Innovative use of local materials for houses
• Alternative renewable clean cooking technologies
• Water purification at the household scale
• A Rhino-tracking network (to combat poaching)
• Anti-corruption pharmaceutical drug distribution tracking
• A mobile retinal scanner (to diagnose disease)
The aim is to create hi-tech solutions to some basic real-world problems.
Students select their topic by ranking preferred project subjects and are allocated a team of six comprising students from other departments to tackle a project. They worked in their groups for the last week in January to come up with the best solution to their project. The objective is to challenge students to think broader and deeper. Results are peer-reviewed as part of the evaluation process, and the teams producing winning solutions are awarded certificates.
The challenge is overseen and organised by academics, industry mentors and EWB representatives.
Outcomes for students
• Learn about sustainability, project management and professional behaviours
• Develop personal effectiveness in team working, communication, giving and using feedback, and reviewing their own skills
• Meet and learn from recent engineering graduates
• Have a fantastic opportunity to develop and showcase skills that can be later used to impress prospective employers
• Make new friends in different engineering courses
• Gain skills and experience attractive to employers
What mentoring involves
As an industry mentor for this challenge, Tim Rastall assisted Sheffield University students from multiple engineering disciplines. Divided into small teams of six, they were tasked with analysing their allocated problem and creating innovative solutions for what turned out to be some of the world’s toughest sustainability issues.
Some of the issues discussed included:
• ‘energy efficient ways to cool residential properties in climate extreme deserts,’
• ‘new solutions for collecting and recycling plastic and glass on certain beaches,’
• and ‘looking at sustainable solutions to reduce fish waste.’
Mentors on the project helped both individuals and teams to solve their allocated problems, give advice, and point out any considerations missed when looking at how the teams would hypothetically solve these real-world problems.
Tim also gave a general presentation to all those who took part (around 1400 students – all first-year engineering students from a range of disciplines and all faculties) on job sourcing skills in the electrical engineering sector, such as CVs, internships and as well as key insight on the renewable energy and electrical industry.
The programme ran for a full week from 25th-29th January 2021. This year, due to COVID-19 social distancing requirements, all participants and mentors took part via digital conferencing.
Talking of his experience as a mentor, Tim Rastall said: “As an engineer you expect to be constantly learning. And I learned a lot about cross-discipline teams and collaboration from mentoring the students in this challenge. I hope I was able to pass on some useful information from my experience of entering the engineering profession, and especially my enthusiasm for this incredibly creative challenge, and indeed, profession. If you get the opportunity to participate as a mentor in a similar challenge, then I would strongly recommend taking it on.”
Note: 'Engineers without Borders' is a voluntary organisation that offers help in third-world countries to help solve engineering problems (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Engineers_Without_Borders). Engineers Without Borders offered the challenge ideas about some of the world’s most pressing engineering issues that students could analyse as part of a real-world, international work experience.
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