Developing local engineering solutions in India

20 February 2019
Humanitarian engineering students visit west-central state of Maharashtra
Streamlining the sorting of hand collected solid-waste and assessing potential designs for a carbon neutral hospital were some of the learning experiences engineering students gained during their recent fieldwork trip to India.

In partnership with mobility partner Authentica, 14 students from various engineering disciplines travelled to Maharashtra in India as a part of the Humanitarian Engineering major.

This global engineering fieldwork trip is a core component of the major requiring students to undertake work in either a developing country or indigenous community.

“This is the third year we have taken students to India supported by funding from the New Colombo Plan," says Dr Jacqueline Thomas, who oversees the major within the School of Civil Engineering.

“Doing so has provided our humanitarian engineering students hands on experience of the challenges faced in India and the difficulties faced by an engineer working in a developing country.”

This fieldwork trip allowed students to collaborate with organisations on five social responsibility projects within the city of Pune, the second largest city in the west-central Indian state.

Three groups worked on projects associated with Gathagram, a proposed township to be built in Pune by construction and design property development company Orange Country Group.

One group investigated strategies to enhance the sustainability of the proposed township, while another researched how best to safeguard the precinct against natural hazards.

The third were tasked with assessing the practicality of making Garthagram’s hospital a carbon neutral standalone building by evaluating the building’s power management and generation, waste management and water management infrastructures.

A separate group partnered with SWaCH, a wholly-owned workers’ cooperative that advocate for better working conditions of waste pickers, to review design requirements for sorting sheds across the city. They analysed problems faced by waste pickers in sorting sheds, including facility layout, water and sanitation, and human factors.

Another collected data on behalf of Saraplast as part of an ongoing ‘Uber for Waste Management’ research project intended to identify potential customers for septic tank services using a mobile app.

All five student groups are now in the process of providing comprehensive reports of their engineering ideas for their respective industry partners. The student generated ideas can provide valuable input for partners organisations as they progress to project implementation.

“This fieldwork trip allowed us to apply our engineering knowledge to projects that will make a tangible difference to the community of Pune,” says Kiran Singh, a fifth-year Bachelor of Engineering Honours (Electrical) / Bachelor of Science (Advanced Mathematics) student who participated in the fieldwork trip.

“Being able to work firsthand with industry organisations has not only added to my professional experience but also provided me with scope to view issues from the perspective of others.”

In addition to gaining valuable practical experience, the students also had opportunities to learn more about the local customs, languages and traditions of Pune.

Highlights included exploring the many markets and temples across the city, participation in a Bollywood dance class and sampling a traditional Indian thali – a round platter comprising of various food.

“The program fosters independence and a mechanism for students to become immersed in Indian culture,” says Dr Thomas.

“It’s always rewarding to see their confidence grow as they adapt to the location, master using auto rickshaws as transport and discovering the best places to eat!”

The Humanitarian Engineering major is available to engineering students studying within the Faculty of Engineering. Students have previously conducted global fieldwork trips in Samoa and will later this year have opportunities to travel to Myanmar as well as India.

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