Swanson School of Engineering Offers New Undergraduate Certificate in Engineering for Humanity

Issue Date: 
January 10, 2011

Pittsburgh Swanson School of Engineering recently established an undergraduate certificate program that combines engineering with elements of business, public policy, and social science to help aspiring engineers implement technological responses to the world’s humanitarian ills.

The Engineering for Humanity certificate is a 15-credit program offered through the Swanson School’s Mascaro Center for Sustainable Innovation. It comprises four three-credit courses and a service-learning project that can be implemented locally or internationally. Of the four courses, only two are explicitly related to engineering. The other two are a business-related course and a cultural course related to the region of the world in which the service-learning project will occur.

Program advisor Lisa Weiland, an assistant professor in the Swanson School’s Department of Mechanical Engineering and Materials Science, said the multidisciplinary approach enjoins students to approach such global problems as environmental preservation and water management from perspectives beyond the technical scope of engineering.

“Our students are aware that the very real problems affecting our world are too large and complex for one discipline to address alone,” Weiland said. “Ethics, economics, business, and societal perspectives—these must all be considered in any effective engineering approach. Today, engineers know that community projects require knowledge of society and how it functions. By challenging students to think beyond engineering and consider business-model development and social implications, we are dramatically increasing their ability to be successful.”

Weiland is the lead Pitt researcher for a collaborative project between the Mascaro Center and citizens of Vandergrift, Pa., that encompasses the elements of humanitarian engineering, she said. The Vandergrift Improvement Project is intended to reinvigorate the town’s central business district by reducing its power consumption and helping Vandergrift become more sustainable. Weiland is developing electroactive materials to help supply the town’s business district with free, clean-source hydrokinetic power from the nearby Kiskiminetas River. At the same time, citizens and business owners in Vandergrift are evaluating and adjusting their energy consumption in order to be more efficient producers and consumers of energy and goods.