Two nights ago Mary Frances and I spend a delightful evening with the OSU Student Chapter of Engineers Without Borders at its annual fundraising banquet. This year the group is raising money for an implementation trip to Lela, Kenya. CH2M Hill graciously and generously sponsored the event. The room was filled, and the students, most of whom were likely engineering students (surprise!), were enthusiastic and well-informed. They were concerned with socio-cultural and sustainability issues, not just with building something and leaving.
I have had some involvement with the group. About a year ago I had provided some help to Kenya team leader Jaynie Whinnery as the trip involved groundwater and there was little such expertise in the group. My help consisted mainly of providing contacts who knew the landscape in the area. Colleagues Cathy Fitzgerald, Bruce Darling, and others really stepped up. Here is the team's preliminary design report.
Not, for the crux of this post.
I have been told that the OSU-EWB group has had some trouble attracting non-engineering students into its fold. I do not know if this is still the case. These students are important, because virtually every water problem has a non-engineering component to it. In addition, involving non-engineers gives all students experience with work in a multidisciplinary environment.
I do know one EWB student group that had such an issue attracting non-engineers and they appear to have solved it: the former EWB group at the University of Oklahoma. The group, affiliated with the OU WaTER Center, is now Sooners Without Borders.
From SWB's site:
The University of Oklahoma recently expanded the student organization “Engineers Without Borders” to “Sooners Without Borders.” The move was made to develop the organization into a campus wide group and invite involvement of all disciplines. In February, SWB, along with the Center for Social Justice and the University of Oklahoma Women’s and Gender Studies Program, hosted a talk by 2007 CNN Hero Sister Rosemary Nyirumbe. Nyirumbe spoke to students, faculty and members of the Norman community about her work at the St. Monica Girls Tailoring School in Gulu, Uganda. The purpose of the school is to give shelter to girls and women who were abducted and raped by members of the Lord’s Resistance Army.
The move to SWB was promoted by Dr. Robert C. Knox, Director of the School of Civil Engineering and Environmental Science, and SWB's Faculty Advisor, and his WaTER Center colleagues Drs. David Sabatini, Randy Kolar, Robert Nairn, and Yang Hong, all of whom value transdisciplinary work in water, sanitation and hygiene. They have made efforts to involve faculty from all across campus, so why not do the same with the student group? For them, the step to SWB made perfect sense.
At this point I should note that the University of Nevada-Reno's student water group, Student Association for International Water Issues (SAIWI) is a home-grown organization that has been quite successful.
So perhaps EWB-OSU should consider such a name change. I do not know how this would go over with EWB-USA, an organization that certainly has credibility and cachet. OSU-EWB would want to check with the SWB group to learn of any pitfalls. But even if EWB-OSU no longer has trouble attracting non-engineers, a name change might send a more welcoming, inclusive message.
Again, I don't have a dog in this show. It's not my call and not my organization.
But 'Beavers Without Borders' does have a nice ring to it. And everyone knows the connection among beavers, engineers, and water.
[Spoken like someone who is on the BoD of Hydrogeologists Without Borders!]
“In organizations, real power and energy is generated through relationships. The patterns of relationships and the capacities to form them are more important than tasks, functions, roles, and positions.” - Margaret Wheatly