Amadei speaks at annual Woodruff Lecture

The George W. Woodruff School of Mechanical Engineering Annual Distinguished Lecture was held this past Tuesday, with Bernard Amadei, founding president of Engineers Without Borders-USA, as this year’s featured speaker.

With a lecture titled The Role of Engineers in Poverty Reduction: Challenges and Opportunities, Amadei addressed an audience of members from the Tech community, which gathered in the Ferst Center for the Arts to hear him speak.

Established in 1990, the Woodruff Distinguished Lecture Series has annually honored an engineer believed to have made an outstanding contribution to society and has invited that person to speak to the Tech community. In addition to Amadei’s work with Engineers Without Borders-USA, he is also the co-founder of Engineers Without Borders-International and a professor of Civil Engineering at the University of Colorado at Boulder.

Amadei began his talk by stating that it is an obligation of engineers to address the needs of the poor. It is his belief that many of the major needs in the Western world were met over the last 100 years, and that many of those same needs are still waiting to be met in many developing countries.

He said that currently, engineering is only attempting to solve 10 percent of the world’s problems, repeating several times during his talk that five billion of the world’s population live in poverty and are generally ignored by the West.

Making it clear that his statement was not being made to be political, Amadei broke down the numbers for worldwide military spending, explaining that humanity directed $31,000 towards military spending every second, while at the same time allowing 29,000 children to die of hunger every day.

“A lot of the criminals today are not in jail. They are in Washington, D.C. and other places in the world,” Amadei said.

Issues like water, sanitation, energy, shelter, health care, food and jobs were all needs that were not being addressed, Amadei said. He called for people to take responsibility for these problems.

Amadei used the majority of his talk to highlight new types of engineering that address problems in the developing world and current initiatives that are also trying to discover solutions for these problems.

At the University of Colorado at Boulder, Amadei is directing a new program in Engineering for Developing Communities. The program’s aim is to educate engineering students and professionals with a global perspective and help them learn how to develop sustainable and appropriate answers to endemic problems in developing communities around the world.

The program has been a great recruiting tool for getting students interested in the field of engineering. The students are provided with an opportunity to participate in meaningful projects and are excited to be learning from something other than a textbook.

Amadei also focused on developing “small-scale engineering,” or engineering to develop solutions to critical problems that might have a more focused impact. He said that engineering always seems to be looking for bigger and bigger projects, but there are plenty of crucial problems around the world that need small-scale solutions. Amadei explained that shanty towns and refugee camps would benefit greatly from small-scale engineering.

To drive home his point, Amadei asked the audience how there could be peace in areas of the world with conflict if the people living there cannot find clean water, appropriate shelter or energy.

The lecture concluded with Amadei highlighting some of the projects that Engineers Without Borders has worked on. The organization has 12,000 members, 291 chapters and 385 projects in 48 countries.