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Inspiring globally responsible engineering

How would you make the engineering sector more globally responsible? This is the question the students participating in the first-ever Designathon, held in February 2021, had to contemplate. Organised by Engineers Without Borders UK together with the architecture charity AzuKo, the nationwide event saw over 150 university students across the UK take part in the same design challenge simultaneously. In just a few weeks, the teams had to familiarise themselves with the brief, develop a solution to best address it, and prepare a final video presentation for the judging panel.

The competition inspired various innovative solutions from interactive websites to encourage participation in sustainability to an Android app that tracks electricity carbon intensity. However, despite tough competition, the Gold Design Award was won by Team 21-09 for their suggestion to introduce the principles of responsible engineering to children from an early age through an innovative play-based model. Stimulating Responsible Engineering Through Play looks to encourage children’s imagination around key concepts of responsible engineering through play, helping schools and charities in less economically developing countries to inspire children to see engineering as an enabler for change in their communities.

Here Mairéad, Matt and Julia from the winning team talk about their experience and share five reasons students should consider participating in future Designathons.

1. Improve collaboration
The Designathon was a great chance to work with people from different backgrounds and areas of expertise. When we started the project, we didn’t know each other: we had to quickly learn what professional and interpersonal skills are needed to enable efficient teamwork. The collaboration also highlighted the value of creative thinking and brainstorming with people who might take a completely different approach to a problem.

2. Learn new skills
The workshops offered by Engineers Without Borders UK, AzuKo and Electrocomponents were very beneficial, demonstrating the skills needed to write and perform a presentation and what makes it a success. For example, ensuring audience engagement throughout the presentation is vital, as well as ensuring that they have useful takeaways from it.

3. Work with inspiring mentors
Working with our mentor, Anthony, really helped our ideas take off. With his feedback, we were able to identify the root of the problem through industry-proven methods and bring our solution to life. His advice on building a clear and informative presentation was also invaluable and helped us finetune our animation and narrative. If anything, we would suggest introducing mentors to teams even earlier in the process. They could help inspire new ideas and steer the thought process, but there would need to be a careful balance so that the weight of their experience wouldn’t stifle any new ideas.

4. Challenge yourself
The Designathon is meant to be a challenge and push participants to think laterally. This can feel intimidating at first, but it shouldn’t. All the resources, workshops and mentor exchange opportunities are there to support you, so make the most of them. It’s an excellent opportunity to explore different problems and solutions, meet other students, and rethink and rediscover the engineering world.

5. Gain new perspective
Taking part in the Designathon helped us understand that the engineering sector still has a long way to go to meet the needs of everyone in our society. However, it also highlighted how organisations such as Engineers Without Borders UK and Azuko lead the way by promoting equality and fairness in society and demonstrating that new ideas and an ethos of empowerment can play a crucial role in enabling that change.

For more information on Engineers Without Borders UK and details of future events, visit www.ewb-uk.org.

Engineers Without Borders UK are working to reach the tipping point to ensure a safe and just future for all. Part of a global movement of over 60 Engineers Without Borders organisations, we inspire, upskill and drive change in the engineering community and together take action to put global responsibility at the heart of engineering.
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