Streamlining Duke Engineering’s International Efforts to Maximize Impact
Duke Engineering's Beyond the Horizon initiative is launching the Center for Sustainability and the Global Community
Duke Engineering launched the Beyond the Horizon initiative to provide interdisciplinary teams with substantial investment to begin pursuing extremely high-risk, high-reward projects that have the potential for deep, transformative societal impact. Six proposals were selected for an initial round of funding that will play key roles in shaping Duke Engineering’s future research and teaching profile. Each plays to the school’s unique strengths and hold the promise of helping to define the future of their respective fields.
Uganda, Kenya, Ghana, Eswatini, Peru, Ecuador, Bolivia, Honduras, China, India, Indonesia. In the world’s most far-flung locations, Duke Engineering faculty members are driving projects to improve human health and build a more sustainable future.
Whether designing a low-cost, speculum-free “pocket colposcope” to expand access to cervical cancer screenings or building a bridge across a river more than a football field long, these projects make an impact. And while these two examples clearly have a wide array of challenges, they are far more alike than they are different.
That’s the central tenet behind the Center for Sustainability and the Global Community. Funded by the Beyond the Horizon initiative, the center will pull together a wide assortment of ambitious projects and programs under a single administrative umbrella. Co-led by David Schaad, professor the practice and associate chair of civil and environmental engineering, and Ann Saterbak, professor the practice of biomedical engineering and director of the First Year Design Experience, the center will unite 13 more faculty members from multiple departments, centers, initiatives and other entities with international foci.
“Our goal is to go beyond individuals pursuing great projects to pool together resources and think about ways of fostering a deeper dive into our international operations. Not only will this help streamline these types of projects, it will help better integrate the student experience and create seamless connections between programs with Pratt and across Duke as a whole.”
“Our goal is to go beyond individuals pursuing great projects to pool together resources and think about ways of fostering a deeper dive into our international operations,” said Schaad. “Not only will this help streamline these types of projects, it will help better integrate the student experience and create seamless connections between programs with Pratt and across Duke as a whole.”
By centralizing and supporting Duke Engineering’s international endeavors in a coordinated manner, faculty, staff and students can work together to form a hub for addressing some of the world’s most pressing issues. Besides providing a centralized unit to support the administrative commonalities between such projects, the center will ensure Duke Engineering’s ethos of engaging local stakeholders to pursue a more equitable, just, resilient and sustainable future is embedded throughout their efforts.
As just a few examples, Duke Engineering is home to several undergraduate programs that engage real-world community needs in other countries. The First-Year Design program designed and built a makerspace out of a shipping container for students in Uganda. Duke Engineers for International Development (DEID) sends teams of students to several countries over the summer to complete engineering projects such as building bridges or greywater reclamation systems. Engineering World Health sends students to low-resource countries to fix biomedical machinery that would otherwise be thrown away or needlessly replaced.
“We’re launching this center because we think in 10 or 20 years, this ethos and intentionality is where engineering as a field is heading. And we want to help lead the way.”
Within these and other programs, the new center will help provide community connections for potential first-year design projects; handle the legal, liability, and oversight responsibilities to provide both support and accountability; and provide an incubator and connector for research focused on sustainability and the Global South. The center will also work collaboratively with other Pratt and Duke entities to maximize student transformation and impact.
“We’re hoping this center allows all of these teams to go deeper – to be more intentional in their interactions and make more connections in more classrooms,” Schaad said. “It’s one thing to design a pipeline on paper, but it’s another to actually build that system and see it in action. Students are more likely to retain lessons learned from tangible projects because they matter.”
In the proposal, the researchers refer to an old proverb that a society grows great when their elders plant trees in whose shade they shall never sit. “We’re launching this center because we think in 10 or 20 years, this ethos and intentionality is where engineering as a field is heading. And we want to help lead the way,” Saterbak said.