Ohlone Students are creating engineering solutions for humanitarian needs. "We took this lens from an old flat screen television," a student told me, swiveling the oversized magnifier on a stand that was built by the student's team. The lens was pointed at a small greenhouse-like object filled with water, also built by the students. He explains that when the mechanism is placed in the sun, the lens focuses a powerful beam on the greenhouse, boiling the water inside.
"Science is abstract to many people. My approach is to make it fun by showing students its applications. I believe in 'context-based' learning - students get it when they see real life solutions to real life problems."
I am visiting Ohlone Professor Rose-Margaret Itua's Introduction to Engineering class. The students' invention is a do-it-yourself water purifier built by one of seven teams in the class for the Engineering for Humanitarian Needs Project. Students are developing engineering solutions to address real-life problems around the world - in this project, it is the lack of clean drinking water.
The Project is funded by a $2,500 grant from the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE), the world's largest professional association for the advancement of technology. The class caught the group's attention when two Ohlone Engineering students gave a presentation at last year's IEEE Global Humanitarian Technology Conference. Ohlone was the first community college to ever present at this international conference.
"The Humanitarian Needs Project creates the feeling of being valuable and relevant in solving problems around the world," Professor Itua told me.
We walked around the room as other students showed us the prototypes of their design solutions, from portable wind and solar power generators, to a flood-proof house.
The top two teams will again present their projects at this year's IEEE Global Humanitarian Technology Conference, which takes place in San Jose this October. There they will join other educators, engineers, and scientists from around the world who are interested in applying technology to develop effective solutions for the challenges facing the world's underserved populations.
"We are the most powerful people in the world! We get to define the future - to make the future!"
This is Ohlone College Professor Rose-Margaret Itua's refrain to her class of engineering students. Hailing from the University of West London where she served as the Engineering Chair, Professor Itua brings a powerful voice to Ohlone College.
"The purpose of engineering is to make people's lives easier," Professor Itua said. "I stress that engineering should promote public welfare. It's not functionality alone, but its social implications."
This ethos is clearly demonstrated in Professor Itua's curriculum, but a glance at her service away from Ohlone reveals the type of leadership she brings to the classroom. Professor Itua is a member of Engineers Without Borders and IEEE-SIGHT (Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers Special Interest Group on Humanitarian Technology). She regularly travels to Africa, Asia and countries in Latin America, as she pursues her goal of designing and implementing various technology solutions for humanitarian needs and causing positive social change.