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Andy Sobchak

News and Updates from our Chapter

04 May

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Engineers: Local or Global Citizens?

May 4, 2010 | By |

Many Canadian engineers agree that our academic curricula need to better equip engineering students for professional life in a dynamic and global 21st century. A 2009 survey conducted within the Canadian engineering community by EWB-Canada indicated there was a “strong disconnect between the profession’s desired future impact and its current inability to help make globalization’s benefits accessible to disadvantaged communities.” Where there is less agreement, however, is around how to best affect this change. A series of four articles published in the Journal for Policy Engagement between May 2009 and April 2010 provides an interesting snapshot of the divergent views on the subject.

In May 2009, Jonathan Fishbein, Program Coordinator for Curriculum Enhancement and Global Engineers at EWB-Canada, and Adrian Chan, Associate Professor in Systems and Computing at Carleton University, authored a paper asserting engineers needed to better understand their societal responsibilities. With an industry-wide global mindset the attraction of socially conscious engineers to and public perception of the profession would be enhanced, and the best way to achieve this mindset shift would be through reflective changes to engineering curricula in our universities.

For many who have professionally matured in an EWB-infused culture, this stance may appear as a no-brainer, but for others in the Canadian engineering community, the issue is not as clear cut. In fact, several published responses to the article haven’t been in support of Fishbein’s and Chan’s viewpoints.

Alexander Kobelak, a retired engineer with 40 years of experience working in international settings, was not as taken by the idea of producing global engineers in the classroom. In his January 2010 article, Kobelak maintains that engineers who work abroad are different than most in the profession, often possessing qualities inherently that make them successful at what they do. He continues by stating that these qualities  are hard, and perhaps impossible, to teach to all engineering students, subsequently rendering a globally focused curriculum inappropriate.

Fishbein and Chan’s published response claims these skills are already being incorporated into current curricula with no negative impact to technical abilities. They argue further that “our globalized economy requires more engineers equipped with superior communication skills, with flexibility working in different cultures and contexts, and who have a facility for multi-disciplinary and interdisciplinary teamwork, a well-developed sense of social responsibility, and strong complex problem analysis skills,” best described as “global engineers.”

The latest word in the JPE published debate came in April 2010 from Jonathan VanderSteen and Usman Mushtaq, a post-doctorate fellow at the University of Guelph and a M.Sc. candidate at Queen’s University, respectively, who portend that engineer development should be focused locally and not globally. “Local community engagement provides many of the benefits gained from international experience with fewer practical, ethical and pedagogical risks” claim the authors. “As well, focusing on local communities strengthens engineering’s relationships with the people it is most intimately connected with and helps practitioners prepare for a future in which they are likely to be more locally engaged.”

For those who were not able to previously partake in this debate or attend the 2009 National Engineering Summit in Montreal, reading all four articles is recommended to get a taste of the discussion. Each of them, as well as a host of others can be accessed through the noted links or through the JPE website. For additional commentary with an EWB flair, the published discussion in the JPE is also mirrored on EWB-Canada’s intranet website, MyEWB.

Most in the engineering industry would agree with VanderSteen and Musthaq: “Canadian engineers can create positive [and] transformative change in society.” Exactly how we train the new wave of Canadian engineers to best do this appears to still be contentiously at issue.

10 Dec

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Ethical Travel Destinations: Ghana Ranks #4

December 10, 2009 | By |

On December 3rd, 2009, California-based EthicalTraveler.org released their 2010 annual report detailing the “world’s best ethical destinations” for travellers who want to have a great experience but also feel good about where their travel dollars are being spent. The report identifies the countries in the developing world that are “best protecting their natural environments, promoting responsible travel, and building a tourism industry which provides real benefits to local communities”.

“There’s no doubt that worldwide interest in mindful, responsible travel is growing – not only among travellers, but within the countries that host us,” says Jeff Greenwald, executive director of Ethical Traveler and co-author of the report. “Now is the perfect time for savvy travellers and well-intentioned governments to evolve together, each encouraging the other. This is especially true in the developing world, where travel and tourism can be developed as lucrative, low-impact alternatives to forestry, mining, and the destruction of ocean habitats.”

The report utilizes data from a variety of sources including the UN, Human Rights Watch, Reporters Without Borders and the Millenium Development Corporation to develop indices for environmental protection, human rights and social welfare for each country.

The full report can be found here, but to spoil the surprise, the developing world’s Top 10 destinations include:

  1. Argentina
  2. Belize
  3. Chile
  4. Ghana
  5. Lithuania
  6. Namibia
  7. Poland
  8. Seychelles
  9. South Africa
  10. Suriname

Eligibility for ranking was determined by economic data from the World Bank. For example, in 2009, Croatia and Estonia made the Top 10 but are now considered “high income economies” and therefore became ineligible for this year’s ranking.

Most interestingly, 40% of the list is occupied by African nations, with Ghana reaching as high as #4.

Ghana joins the list for the first time due to an “impressive commitment to genuine democracy, as well as a growing culture of sustainability, environmental consciousness and grassroots efforts towards responsibly improving Ghana for Ghanaians and tourists alike.”

Similarly, South Africa landed in the #9 spot for “supporting eco-friendly, community-based tourism ventures, as well as for sustainable coastal development and environmental management.” Disparity between the rich and the poor and high crime rates in certain areas prevented the country from reaching a loftier rank.

Conversely, “irresponsible development, human rights abuses, and  lack of strong environmental [policies]” have prevented any Asian nations from making an appearance at all – a trend consistent in previous year’s rankings.

However, before African pride grows too much, the report also notes that none of the ranked countries are perfect. Notably, homosexuality in Namibia and Seychelles remains criminalized – generally a “deal-breaker” for the study. But as Greenwald and report co-author, Christy Hoover, note “the laws do not appear to be zealously enforced [and] we sincerely hope that our vote of confidence will persuade these country’s leaders to repeal these backward laws.”

With Ghana leading the African charge on this list and, as Erin Antcliffe notes in her post Water Complex, also being a “development darling due to its stability and support for [development] projects”, it appears development in Ghana is projected in the right direction. Hopefully it can act as an example for the other African nations in which EWB works and the continent as a whole.