So I got home from Vancouver yesterday, what a week! I went over to attend the 2010 International Mechanical Engineering Conference and Exhibition (IMECE) and it was totally awesome. The committee meeting I had to attend was the main reason I went, and it was a very productive meeting. I always learn so much about ASME at these, and hearing about what everyone else is involved with is very interesting!
- Couchsurfing with the most sweet, fun and accommodating host!
- Riding on bikes around Stanley Park
- Eating Pumpkin Pie for the first time (the Americans were aghast that I’d never tried it before)
- Seeing the Capilano suspension bridge
- Meeting Nancy Fitzroy, the first female president of ASME (who signed my book)
- Meeting the current President Elect, Victoria Rockwell (who told me to smack any guy upside the head if they gave me stick at work ‘coz I’m a girl). Thanks ladies!
- Seeing the lights of the city and harbor from Cyprus Mountain at night and the revolving restaurant
- Meeting fun, awesome and inspiring people!
So I’m leaving today for Vancouver, to attend the IMECE conference! International Mechanical Engineering Conference and Expo! I’m so excited, hopefully I can get to do some skiing while I’m there! Its going to be freezing and I own NOTHING that is really warm enough. Give me a break, I live in South Africa! My flat mate from New York laughed at my thickest, warmest winter jacket, saying that it was “a start at least”!
Looks like I’m going to be layering!
So I have to rush home to pack, but let me just give an overview of what exactly I’m up to in Vancouver! Firstly, I’m a volunteer on a committee of ASME, the society who took me to the States in June for their Annual Meeting. So the various committees are meeting again at IMECE and I have to put together a bit of a presentation to show what I’ve done over the last few months…*stress*
Apart from that, my thesis supervisor has put together a panel from around the globe to talk about Lean and Lean education as applicable to Mechanical Engineering students. They are talking about learning of Lean by students, teaching Lean to students, Industry’s changing requirements of students etc. Well, this is all good and well, but you cant have so much talk about students and not actually have a student of lean, who has actively engaged in lean learning and projects, who is going into industry…And guess who’s been asked to be this said “Lean Student”? Well, you guessed it. I’ll be submitting myself to be the Guinea pig of the day, being observed and questioned and prodded..
Sigh, well, I’m not really sure what exactly they expect of me, but I think I’ll figure it out..
Ok, gotta go get packing! Eek, I hate flying! Sooooo much! *panic*
Remember this post? http://engineer-chic.blogspot.com/2010/06/wait-is-over.html
Firstly, thanks for those who sent replies to the last post. I’m really interested with what you came up with! While I’m thinking it over, I thought I’d give you an update on my Engineers Without Borders project.
|A lady who works at the Abalimi Bhezekhaya community
garden in Nyanga
Well, since its the middle of exams, most of the work has been grounded for now. But knowing me, I’m still hard at it, trying to keep things moving forward! A few months ago, the project took a dramatic turn into a completely new direction and to be honest, this was quite difficult to cope with.
Well, remember the township caterers, cooking food using treated wood that was potentially making them really sick??? We had initially wanted to implement a biogas digester: a huge, expensive device that would decompose organic waste into a rich sludge (to use for gardening) and feed off methane gas for cooking! But for a bunch of very good reasons, we went with high-efficiency stoves instead!
|Traditional method of cooking using treated timber|
Now these nifty things are just great, using ridiculously little wood to make a variety of foods and being light and portable! The best part is this: They are CHEAP! Well, a lot cheaper than a biodigester would have been! So we were all very excited because this would mean that our budget allowed us to could reach out to more than one trader. Way more than one! And this changed the ball game entirely. This wasn’t the only thing that changed though. A ton of papers and research done on technology deployment suggested that we DIDN’T hand out stoves for free. This causes dependencies and the technologies not being properly looked after or resold almost immediately! If a person has invested in something, they are way more likely to want to keep it and use it!
So now we were talking about things like subsidization policies and micro-finance…We looked at a more holistic approach to the impact we wanted to make, offering the traders business skills training, pitched at their level and actively uplifting them while tacking the health issues at the same time! My mind reeled as I thought of all the amazing possibilities this new approach could bring, and for the first time, things were really starting to look sustainable (remembering that this is a pilot project for this type of intervention!)
|A micro-finance scheme, the
Kuyasa fund offers people the opportunity
to purchase solar water-heaters and
insulation for homes
There was just one little problem with all of this..No, actually it was a huge big problem! This was an Engineers Without Borders project, run and managed by engineering students, supervised by engineering lecturers, operating in an engineering capacity! But what we needed to do was develop a business model to market the stoves, invest and manage a micro-finance scheme and run business-skills training workshops! SAY WHAT? Not only did my engineering colleagues not have an interest in these things, they didn’t have the background or skill-set to be able to move forward on this!
(Let me just add in here that a major learning from this project has been this: when delegating work to people, you should ask two questions. Does she/ he have the capacity (skills/ personality) to perform this task? Does this person want to do this task? And believe me, its the second one that is way more important!)
So after yapping about business and asking about business and reading about business, and begging my project team to read/ talk/ ask about business I finally had to admit that I was really making no progress. The powers that be were also putting massive pressure on me from above to get a move on. Thesis hand-in was looming and I was running out of time! It was time for a change, and quick. So I decided to contact SIFE (Students in Free Enterprise), UCT. Luckily I knew one of the organisation’s leaders through Global Citizens who was more than happy to introduce me to the head of Projects for SIFE, UCT.
Well, I’m happy to say that they were quite excited about the project…and agreed to help where they can (which we all are pretty uncertain of still, but I’m hoping we’ll clear that all up soon!)
Who are SIFE? Well, SIFE is an international organization that seeks to link business students with projects and mentors in order to create a better and more sustainable world…
Hmmm, why does this sound so familiar? Oh yes, EWB does exactly the same thing, but with engineering students! Wow, yay, how exciting! I cant wait to start working with these guys!
Check out this link! SIFE WEBSITE
Now I must admit, at one point in my university career, I reveled in peeving off everyone around me with feminist taunts and arguments. I was taking an elective in contemporary art and visual culture (yes, an engineer did a humanities course, and loved it *the horror*), which sparked my interest in feminism, particularly 3rd wave feminism and the sexual revolution… I bought a book called Female Chauvinist Pigs by Ariel Levy (which turned out to be nothing more than a frumpy prude at the back of the room making a lot of noise) and The Vagina Monologues by Eve Ensler, (which is simply awesome and incredibly emancipating!) amongst others…Now give me a break, I was never a bra-burner, but consider it as me freeing myself from the mental slavery of the ‘norm’: the accepting world in which we live…So the long and short is that I used to be quite vocal and opinionated about my views, and I admit, I did take it a little too far, (DW, you don’t have to say “I told you so”) pointing out every time any lecturer/ classmate/ friend made a sexist slur or being overly harsh on my girlfriends who thought pole-dancing was a sexy, fun workout!
Option 3: The Sociologist’s approach…
Now, as you can see, each has their merit and each their problems. The first option sees the symptoms of the problem and tries to fix them on an individual level. While this is important since somebody needs to do something about the injured heap, the scale of this approach is very limited and you will always have more and more people to treat. This can be thought of as me ranting and raving in my neo-feminist frenzy! I made a lot of noise and perhaps got through to one or two people, but really did nothing about the actual problem. (I’d just like to add that in no way am I hating on medical people! They are awesome and necessary and we NEED them!!)
The second option makes a lot of sense…if you assume that people are jumping because they simply want to get to the bottom of the cliff. But it doesn’t actually ask the people why they are jumping, or what their motivations are. This approach has some reach, but the reality exists that you might not be tackling the right problem..This can be likened to the ‘quota-system’ in university intake, or the fact that industry demands female engineers to meet their equity stats, so females are more likely to be given bursaries to study engineering and don’t need as high marks to get in. Yes, we get more girls in engineering, but why are they there? Because they got a bursary? Because they are using it as a springboard into management or business? Are they really capable of getting through this incredibly challenging degree? Sure, it does help many women get opportunities to chase their dreams of being engineers, but it doesn’t do much for the way women are perceived or accepted. Neither does it boost throughput or the retention of skills in the field of engineering (engineering grads staying in engineering)! This is really bad since our country has about half the engineers it needs to develop at the rate it should to and our government spends tons of money on educating young people who flunk out/ change programs after a few years of studying, or leave the country right after getting their degree!
The third approach however, is quite tricky. Firstly, this approach doesn’t actually physically do anything to help the situation. What it does do, is get to the heart of the problem at hand, engaging with the people who are jumping, finding out their core reasons for their seemingly senseless suicide attempt, realizing that its not as senseless as it seems, investigates the institutionalized barriers to freedom and tackles them head on. This method is slow, far slower than either of the above, and its difficult for anyone to see the results at first…But slowly, things start o change, and eventually, a critical mass is reached…and when that happens, change is inevitable..you cant stop it, its explosive and irreversible!
This is the only way to really fix the problem…
So how can one apply this to the problems I’ve mentioned above: low intake/ throughput/ retention of female mechanical engineers? Or how can we come up with a new approach to dealing with the problem?
Do you have any ideas??? Please comment/ contact me with suggestions.