Maryam Lamere is a Doctoral Researcher and Mechanical Engineering Lecturer at The University of the West of England, Bristol (UWE), where she spearheaded the implementation of the Engineering For People Design Challenge into the curriculum for engineering students. Maryam works on the high-profile PEE POWER® project developed by the Bristol BioEnergy Centre, which is making waves as a new technology that converts urine into fertiliser and disinfectants whilst also generating electricity.

What first inspired you to get involved with Engineers Without Borders UK? 
I heard about Engineers Without Borders UK whilst studying at London City University. The university didn’t have a Chapter, so I decided to found one myself as a platform for discussions and education around sustainability and engineering.

What’s your current job role/title? 
I am a Doctoral Researcher and Mechanical Engineering Lecturer at UWE. I’ve been teaching mechanical and aerospace engineering for five years, and I’m also completing the final year of my PhD on “Technology Transfer and Absorptive Capacity: Case Study of the PEEPOWER system”.

How were you involved in getting the Engineering for People Design Challenge embedded at UWE?
The Design Challenge has been running at UWE for four years now. When I joined the academic team here I found a more senior colleague (Dr David Richardson) who was also interested in sustainability – together we were able to use his experience and my knowledge of Engineers Without Borders UK to integrate the challenge into the curriculum.

We tried launching the Design Challenge in different parts of the engineering curriculum, and after some trials, we decided to embed it into the first-year design module, which is taken by engineering and robotics students before they branch into their speciality modules.

Each year the programme becomes even more successful, and the past two years have been spectacular. Despite the current online learning challenges due to the pandemic, we’ve achieved over 70% engagement from students throughout the module delivery, with almost 100% engagement during the dedicated ‘Project Week’. This is an incredible achievement and we attribute its success to the thought-provoking and engaging nature of the challenge – the students are incredibly passionate because they are tackling real problems that exist in a community.

Was it challenging to get all students engaged with the programme initially?
With some subjects/courses it is more difficult to get students to realise why sustainability and community led engineering is important – take aerospace engineering as an example – this is not a subject that students naturally associate with sustainability. Getting aerospace students to engage was one of our biggest challenges as they didn’t quite see it as aerospace related.  Encouraging students to think beyond what they currently consider the ‘traditional skill set’ is difficult, but once they understand the concept, most of them completely agree that it’s essential.

We hope to roll the programme out into other courses within the university soon, including civil engineering and computer science.

Do you see the Engineering For People Design Challenge making a noticeable difference in your graduates’ attitudes about engineering, or is there still much more work to be done? 
We are finding that the students leave the course having a better understanding of sustainability and how they can positively influence decision making in their workplace – so yes, we do see it making a huge difference. The Design Challenge has become almost indispensable in the curriculum and we plan the course content around it. It also ticks a lot of boxes in terms of learning outcomes and requirements from our accrediting bodies, which is very helpful for course leaders.

Can you tell us about PEE POWER®? 
PEE POWER® technology enables urine to be converted into electricity, with a by-product of plant fertiliser and disinfectant. The technology was designed for off-grid areas where there’s a lack of access to electricity. It has been installed in locations in Uganda, Kenya and South Africa, offering power alternatives in slums and rural areas. PEE POWER® can be used everywhere though – at campsites and festivals for example! Since 2015 PEE POWER® has been showcased at Glastonbury festival, where a 40-person urinal produced energy to power lighting in the urinal block at night, as well as a ‘Pee to Play’ function where festival-goers could play retro games on Game Boys powered by the system.

What does globally responsible engineering mean to you?
Knowing that the impact of your work doesn’t only affect the people in your locality – it can affect the whole world. Let’s take pollution from cars as a simple example – it depletes our ozone layer and then causes high UV radiation levels to penetrate the Earth’s surface. We know this has global consequences for our ecosystem and for our health. I believe engineers have the potential to provide solutions to global challenges we face today. With programs such as the Engineering for People Design Challenge, there is hope that the upcoming generation of engineers will be better equipped to make the right decisions, having the interest of humanity and our planet in mind.

Maryam Lamere: Doctoral Researcher and Mechanical Engineering Lecturer

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