In October 2016, I attended an introductory session for the University College London (UCL) Engineers Without Borders UK Chapter. Although I still had some reservations about what it meant to be part of a Chapter, I signed up for the outreach team, and have never looked back since!
Fast forward three years and I was elected President of the Chapter. Now, taking some time to reflect on my role leading the Chapter, it has not only made me appreciate how it was one of the best experiences of my four years at university, it has also helped me realise the three most important things I learnt as we inspired, enabled, and influenced UCL’s engineering community in Engineers Without Borders UK’s mission.
1. Focusing on the community
During our first committee meeting, we realised that we were all in our graduating year, therefore involving more first and second years in running the society was going to be essential to ensure continuity of our projects.
In addition, we had found our committee had become insular due to the close friendships that had been established in the previous years. To address this we wanted to expand our reach by encouraging more UCL students who were interested in sustainable development to engage with our Chapter.
These two objectives shaped our society such that every Officer in charge of outreach, workshops, open source projects, media and communications, and events, recruited an Executive to help them, and potentially succeed them. Our full committee; President, Vice-President, Treasurer, Officers and Executives ended up at a total of 30 people.
To ensure that we were introducing more UCL students to sustainable development, we wanted to make our activities more inclusive. To achieve this, we created beginner-friendly workshops for engineering and non-engineering students alike, and co-hosted events with societies such as the Green Economy Society and the IDEA Society.
This resulted in nearly 100 workshop participants over the year, and over 250 total event attendees. It also helped us win Best Academic Achievement at the Students’ Union UCL Awards for inclusively supporting students at UCL in understanding sustainable development beyond academics.
2. Think big, plan small
It was clear from the beginning that everyone in the committee had many ideas and hopes for the year. It was one of the best parts of working with such a diverse group of individuals from across the world. So when it came to putting those ideas into action, it was crucial that we planned strategically.
For example, when we organised our flagship Designathon, we knew from the outset that an event of that scale had a lot of moving parts. The committee divided tasks efficiently early on and kept each other updated through weekly meetings.
This enabled us to develop an actionable design brief with the support of NGO Azuko and engage industry experts from leading companies like Ramboll, Foster + Partners, Strategy&, as well as academics within UCL. We collaborated with multiple societies and marketed a day-long design hackathon to students from 16 disciplines. Finally, we organised the prizes, venues, and catering for participants and experts.
It was a tiring event to manage in many instances, and we even wondered a few times whether it would pan out. In the end, the fascinating design ideas in the final participant pitches and the immensely positive feedback we received made all our effort more than worth it.
3. Teamwork makes the dream work
Our efforts to help more UCL students understand engineering and sustainable development were recognised at the Engineering Talent Awards 2020, where we received a nomination for the Best Engineering Society award. On paper, this was perhaps our highlight of the year. For me, the highlight was being able to work with some of the most motivated, driven people I will probably ever meet. We constantly supported each other and learnt from each other over the course of a few months.
It was one of the other committee members that helped me apply to a dream job at RMI India, where I am currently a Fellow working on sustainable transport. The strong team working spirit I enjoyed at EWB UCL is also a key value I carried into Degrees of Change, a climate solutions platform I co-founded after returning to India.
Engineers Without Borders UK as a whole was a significant part of my university journey. To incoming students at UCL and beyond, I would encourage you to take a chance and join a Chapter. It has taught me more than I ever imagined it would – and I am certain it can do the same for you, too.
If you want to join an existing Chapter or start one at your university please contact us.