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Condensed Engineering Course Inspires International Students

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Condensed Engineering Course Inspires International Students

Students on an accelerated engineering degree took on a challenge that usually takes a full academic year to complete, and came up with three practical solutions in six months.

The challenge laid down by Engineers Without Borders (EWB), in partnership with Habitat for Humanity Vietnam, was to develop innovative solutions for sustainable development of the Anh Minh district within the Kien Giang province on the Mekong Delta, at the southern tip of Vietnam. Although the Mekong Delta produces around 50 per cent of Vietnam’s rice, it is one of the poorest regions in the country.

Senior lecturer in product development, and paper coordinator Dr Aruna Shekar says the challenge gives first-year students an opportunity to research ideas linked to real world scenarios and to get hands-on experience in problem solving.

“This cohort of students are the first intake of engineering students for the acclerated programme, and they’ve come from all over the world to study engineering at Massey University. In the accelerated programme the engineering practice courses are compressed into blocks, so the students have to work towards very tight deadlines to complete all the work required.”

Three teams of four students each had to present their project to a panel of judges, including a representative from EWB, and answer tough questions in English on their research, design and the final project development.

Of the three projects presented, the winning one was a fuel-efficient cooking stove that utilised locally-sourced components, burned twigs and sticks and also had a chimney to direct smoke away from the cooking area. The other projects were water filtration systems — one created largely using bamboo and the other from locally-sourced low-cost materials.

The students are the first group to study under an accelerated programme which condenses the time spent on a four-year Bachelor of Engineering with honours degree. By condensing the first year into six intense months, the students complete their degree in three-and-a-half years.

The cohort of mainly international students arrived at the Albany campus in August last year, at the start of the Northern Hemisphere spring. Being able to start the accelerated programme so soon after their home country’s academic year was over proved to be a real bonus.

“In India our academic year ends in March, so I would have had to wait for a whole year to get into this course,” says Alfred Moses from India. “We had a small class – there were only 15 of us, so we had a lot of attention from our lecturers. We could ask them anything.”

As well as improving their English skills, the students were able to settle into New Zealand life, and are looking forward to starting their second year of studies shortly.

Massey University engineering students have won the New Zealand EWB challenge for the last two years.

The Engineers Without Borders Challenge is run by EWB Australia, with a chapter in New Zealand. It is part of an international organisation that works on grassroots engineering programmes for sustainable development in disadvantaged communities around the world.

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