Engineering+ is about using engineering + a completely different discipline to address societal needs not just technical problems. It was coined by USC Viterbi Dean Yortsos around the time that the 14 Grand Challenges were published. The National Academy of Engineering issued 14 Grand Challenges that engineers need to address that face society today. These challenges can be grouped into 4 main categories: security, health, sustainability, and life enrichment. I was fortunate to be an undergraduate student at USC in 2010 when USC Viterbi hosted an international Grand Challenges Summit on-campus to promote the idea of engineers tackling broader social issues through their technical expertise, interdisciplinary collaboration, and creativity. At that time, the shift in engineering education towards combining technical skills with diverse fields to tackle societal needs was still developing and I was proud to be at a university that was ahead of its time. I attended the Grand Challenges Summit and went to a workshop where I helped build solar powered stoves, which would be shipped to developing countries in Africa basking in the sun’s heat but lacking infrastructure for their people.
I wanted to give a couple examples of engineering+ activities at USC:
- The Hack for Health cancer hack-a-thon organized by the USC Kuhn Lab, Thuy Truong and others this past semester was a prime example of combining biomedical engineering expertise with medical experts, computer scientists, psychologists, and caregivers to understand how best to help patients who have recently been diagnosed with cancer. Research into cancer treatment is just one way to solve this complex disease. In truth, it requires a network of care and a support system for a patient, even if they are undergoing treatment, to successfully recover.
- The technology – web development, database programming, genomics, user interface design
- The people – biomedical engineers, computer scientists, medical school students, graphic designers at all levels (undergrad and graduate), physicians
- The communication – In person meetings and a collaboration app called Slack used to provide updates and connect with mentors
- The method – a case competition/hack-a-thon focused on medical problems not software or business; a full-weekend endeavor in teams of students from diverse disciplines with a project pitch at the end
- The goal – improve cancer care and treatment for patients
- GoldieBlox Donations is another activity run by the Society of Women Engineers at USC where students gift wrap, donate money, and/or prepare Goldie Blox games to be distributed to girls in the surrounding community or nearby schools. GoldieBloxis a building toy meant for girls. Instead of dolls, girls now have a toy specifically designed for them that tells a story and helps bring out the inventive builder inside of them.
- The technology – mechanical engineering, toy game design
- The people – SWE members at USC buy and donate these to girls during the holiday season
- The communication – Kickstarter initially gave the company momentum, In person meetings to wrap and package these toys,
- The method – meet in person to get these toys ready and hand deliver them; the toys incorporate story-telling and building into an innovative toy that’s the only one on the market (at the time of release) meant for girls specifically
The goal – address unmet need of building toys for girls and promote invention and exploration in young females from the beginning