Engineering with a human face

Bernard Amadei explains how engineers can help make the world a better place.

On Tuesday evening, Bernard Amadei assured the Hendricks Chapel audience that he came in peace.

The co-founder and president of Engineers Without Borders - USA promised he wouldn’t talk about fancy engineering or explain complex equations. He wanted to speak to the Syracuse University students and faculty about engineering with a human face.

“If all the problems in the world were technical, we would have solved them by now,” Amadei announced to the crowded room. “As engineers, we have the critical role in making the world a better place through technology. That’s the new mission statement for the engineering profession.”

“If all the problems in the world were technical, we would have solved them by now.”
- Bernard Amadei

Amadei presented “Engineering for the Developing World: From Crisis to Development” as the last lecture of the fall semester for the University Lecture series. With Engineers Without Borders, Amadei has traveled the world designing and creating infrastructure to help some of the 90 percent of the world’s population that he said is overlooked, specifically by engineers.

“The engineering solutions you or I are familiar with are for the world’s richest 10 percent,” Amadei said. “A revolution is needed for the other 90 percent.”

He took time to clarify who made up that 90 percent. Among them are the world’s 1.2 billion people without clean water, the 2.4 billion people without sanitation, the 29,000 children who die of hunger everyday, and the 1.6 billion people who have no access to electricity.

“They look and sound like you and me,” he said. “They have hopes and dreams – broken dreams in many cases.”

Amadei said the idea of Engineers without Borders sparked when he and his civil engineering students from the University of Colorado at Boulder worked on clean water system for the village of San Pablo, Belize. Since its inception in 2002, Engineers Without Borders - USA has created 225 chapters across the United States, working on over 400 projects in 45 different countries.

Amadei spoke about the organization's efforts in Kabul, where money was wasted on building 200 schools that could not be utilized because they were not heated. Engineers Without Borders arrived and learned how to make waste briquettes that can burn and heat a school. They then took handicapped children and children from prostitution rings and taught them how to make the briquettes in the morning, then sent them to school in the afternoon. Today, 25,000 briquettes have been made, creating a business owned and operated by Afghan women, Amadei said.

He described other Engineers Without Borders projects in Nepal, where engineers designed a patch that identifies contaminated water, and as close as the Crow Native American community in Montana, where they created energy-efficient bricks for sustainable homes. Most recently, Engineers Without Borders is working on community and infrastructure needs in Haiti.

“It’s really adjusting what we know to a different setting, to different people, understanding their culture and designing accordingly,” Amadei said.

Biomedical engineering sophomore Jake Cline said he was floored by Amadei’s presentation and how directly applicable it was to his studies.

“He got fiery in his speech and you could see the emotion coming through, obviously because of the problems that he’s been working on, that’s what needs to happen in the field of engineering,” Cline said.

According to Amadei, engineers are accustomed to doing everything for the 10 percent and thinking it has to be super complex. What he wants to do is blend action and compassion together.

“This is engineering with a human face. This is engineering with a human heart,” he said. “This is the engineering that cares for the planet and the people and the culture – quite different from engineering 101, right?”

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