Engineering in an unpredictable world: WVU students travel to London to discuss future sustainability of the planet
It is estimated that by 2050 our world’s population will reach 10 billion people, according to a recent report by the United Nations. Within that estimation lies unrealized opportunities and challenges facing a society that needs to allocate resources for those 10 billion people.
Two West Virginia University engineering students had the opportunity to collaborate with students from around the world in an effort to develop creative solutions to solve the most pressing challenges that our society will face in the future. The challenges were identified by an international group of leading technological thinkers and determined the topics of conversation at the 2019 Global Grand Challenges Summit in London, England.
Karoline Edmonds, a double major in computer engineering and biometric systems, from Ashland, Kentucky, and William “Billy” Fox, an industrial engineering major with a minor in sustainable design from Glen Dale, West Virginia, traveled to the summit in September and connected with students from the United States, United Kingdom and China.
“The first few days they took two students from each country in attendance and put them on teams of six,” Edmonds said. “It was meant to be a cultural mix. They didn’t want teams from the same school to be together, they wanted you to be out of your comfort zone.”
After the teams were formed the students were asked to create a business plan to solve one of the grand challenges, which cut across themes such as sustainability, health, security, joy of living and artificial intelligence.
“My team’s idea was a portable non-electric refrigeration system that was geared towards places that don’t have access to medicine and have to travel long distances to get to clinics,” Edmonds explained. “They typically don’t have the refrigeration to keep the antibiotics for a long period of time. We also marketed it towards natural disaster relief.”
Each team had 24 hours to develop their plan and present it to a panel of judges. Edmonds team finished in the top 10 out of 50.
Fox’s team focused on decreasing landfill waste.
“After realizing that a lot of recycling waste comes from food packaging and eating out at fast casual dining services, we began to question why these places rely on disposable utensils and serving containers,” Fox said. “They are cheap, require little work and it allows them to keep all of their workers making food, generating profits instead of cleaning dishes.
“We went out to design a completely automated dish wash and return device. Our washer would take soiled dishes and utensils from customers, clean them and resort for reuse without worker interaction,” Fox said. “Our product would reduce single use dishware from the dine in waste stream, reduce purchasing costs of disposables and allow the restaurant to promote themselves as an environmentally conscious business.”
Following the student collaboration lab, the second half of the conference allowed students to connect with industry professionals, professors and other entrepreneurs.
“I think one thing I gained from the summit was inspiration,” Fox said. “After seeing so many incredible ideas and hearing from people who launched their own start-up business, I really feel re-energized about engineering and what it is capable of. I also got to meet so many incredible people.”
“The exercises developed my problem-solving, communication and public speaking skills, but most importantly built my teamwork and creative skills while working in a cross-cultural and cross-disciplinary team,” Edmonds said. “They really tried to get you to focus on engineering on a global scale and how it can affect multiple people.”
Edmonds and Fox are members of the Mountaineer Grand Challenge Scholars Program. The program provides a framework for students with unique educational opportunities and experience to help them become the next generation in the 21st century engineers, scientists and citizens who have a firm understanding of global and societal issues.
The students received funding from the Statler College student engagement opportunity fund, which gives opportunities for students to experience experiential learning.
CONTACT: Paige Nesbit
Statler College of Engineering and Mineral Resources
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