“I think humanitarian engineering is needed to bridge the gap between different disciplines,” explained Manapat. “In higher education, fields are siloed. But we know that the current societal problems are complex and cannot be solved by a single field alone.”

The final curriculum of a young engineering student involves building, presenting, then passing their senior dissertations. The 300-page or more thesis gets presented within a neat book bind, with gold engravings of its title and their names on the cover—only to collect dust within library shelves afterwards.

In recent years, this pattern has been changing. There is an increase in innovation centers within colleges that builds upon creating their enterprises—specifically,      social enterprises.

Suddenly, more students are becoming equipped with the knowledge and encouragement to start something on their own while creating an impact.

In the University of the Philippines Diliman (UPD), professors have encouraged their engineering students to go beyond the technical definition of an engineer to develop both social and business skills through a new incubation program.

Meanwhile, the Technology Institute of the Philippines (TIP) introduced a Technopreneurship program in 2016 that directly engages its students to build their own tech startups.

Other universities, such as the University of Santo Tomas (UST), and the De La Salle–College of Saint Benilde (CSB), introduced their own innovation hubs through TOMASinno Center and Hub of Innovation for Inclusion (HiFi), respectively.

The trend of innovative learning within university walls through progressive educators and seasoned mentors has put forward an evolving mindset that’s led by not only technology and engineering, but also the humanities.

Humanities is a combined set of professions

Jill Manapat, a materials engineer and professor at UPD, is among those leading the program under the Humanitarian Engineering, Entrepreneurship, and Design (HEED). The same program that helped start off Climathon 2020 winners, Cloop.

Humanitarian Engineering is defined online as an industry that combines the different technical aspects of engineering to solve problems within the poor and       marginalized communities.

Manapat adds that Humanitarian Engineering is “using research and design for community development,” and for “engineering to be used to improve the lives of marginalized people.”

HEED was a program founded in 2017 by a group of professors, including Manapat, that sought to create its first project to address one of the problems that our country faces today. Choosing to help solve waste management, the program took in Cloop—formerly known as “Project Plastikan”—a thesis project of the group of students involved.

Cloop was their first project that showed the value in community engagement, but also camaraderie among multiple disciplines to move a student initiative further.

“I think humanitarian engineering is needed to bridge the gap between different disciplines,” explained Manapat. “In higher education, fields are siloed. But we know that the current societal problems are complex and cannot be solved by a single       field alone.”

“They need to talk. Humanitarian Engineering is like that avenue, it’s like that platform where all these different fields come together to talk and solve these common problems that we all face,” she adds.

In TIP, Joevil Razon, a faculty member and electronics engineer, mentioned the standard set by their college for their projects and students to be involved in understanding the different industries that work in a society.

“We are bound with these standards, where we have different factors we need to consider too,” he said. “The economic, manufacturability, and security of both the users and the standards in engineering. This is how we know if someone will use the solutions that we will provide.”

However, before these different fields come together, getting students to understand this necessity and outward look into the profession is also another step towards integrating social awareness and community engagement.

Impact after graduation

Razon—who studied under TIP and continued his own project afterwards to build a startup related to the cacao industry—noticed how students must be encouraged to go after bigger dreams to create more opportunities. 

“When I was part of the incubation, I noticed that problem—where most of the students’ mindset after graduation is to be an employee,” he said. “They entered this course to get into their dream jobs, only a small portion want to be businessmen.”

Razon mentioned the many projects under their program created by the students. But after passing the boards and getting into different opportunities, the hype they once had in building their projects disappears.

Through their Technopreneurship program and newly established incubation hub, the TIP Nurture Innovation Technology Revolution Office (TIP Nitro), are training new budding engineers to perform with impact.

“We’re showing that we have this Technopreneurship program, that there are successful founders who are also engineers,” he explained. “We’re doing this slowly. When they can start their own companies, more jobs can be generated!”

Manapat echoes the statement of providing more opportunities to others by showing the possibilities of starting their own solutions. She realized this move when she saw how today’s generation and the younger generation are looking to be more involved    in society.

“I noticed that in my students for the past few years, they’re always looking for something impactful,” Manapat said. “The norm used to be that their thesis would just go into libraries after they graduate, but students right now are going beyond              the library.”

Beyond the library

The goal for most educators is to create more like-minded individuals, just as Cloop was given the opportunity to become its own startup, and just as Razon’s own project grew from a student thesis.

The new motivation is also showing how hardware projects, common amongst engineering students, are capable of being used to develop the poor and marginalized through combining societal and humanitarian education.

Manapat wants humanitarian engineering to be recognized as a full-blown program, not just in UPD, but in other schools with engineering courses.

“Other schools have similar programs, but they’re under different names. It’s all different. We’re hoping to unite,” she said.

Governmental support, such as what is given by the Department of Science and Technology (DOST), is also being looked into to provide funding for a variety of projects created by students, researchers, and educators.

Though funding may take some time and limited to certain professions with degrees, Manapat and her own team of researchers have already developed a platform to attain supplemental funding through Saliksik.

The programs may still be new, and the concept still adapting, but the encouragement from progressive and innovative educators as well as this generations’ push for impact, may continuously spearhead our country to become a top contender for revolutionary startups.

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