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Students crossing borders challenged

Advancing through a ‘normal’ degree course of semesters and terms may be easy but to complete an engineering course in an ‘Accelerated’ Programme’ could be quite challenging.

But a group of international students accepted the challenge of producing three practical solutions in six months at the Albany Campus of Massey University in Auckland’s North Shore last fortnight.

In a ‘normal’ time scale, the solutions would take a year to achieve. Effectively, the students completed their first year in half time.

This achievement would enable them to slice the usual four-year engineering degree term by six months.

Honours Degree

The students were the first group to study under an ‘Accelerated Programme,’ which condenses the time spent on a four-year Bachelor of Engineering with Honours Degree.

‘Engineers Without Borders’ (EWB) along with ‘Habitat for Humanity Vietnam,’ challenged the students to develop innovative solutions for sustainable development of the Anh Minh district in the Kien Giang Province (Mekong Delta) of Southern Vietnam.

The Delta accounts for almost 50% of Vietnam’s total rice production, but remains the poorest in the country.

EWB is an international, not-for-profit organisation. EWB Australia runs the challenge with its New Zealand Chapter, based in Auckland. It pursues the global aim of creating systemic change through humanitarian engineering. An eclectic mix of professional engineers, students, and non-engineers, the organisation is open to new members.

Reality checks

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

According to the University’s Senior lecturer (Product Development) and Paper Coordinator Dr Aruna Shekar, the ‘Accelerated Programme’ accorded an opportunity to the participating students to research ideas linked to real world scenarios and get hands-on experience in problem solving.

“The first intake of engineering students from various parts of the world followed engineering practice courses compressed into blocks, requiring them to work hard against tight deadlines,” she said.

Three Projects

The class was divided into three teams comprising four students each. They had to present their project to a panel of judges (which included a EWB representative) and answer questions on their research, design and final project development.

Dr Shekar said that a fuel-efficient cooking stove was the winner.

“It utilised locally-sourced components, burned twigs and sticks and had a chimney to direct smoke away from the cooking area. The other projects were water filtration systems, largely using bamboo and the other from locally-sourced low-cost materials,” she said.

Alfred Moses, a student from India, said that he and his classmates received personal attention of tutors.

“We were a small class (of 15 students) and hence had the advantage of closer attention of our lecturers. As well as improving our English skills, we were able to settle into New Zealand life. We look forward to starting our second year of studies shortly,” he said.

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