A Day with the Founder

Dr. Bernard Amadei, the founder of Engineers Without Borders and a professor in Civil Department at University of Colorado at Boulder, was invited as Rose-Hulman’s Leadership Advancement Program guest speaker to present his experience and vision as a global engineering leader on March 18, 2014. It was his first time visiting our campus.

Born and raised in Roubaix, northern France, he obtained his bachelor degree in applied geology in France, a master degree in geological engineering in 1979 from the University of Toronto, and a phD in civil engineering in 1982 from University of California at Berkeley.  Following his passion on sustainability and international development, he founded Engineers Without Borders-USA and co-founded Engineers Without Borders –International and guides these organizations with the mission to partner with underprivileged communities to improve their quality of life by implementing engineering projects while training globally responsible engineering students and professionals who practice engineering as “compassion in action” and “vehicles for peace”. Two years ago, because of his instrumental work in international development, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton appointed Dr. Amadei as one the three science envoys to facilitate communications between U.S. with other countries in addressing global challenges.

Dr. Amadei had a busy schedule on his day at Rose-Hulman from 8am to 9pm. He met several groups of professors who are on Rose-Hulman’s Grand Challenge Committee to discuss the needs to prepare Rose-Hulman students for global challenges and the opportunities to initiate more courses that integrate engineering with global societal perspectives. He also devoted a large portion of his day meeting with students and advisors from EWB-Rose-Hulman chapter. Dr. Amadei shared various invaluable ideas on how to expand civil department and how to take advantage of existing opportunities for engineering project-related grants. For example, one of programs that allocate a handsome amount of grant each year is National Collegiate Inventors and Innovators Alliance (NCIIA), which provides nascent student start-ups and innovations with early stage funding and helps with business strategy development, mentoring, and investment. NCIIA also make funding available for courses and programs in tech entrepreneurship and education training at colleges.

In the afternoon, two EWB officers (Amanda and Ally) presented our chapter’s past and ongoing projects in theDominican Republic and Ghana as well as highlighted our chapter’s campus involvements. Dr. Amadei gave positive comments on our chapter’s effort and accomplishment and he said he wish he could have visited our campus and chapter earlier. Following the presentation, 8 EWB officers and members attended a dinner with Dr. Amadei.

A total of more than 100 students, faculty, staff, and local Terre Haute residents were drawn to Dr. Amadei’s presentation at Khan Room at 7pm. He started his presentation with a story that inspired him to embark Engineers Without Borders-USA. In 2001, after talking to a group of construction workers from Belize, who at the time were building his new house at Boulder, Colorado, Dr. Amadei visited a small village in San Pablo, Belize. He met an 8-year-old girl who could not attend school, because she was assigned by her parents to walk several miles to fetch water every day. It was Dr. Amadei’s first exposure to poverty and he realized the critical issue there was how to utilize energy to transport water. He brought the issue back to University of Colorado and challenged both his undergraduate and graduate students to design feasible solutions. The students designed and installed pipes in the village half year later. From then, Dr. Amadei expanded his work in third-world countries, as he humorously said, “I’m a tenured professor and I’m tired of grading reports.” He established Engineers Without Borders-USA and cofounded Engineers Without Borders – International in 2002. Since EWB-USA’s incorporation, it has grown to more than 300 chapters and over 13,000 passionate members whose projects span 47 countries on 5 continents and have impacted more than 2.5 million lives across the globe.

He pointed out that “engineering for the other 90%” of the population can be done well by doing good. He used another example of working on helping local people in harnessing fuels in Kabul, Afghanistan in 2002, because Taliban tried to control areas by removing trees which were the essential fuels for the winter. Despite the chaos in Afghanistan after the 9-11, Dr. Amadei’s team successfully designed and implemented tools to compress fecal matters as burning fuels, suiting different groups of users such as children and handicapped people.

In addition to providing solutions to bridge the gaps in infrastructure and technology between the first and third-world countries, Dr. Amadei also foresaw that the “engineering for the other 90%” would be the focus of the new generation of engineers. He said, “people are the real wealth of a nation and there are exceedingly fast-growing markets in the third-world countries.” He encouraged students in STEM fields to design and implement technologies that have important meanings, because 4 to 5 billion customers across the world are waiting for affordable, accessible, available, sustainable, scalable, and reliable products and solutions.

-Article written by Jung Fang