Engineering & Humanity Week 2012, Dallas

As part of Engineering & Humanity Week 2012, students are living and sleeping on campus in the Living Village, just west of the Engineering Quad. The Village showcases a variety of temporary shelters for people displaced by war and natural disasters, as well as impoverished urban dwellers in the developing world. Learn more at

One night in the Village

An update from Taylor, a sophomore civil engineering major in the Lyle School of Engineering who is staying in the bcWORKSHOP Rapido Prototype in the Living Village:

So … I ended up not staying the night in the village on Tuesday. I had every intention to, just as soon as I would finish my design project. We had been warned that Wednesday morning would bring a wake-up team consisting of a camera crew and reporter to our shelter at 5:30 am. Yes. 5:30… in the morning. I do not speak for every student at SMU, but for most: that is just not real life.

To put things in perspective, I was calling it a “night” at 5:15 am (yes … in the morning) finishing up that project I mentioned. I decided a few hours in my bed would do better for my day than a few minutes on the floor. If you missed the news, our brilliant and beautiful Meera Day was interviewed live on WFAA Dallas/Fort Worth while her fellow villagers were asleep on the floor (see here).

Meera mentioned a big topic for this week: students experiencing a taste of what it is like to be displaced into transitional housing. To be clear: we (the villagers) do not fully understand nor do I think we could even imagine what it would actually be like to live through a disaster and have your family displaced just because we have stayed here. Not to mention the thousands who face these same tragedies who live in much, much less of a shelter – I hesitate to even call it shelter. We have a constant supply of food and water whenever we need it, and yes, even electricity and Internet – we were not exempt from our school duties, as I mentioned before. Now that I have darkened your day a bit, I do want to share some things we have learned and experienced.

I returned to the village to stay last night. There was a much bigger group (~20) than the last night I had stayed (~10). When the homework session ended and students began to meet together at the village, it was already dark. This didn’t bother us. The dark has never been a problem – just turn the light on. But that’s not how a village like this works.

If you have had the opportunity to travel to a developing country, you have noticed this. When electricity is expensive or scarce, it makes more sense to use sunlight. “What’s sunlight?” some of my college peers ask, “isn’t that what I try to block out of my room so it doesn’t wake me up at 1 pm?”… In case you aren’t advanced in your sarcasm, I may be exaggerating a bit.

We are not far from this being true in highly “civilized” Dallas, though. We are blessed with unlimited light, even while staying in the village, we can do our homework in the Hunt Institute in Caruth Hall. We even had a light-up Frisbee!! We also got to try out a lamp that is charged with a small solar panel and a mechanical crank. This gave us a decent amount of light as our group was together. And I can promise you we all wished we had gone to sleep earlier when the sun began waking us up around 7:30 am.

The other point I wanted to mention was the role of family, friends, and neighbors. There were no ice-breakers. For those who didn’t know someone, they introduced themselves and began to talk. We had several musicians living in the village, and within an hour we were all singing our hearts out – together. The light brought everyone near it; we were together.

I hope one thing we take away from this experience is the importance of relationships and being known and loved by another person. Again, for those who have been to other countries with families in poverty, you have seen this. Americans struggle with the reality of a child being full of joy wearing a piece of cloth, sitting in his mother’s arms, under a tin roof, with a block of wood to play with. Sometimes we don’t get it.

There was a peace in our group as we sat together that cannot be captured in words, so I will not try.

As we return to the mountains of technology we use on a daily basis, I hope to remember to use it all better – to use it for the sake of humanity: to provide for, to share experiences with, to talk to, to see, to know, and to love those around us. Engineers, businessmen and women, advertisers, artists, musicians, politicians, teachers, financial advisers: we have solutions, innovations, and ideas for some of the world’s most pressing problems. Everyone has a role. Let’s step up. Let’s accept the challenge. Ya, I’m going to say it: let’s change the world.

Tonight is our culture night. I’m sure there will be great stories and pictures to share tomorrow.

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Inspired engineering

An update from Taylor, a sophomore civil engineering major in the Lyle School of Engineering who is staying in the bcWORKSHOP Rapido Prototype in the Living Village:

I have been looking forward to Engineering and Humanity Week 2012 since I woke up from the Shelter Box tent where I stayed last year. Well, maybe after a few days back in my own bed. There was great excitement surrounding the week. It seemed everyone was talking about it, and we got to sit (or sleep…) right in the middle of it all.

The Hunt Institute for Engineering and Humanity was a large component of why I was set on coming to SMU. I spent most of my day today at the Fairmont Hotel downtown hearing from the smartest minds in the world battling poverty with collaboration and innovation in technology and business, while I spent most of Saturday packing gift bags with a double Emmy-winning sports anchor and a great-grandmother, event-planning extraordinaire with some of the greatest stories I have ever heard.  As I am finishing my second year here and reflecting back on all that I have had the opportunity to experience, I realize now more than ever how blessed I am – how blessed we are as students at SMU. Time passes by, and I’m halfway done with my undergraduate study.

I was speaking with a friend of mine today, who will also be living in the Village this week, who attended some of the presentations with me today. He said something that reminded me of why SMU is distinct from many other great schools around the country: “I am so pumped about everything I want to do!” This was said in the context of doing engineering for the good of the world, especially those with great needs.

This is exactly what we are given at Lyle that isn’t the same everywhere in the country: inspiration. We are inspired. We are inspired constantly. And that is why we have students giving up their days to build homes and shelters and to sleep outside of their own bed. We are trained not only in the technical skills and knowledge necessary to become a professional engineer, but also to understand and live by our motto “No problem too big.” We actually believe our professors and faculty when they tell us this. Not because they tell us, but because their passion is contagious, enticing us to join their progress. After all, they’ve proved it.

As we begin a week that may look like an engineering campout/sleepover, I must remind us all that this is significantly bigger than anything happening on SMU’s campus. Students are experiencing an enlightenment of sorts that real solutions can bring and are bringing refuge to the impoverished of the world. It is a time for learning. I wouldn’t be surprised if our Village residents came up with ideas of their own to aid in housing the homeless. Actually, I would be surprised if they didn’t.

More throughout the week.

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