Published: April 29, 2021 By

Lobitos, Peru. Photo by Armando Lobos, Creative Commons.

Lobitos, Peru. Photo by Armando Lobos, Creative Commons.

Christian Lamb is a sophomore at CU Boulder, double-majoring in mechanical engineering and computer science. Before college, Lamb traveled to the Appalachian mountain region on summer mission trips with his hometown church, and he knew he wanted to continue being a part of experiences like that in college. At the beginning of his freshman year, Lamb learned about Engineers Without Borders and joined CU’s chapter as a way to continue engaging globally.

After joining EWB, Lamb became part of a team of students working on a project in Puerto Rico. The project was going well for a while, but took a turn in March 2020 when the COVID-19 pandemic hit. Without the ability to travel to the site, the team reached a roadblock in their project plans. After months of attempting to continue the project, Lamb and the Puerto Rico team officially suspended the project in December 2020. 

Despite letting go of the Puerto Rico project, Lamb said he knew he still had EWB meetings coming up, and he knew he needed something to get members excited about and involved with. With the help of his fellow Domestic Team Project Manager, Sophie Woods, Lamb began Google-searching topics he was interested in and emailing various organizations. Lamb ended up speaking with Evan Thomas, faculty director for CU’s Mortenson Center in Global Engineering, who pointed Lamb to the Engineering for People Design Challenge

EWB Domestic Project Manager and CU Student, Christian Lamb

CU EWB Domestic Project Manager Christian Lamb

The design challenge is based on a collaboration between Engineers Without Borders organizations in South Africa, the U.K., and the U.S. It offers students around the world a chance to explore the ethical, environmental, social and cultural elements of engineering design through hands-on experience. Lamb said he thought this challenge would be a great opportunity, especially because of its connection to EWB and CU through the Mortenson Center. 

Within the design challenge, Lamb’s team is working to tackle a more specific issue in two small towns of Peru. Lobitos and Piedritas are neighboring coastal communities in northern Peru. Currently, residents of the area must embark on a long and expensive journey to a larger neighboring town each time they need groceries. Through this design challenge, Lamb said he hopes to offer the towns an engineering solution that will address both food and transport challenges. 

Map of Lobitos and Piedritas, Peru, in relation to one another

A map of Lobitos and Piedritas, Peru. Photo credit to the Engineering for People Design Challenge Brief.

So far, Lamb and the team have started brainstorming potential solutions and doing research on the towns in Peru. The challenge design brief has provided in-depth information about the area and includes interviews with community members. Due to the international scale of the challenge, students are not able to communicate directly with the residents, but the winning design solution will be discussed and developed further with the community before implementation. After gathering important context on the location and the community’s economic goals, the team started defining the problem criteria and highlighting economic, social and environmental issues that they plan to address.

After finding a solution that addresses the challenge brief and their problem criteria, the team presented the solution in a final document to be submitted to the challenge. The rules of the challenge allow universities to be represented by five student teams, and Lamb's team was recently selected to be one of the five to represent CU. Lamb says his team's solution will now be presented to the community and will be reviewed by EWB. In May or June, EWB will select two CU teams to participate in the challenge's grand finals. 

Through his work on this design challenge, Lamb has had the opportunity to practice and gain more global engineering skills. 

“One thing I value most from global experience is the exposure and gaining the skill of working on projects that are outside your normal bubble,” he said. “I think it’s actually really beneficial to all engineers, even if you are not planning on working in a global setting. As engineering students, and as Americans, we sometimes have a mindset of ‘there’s a problem in this other country, and we’re going to go in and fix it."

Through his global engagement, Lamb said he has learned to shift that mindset and consider that there could be reasons for the way something is done or outside factors that may not have been considered previously. 

“Having that awareness is a really helpful skill to develop, and it relates back to engineering in general in thinking about the customer or user of your product, and having them at the center of your planning,” Lamb said.

After the completion of this design challenge and when travel is more feasible, Lamb said he hopes to continue engaging globally through studying abroad and searching for an internship related to more global experiences.