(Published in the Washington Post) By Lina Nilsson and Shankar Sastry In labs around the world, a new generation of engineers is emerging. They are men and women concerned by the gulf between rich and poor and by environmental changes and resource depletion. They are what we call “development engineers” — engineers (and often economics, business and social science majors, as well) who are dedicated to using engineering and technology to improve the lot of the world’s poorest people.
In the Fall of 2019, Abby Yue Gao’s first semester in UC Berkeley’s Master of Architecture program, her classes had to repeatedly pause due to another severe California wildfire season. Berkeley was spared the flames, but still suffered power shut offs and dreadful air quality thanks to that year’s worst blaze, Sonoma County’s Kincade Fire. Tens of thousands had to flee their homes; hundreds of thousands faced blackouts. A quarter of the county’s population speaks a language other than English at home — a major hurdle during disasters, when critical information from first responders goes out primarily in English.