International Engineering Ambassadors
Insight into the life & course of international students.

Monday, 29 February 2016

Veni Vidi Vici - GEC 2016 Edition

By Abhinav Kongari

Organised by Engineers Without Borders (EWB) and The University of Makerere, Global Engineering Challenge is a week where marvellous ideas are produced and unforgettable memories are made. Recreating a 9-5 work place environment, the students are tasked to work on an engineering project in interdisciplinary groups. The entire Faculty of Engineering is divided into multiple hubs and each hub housed 7-8 groups, administered by a facilitator. The most unique thing is that none of the hubs has more than one group working on a single type of project and this maintains the individuality and innovativeness.

This year the main focus area was the region around Bambui in Cameroon. Project topics ranged from Water Supply to Transport to Hygiene. All of these categories were suggested by academics from University of Makerere in Uganda and were based on real life issues. Having given you all an idea of what GEC was, let me take a more personal perspective on the competition.

I’m a Mechanical Engineering student and in my group I had students from the Department of Material Science Engineering and Aerospace Engineering. When these 3 disciplines work in a team, projects usually involve construction of buildings or automobiles or something similar. Our project was to devise an Anti-Poaching system for the African forest elephants in the Bamenda-Banso highlands in Cameroon. We had to have a cheap and robust solution and individual tagging of animals was discouraged. Having never met each other, the first day was spent on either arguing or sitting in silence. But, gradually we grew accustomed to each other, realised our strengths and weaknesses and started working on the project. The whole week was similar to a healthy symbiotic relationship where I got the opportunity to teach my teammates something new and vice-versa. The final solution that we came up with involve the usage of solar-powered drones to monitor the forest.

Everything related to drones usually involves computer programming and we had no Computer Science students in our teams. What did we do? We researched and learned the way to program drones through Arduino circuits, determined the angles at which they’d have to fly and even the view of their lenses. Even though we had no prior experience of the essential skill, we designated parts of the job according to individual strengths and then shared the knowledge amongst each other. Eventually, we were able to incorporate the idea in our project and completed it in time. I believe this was the prime motive of GEC, i.e. to find out the solution through teamwork and using each other’s strengths to succeed.

The week had 3 major milestones:

1)     Completing the project
It took a lot of effort. We had many failures and there were times when we had to start over again but we persevered and never lost heart. Finally, at the end of the week we came up with a design that we were proud of. Throughout the project, we learnt from each other’s mistakes and supported one another to every extent. It was my first project working in an interdisciplinary team and it shall be etched in my memory forever.

2)     Interaction on Alumni Day

We had the privilege of having Mr. Barry Tan as our guest speaker on the Alumni Day. Being a recent Alumni and having worked in prestigious companies like SNC-lavalin, Mr. Tan shared amazing experiences and also gave some profound advice. Talking about his past mistakes and experiences, he suggested students to get involved in co-curricular activities, participate in competitions and do as many internships as possible. His best statement of the day - ‘Don’t do a Barry’

3)     Winning the competition

All the hard work and effort was finally rewarded when we were awarded the ‘best communicated solution’ for our project. It was a great experience and I’m glad GEC provided me with this opportunity.

Finally, all I’d say is that GEC was a mixed experience for everyone. Some people were lucky to have hardworking and passionate people in their group while others were not so lucky. I believe this was a reflection of how life usually is. Not everything is always according to our choices but as long we persevere, everything eventually falls in the right direction.

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