An RMIT student is one of only five young humanitarian engineers to be awarded an Engineers Without Borders Challenge Scholarship in 2014.
Olivia McCombe is studying a Bachelor of Engineering (Electrical Engineering) (Honours) and is RMIT’s first successful Engineers Without Borders (EWB) Challenge Scholarship recipient. She is also the only Victorian resident in the 2014 scholarship group.
The EWB Challenge Scholarship program recognises high achieving and values-driven students who are passionate about applying their engineering skills to community development and poverty eradication.
Coordinated by EWB with the support of BHP Billiton Sustainable Communities, the program provides development opportunities for emerging leaders and a pathway to creating positive change through humanitarian engineering.
Ms McCombe was thrilled to be RMIT’s first recipient of the scholarship, and said her awareness of the humanitarian side of electrical engineering came from an interest in the history and technology of electricity.
“I am fascinated by electromagnetism and deeply concerned about the effect of sourcing and using fossil fuels, so learning more about energy efficiency and renewable power sources really appealed to me.
“However, I used to romanticise the idea of a life off the grid until it eventually dawned on me that electricity means more than flickering fluorescent tube lights,” Ms McCombe said.
“Throughout history, electricity has alleviated hardship by providing heat and light – without smoke – while enabling an exchange of ideas on a wider scale.”
Further motivation to study electrical engineering came to Ms McCombe when she read an article published inQuarterly Essay written by economist Andrew Charlton, ‘Man-Made World: Choosing between progress and planet’.
“It was staggering to learn that 1.5 billion people still don’t have access to electricity,” Ms McCombe said.
During the scholarship, she will undertake a range of professional development programs within the EWB organisation to deepen her understanding and engagement with humanitarian engineering and community development.
Programs include leadership training; an immersive study tour in India, Cambodia or rural Australia; leadership within local EWB chapters; and the undergraduate research program.
Ms McCombe is positive that the growing trend for local grids and alternative power sources will work in her favour as she uses her skills to assist disadvantaged communities.
“I think the scholarship will be particularly useful for learning to work with communities here and abroad to help them access alternative power sources.”
Ms McCombe said it was enormously heartening to be chosen as an EWB Scholar.
“I thought that I might have to wait until I finished my degree to explore the human side of engineering, however now I will be learning from EWB and from communities for the rest of my degree.
“It feels as though the path that I have chosen now leads to a bigger world.”