A change of heart has enabled an RMIT engineering student to both find his niche and secure a coveted scholarship with humanitarian organisation, Engineers Without Borders.
After completing a degree in pharmacology, Rahul Ratwatte was still uncertain about what he wanted to do with his life.
He was introduced to biomedical engineering and its world of possibilities via an online TED talk and wanted to learn more.
“I found out about RMIT’s Bachelor of Engineering (Biomedical Engineering) (Honours) program and arranged to meet Dr Elena Pirogova who encouraged me to give it a try,” Ratwatte said.
Just a year later, he was one of five students to win an Engineers Without Borders (EWB) scholarship and now there’s no looking back.
“I'm really glad I followed her advice,” he said.
“I was involved in the EWB Challenge, which is part of a compulsory first year subject, where I was introduced to the idea of humanitarian engineering – or how engineering solutions can be found for real world problems.
“I'd heard of Doctors Without Borders before, but this was a very real way for me to contribute in an engineering capacity.”
The EWB scholarship is a two-year program offered to high-achieving students to help them develop the right skills to make a positive impact for a community in need.
Winners are selected from 8000 first year students from Australia and New Zealand who have completed the EWB Challenge – a course in real-world humanitarian engineering design.
In 2014, the challenge focused on engineering solutions for community partner Nepal Water for Health (NEWAH) and the village of Sandikhola, in the Gorkha region of Nepal.
Participants learned how sharing access to engineering skills and resources could help others lead lives of opportunity free from poverty.
Dr Elena Pirogova is program manager of the Bachelor of Engineering (Biomedical Engineering) (Honours).
“When I met with Rahul, he mentioned straight away that he was interested in our degree because of the two main areas of specialisation: biomechanics and biomaterials (orthopaedic and rehab engineering), and biomedical electronics and assistive technology,” Pirogova said.
“At that time I was coordinating and teaching the Enterprise Engineering course and told him about the involvement of the EWB.
“I also mentioned that our team won big in the Victorian chapter competition and Rahul was immediately taken up by this whole idea of humanitarian engineering and said he would like to get involved.”
Pirogova said Ratwatte was an enthusiastic and intelligent student with excellent communication and people skills.
“I think his personal qualities and determination are the main reasons why he has been successful with this scholarship,” she said.
“Rahul really wants to make a difference for people from disadvantaged communities in third world countries and this scholarship will enable him to travel and work on a real life project.”
Dr Eva Cheng is now coordinating the Enterprise Engineering course and has continued to provide guidance and support to Ratwatte.
One of the conditions of the scholarship is to maintain the relationship and involvement with EWB.
Ratwatte intends to work with the organisation as an industry partner on his final year project and in the meantime, he said the scholarship had already opened a lot of doors.
“Next year I will be taking part in the LINK Festival in Melbourne, which is an opportunity to meet with young innovators and entrepreneurs from across Australia and undertake a leadership learning course,” he said.
“In addition, EWB will sponsor me to take part in their Humanitarian Design Summit in Cambodia and they will provide assistance for my final year research project.”
“I would love to continue to be involved with EWB, and ideally I’ll be pursuing research in the field of biomedical engineering.
“My particular area of interest is prosthetics and artificial limbs, and my dream is to come up with high-tech, affordable options to be made and distributed in Africa and the Middle East, and my home country of Sri Lanka.”