DR. Muhwezi Lawrence – Senior Lecturer, Head of Department, Civil and Building Engineering. See Full Profile 

Undergraduate and Post Graduate Civil & Building Engineering and Water Engineering students have access to a rich and diverse bank of textual and graphic knowledge concerning their chosen professions. However, over a number of decades, commentators have raised concerns that students have insufficient understanding of the role of Civil & Building Engineering and Water Engineering in various societies. Indeed, the call for Universities to educate ‘global engineers’ who emphasizes the need for students to be schooled in the humanities, in parallel with their core computational studies. Unfortunately, engineering students in particular are not accustomed to regular exploratory reading. There is a need to ignite students’ curiosity in the world around them.

It is likely that the majority of undergraduate and Post Graduate Civil & Building Engineers and Water Engineers are dominant ‘left brain’ thinkers, with a preference for a logical, rational and a linear approach to problem-solving employing mathematics. Indeed, these are the attribute through which pupils access Civil and Water Engineering studies.

Unfortunately, this can lead to students believing that Civil & Building Engineers and Water Engineers receive neatly packaged concise problems to resolve and, graduates typically believe that analytical calculations will form the majority of their daily workload. There is need for Civil & Building Engineers and Water Engineers: to possess ‘not only intellect, but of character and heart to understand when problems are best solved using common-sense rather than by mathematics; to be curious and excite debate; and to have an ‘ability to synthesize solutions, not simply an ability to analyze problems.

For undergraduate and Post Graduate Civil & Building Engineers to develop an emotional intelligence linked to an understanding and appreciation of national, regional and local cultures, it may require some students to ignite an otherwise unknown interest in anthropology. Perhaps these students find a natural affinity with organizations such as Engineers Registration Board (ERB) and Uganda Institute of Professional Engineers (UIPE), whose role in providing young people with an opportunity to utilize technology in assisting tackle poverty situations.

Higher education needs to prepare engineers of the future with the skills and know-how they will need to manage rapid change, uncertainty and complexity. Key issues here are the ability to tailor engineering solutions to the local social, economic, political, cultural and environmental contexts and to understand the impacts of local actions globally.

While fresh undergraduate and Post Graduate students are exposed to news reports featuring natural and man-made disasters, evidence suggests that the majority of students do not envisage themselves as providing solutions to such problems. Many a student appear to conceptualize their curriculum as ‘bounded’; a narrowly defined commodity to be used solely in relation to fulfilling the requirements of summative assessments notwithstanding such problems, it can be seen that the concept of sustainable development is lacking.

It is unfortunate that there appears to be a growing pattern of students ‘satisficing’ (at the expense of holistic understanding) through narrow ‘rote’ learning and ‘cramming’ knowledge before undertaking formal examinations. Regular reading would appear to offer students an opportunity to re-evaluate how they conceptualize engineering knowledge, and its associated topics, above that of contributing solely towards a graduation parchment.

The primary aim here is, therefore, to offer undergraduate and Post Graduate students a ‘re-entry’ point to their own studies, as captain of their own curiosity. Moreover, the acquisition of knowledge from social science publications can assist students to comprehend engineering ‘in society’ rather than assume a deterministic assumption that engineering is ‘for society’.

In conclusion, encouraging each undergraduate and Post Graduate students to accept that they are the captains of their own ‘roving explorer’ named curiosity, seeking new knowledge that will help fulfil the calls for them to be ‘self-reflective learners, exposed to a range of different views, and continuously encouraged to challenge their own assumptions’. While some undergraduate and Post Graduate students are already seeking such knowledge, it is important to the different professions, and in fact society as a whole, that there is a wider appreciation of global issues within the undergraduate and Post Graduate Civil & Building Engineering and Water engineering curricula. This will not only enrich the professions but equip students with the essential tools needed to tackle the challenges of tomorrow