Friday, February 26, 2010

Engineering a future in sustainable health

I am almost at my half way point in the spring semester, and on my way to class last night, I surprised myself with motivation I would've never imagined having. I'm taking an engineering of sustainable water and sanitation resources course...a sort of glorious meshing of theory pertinent to my public health studies and frightening three-page-long math equations.

As a psychology undergrad student at Drexel, a very strong engineering school, I have years of ridicule under my belt for going to a technical school to earn a liberal arts degree. Never did I have an interest in even taking a peek at what engineers learned, nor would I have had the courage. Not to downplay the hard work that is put into earning a Bachelors of Science in Psychology...I definitely did my share of work. Drexel actually has quite a decent program. But I successfully avoided all things engineer related during my time there.

Now, here I am, a few years later, a bit more brave and curious, and I decided to take this ESE course at the masters level. At UPenn no less. My auto response is oh my goodness what was I thinking. But last night, having 3 pages of math written out for homework, none of which actually arrived at a correct answer, and on the brink of another snow storm, I still did not even hesitate to go to this class. I looked at the topics for the lecture on the syllabus, and was so excited to learn what they were teaching that my motivation completely overshadowed my dread of more hours of math and driving home late in a snowstorm.

Needless to say it was worth showing up to class. I've been learning about gravitational factors in water catchment, velocity and flow of water sources, calculation of head loss and diameters for the selection of proper piping for a safe water system, finding hydraulic grade lines, and how all of this has a real world impact on the health of the people I wish to serve. Who would have ever imagined I would be the most eager student in an all engineers course? I really hope this knowledge I gain will compliment my work in public health, and keep me up to speed on the necessary technical aspects of this field.

A thought to preface a future blogpost: we discussed which should be priority when only one option is feasible...providing a community with access to sufficient amounts of fairly clean water (which may still have some contaminants) and emphasizing hygiene methods for prevention (i.e. hand washing) or providing a completely pure water source, even if it does not yield enough water to meet the needs for high hygienic standards. Which do you think is more effective in public health prevention?

Consider it:
giving a completely different discipline a bit of your find how it can compliment your knowledge and broaden your capabilities and creativity in your field.

Unlearn it: mentally disposing of all the math in your head once you are out of freshman level undergrad because you "will not need it" in your field (trust me, not the best approach...)

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