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MPhil in Engineering for Sustainable Development

global challenges, engineering solutions

Studying at Cambridge

Sarah Banas Mills 2004-05

I’m writing my update from the world’s newest country:  South Sudan.  When I joined the MPhil cohort in Fall 2004, I had vague notions of coming to Africa, and chose courses in the “developing world” track.  Africa-based job prospects at the end of the course, however, were slim for a young engineer without field experience, and so I returned to the USA for 4 years to work on sustainability policy (first, energy efficiency and later, university-level sustainable education programs).  Soon after marrying a fellow ESDer, we moved to South Sudan where he had work managing the construction and start-up of a small market-town electric utility.

For our first year, I found odd jobs consulting for various NGOs, most notably managing a food distribution program following wide-spread drought.   This provided great experience in managing local staff and dealing with the challenges that are inherent in post-conflict contexts.  Through this work, I also managed to forge relationships with local officials who were beyond-thrilled to learn that they had an underemployed Cambridge-educated engineer in town.  Subsequently, I was put to work conducting the town’s first land survey and have just begun demarcating plots, allowing for organized private land ownership in what has to-date been squatter-style settlement.

Though it has taken me nearly 7 years (wow!) to put them to use, the course sequence that I took in the MPhil has enabled me to approach this survey and demarcation project from a holistic perspective.

While the local officials expected only a plan for plot layout and road design, I have been able to challenge them to think about integrating water and sanitation improvements and nature set-asides as they consider a long-range plan.   Within the next month, I hope to have 250+ plots ready for sale and have my fingers crossed that the local staff which I have trained can continue demarcation even after I return to the US in September to begin a PhD in Urban and Regional Planning where I plan to focus on comprehensive sustainable development planning in rural communities.

Key Themes of the Course

Context

The need to engage in better problem definition through careful dialogue with all stakeholder groups and a proper recognition of context.

Perspectives

An ability to work with specialists from other disciplines and professional groups acknowledging that technical innovation and business skills also must be understood, nurtured and combined as precursors to the successful implementation of sustainable solutions

Change

An understanding of mechanisms for managing change in organisations so future engineers are equipped to play a leadership role.

Tools

An awareness of a range of assessment frameworks, sustainability metrics and methodologies such as Life Cycle Analysis, Systems Dynamics, Multi-Criteria Decision making and Impact Assessment.