Launching ‘dev eng’

William Tarpeh, a Ph.D. student in environmental engineering, works on a sanitation project in Nairobi, Kenya. His goal is to develop technologies to make marketable products out of nitrogen recovered from urine. (Photo courtesy William Tarpeh)A new Ph.D. specialty in development engineering teaches students how to build, scale and evaluate technologies designed to combat extreme poverty and other complex international development issues.

“Development engineering is a new interdisciplinary field that integrates engineering with economics and business, energy and natural resource development and social sciences,” says Alice Agogino, Hughes Professor of mechanical engineering.

To build an academic framework for ‘dev eng,’ Berkeley faculty members with research expertise in related areas formed a development engineering graduate group last year. The group is establishing a research agenda that includes human-centered design and requires innovators to develop “multiple skills in ethnographic studies, qualitative research, hardware, analytical tools, hypothesis testing, prototyping, business model development and continuous impact analysis,” says Agogino, who chairs the group.

With the support of the Blum Center, the group launched a designated emphasis in development engineering for doctoral students this fall. The specialization is open to Ph.D. candidates across campus, including students pursuing research in social sciences with quantitative components, such as public health or social welfare.

In 2012, the U.S. Agency for International Development awarded Berkeley $20 million to start the Development Impact Lab (DIL). The lab supports academic research and a community of faculty and students interested in development engineering.

“A number of faculty were engaged with the DIL lab and students doing these projects, but as one-offs in various groups without mentoring outside their discipline,” Agogino says. “The creation of this multidisciplinary program was a natural fusion coming from a compelling need.”


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