GM Foundation funding connects engineers with underserved communities

September 18, 2015 by Karen Rhodes

On September 16, students in the Engineering Scholars as Engaged Scholars (ES2) program described their efforts to monitor pollution in poor neighborhoods, help homeowners with energy audits and meet other community needs – all supported by funding from the GM Foundation.

Vanessa Salas and Giovanni Pacheco discuss their projectES2 Scholars Vanessa Salas and Giovanni Pacheco (right) used hand-held sensors and GPS trackers to map air pollution in a West Oakland neighborhood. (Photo by Steve McConnell)The student poster session in Garbarini Lounge drew nearly 100 students, staff and faculty, as well as representatives from GM.

“Berkeley Engineering is committed to fostering an engineering community reflective of our diverse national community and preparing our students to be fully engaged, well-rounded citizens,” said Oscar Dubón, associate dean for equity and inclusion. “ES2 helps us fulfill this mission by providing students with an opportunity to engage with the real-world implications of engineering through the medium of service.”

Launched in 2013 with support from the GM Foundation, ES2 now serves about 35 students each year. In spring 2016, they will take a recently launched undergraduate course, “Engineering, the Environment and Society,” taught by Khalid Kadir, honored in 2014 as a Chancellor’s Public Scholar at Berkeley. The course engages students at the intersection of environmental science, social justice and engineering, taking up such topics as air, water and soil contamination, social inequities and scientific literacy. Students also pursue independent projects to deepen their engagement with underserved communities.

Mechanical engineering student Tanisha Randhawa, for example, joined a project to install rain gardens along greenways in Richmond, a racially and socioeconomically diverse community north of Berkeley. The rain gardens are engineered to mitigate pollution from storm water runoff.

“My experience as an ES2 Scholar has been awesome,” said Tanisha. “I’ve learned how we as engineers can truly make an impact on society and the environment.”