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New Minor in Resiliency and Sustainability of Engineering Systems

Written by: Marijke Wijnen

Increasing levels of consumption paired with population growth are working together to strain our built and natural resources and are significantly impacting our global climate. Many Notre Dame engineering students are itching to address these problems. To this end, Notre Dame has designed a new Minor in Resiliency and Sustainability of Engineering Systems to give students the tools that they need in order to become the engineers that our world needs.

Tessa Clarizio, a senior environmental engineering student, is excited about the new minor. “Many of my engineering classes have touched on sustainability issues, but it will be nice to have something specifically dedicated to it.”

The minor will emphasize three pillars: sustainable development, resilient communities and engineering systems. Sustainable development as defined by the Brundtland Commission is “development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.” Resilient communities is concerned with the ability to recover quickly from natural and manmade disasters and adapt gracefully in a changing world. Engineering systems undergird most facets of everyday life and are thus crucial to determining whether our development is sustainable and our communities are resilient.  

This minor will include courses specifically focused on helping students understand their role in confronting 21st century challenges in engineering resilient and sustainable development. The Department of Civil & Environmental Engineering & Earth Sciences (CEEES) is designing two new courses that will be required for all students in the minor. Sustainable Development in a Changing World will span a broad range of topics from the environmental consequences of engineering systems to the United Nation’s sustainable development goals. Resiliency of Engineering Systems will dive deeper into engineering for mitigation and resiliency. This course will also emphasize communication skills, so that graduates are well equipped to work with city planners, policy makers and the public.

Engineering Students Explore NYC High Line, a 1.45 mile park on the disused, elevated Central Railroad.
Notre Dame engineering students explore High Line, an elevated 1.45 mile park built on the disused New York Central Railroad, which weaves green space through the heart of Manhattan.

The problems that engineers face in their professions are not just technical; they have social, political, and economic dimensions. Therefore, it is critical for engineering students who want to contribute to healthier and resilient communities to understand how their technical skills relate to this broader context. Dr. Liz Kerr, Director of Undergraduate Studies in the CEEES Department says "The importance of engineering is in the impact engineering applications have on society. This minor provides students with the opportunity to formally look beyond the technical aspects of their engineering designs and at the impact they can have on society and focus on why they are doing what they are doing as well as the importance of a design's long-term effects." To this end, the new minor will have an interdisciplinary component. Students will be required to complete at least one related course outside of the College of Engineering. Options to fulfill this requirement span multiple departments and include approved courses from departments such as Political Science, Psychology, Philosophy, Law, Economics, and Sociology.

In addition to coursework, students will be required to complete a capstone experience. This will be to obtain hands-on experience with resiliency and sustainability issues focusing on implementation in a real-world setting, such as a related research position or an internship with a governmental body, regulatory agency, environmental advocacy group or other organization.

This minor started as a series of conversations between Dr. Vilas Mujumdar and Notre Dame College of Engineering Dean Peter Kilpatrick, CEEES Department Chair Joannes Westerink, and CEEES professor Yahya Kurama. Dr. Vilas Mujumdar, a structural engineer, was engaged in executive management in the private industry and high‐level administration in the public sector for more than 35 years. In the private sector, he worked as Chief Executive Officer, President, & Partner in many engineering organizations. In the public sector, he served as Chief of Operations for the Division of the State Architect for California and as the Program Director for Engineering Research Centers and for the Network for Earthquake Engineering Simulation (NEES) Programs at the National Science Foundation (NSF). With his role as Chief of Operations for the Division of the State Architect for California, he was in charge of all building programs in the 6th largest economy in the world for over a decade. Mujumdar, wary of community resilience and environmental problems, is dedicated to ensuring that the next generation of engineers are trained in multi-disciplinary resiliency and sustainability. The idea for the minor came up as a way to better prepare engineers to solve the most challenging problems that our world is facing. In addition to sharing his vast experience and ideas on these topics, Dr. Vilas Mujumdar contributed a generous gift in order to make the minor possible.

According to Dean Kilpatrick “The importance to the future of the world of training professionals and engineers for sustainable and resilient development cannot be overstated. In fact, as the Holy Father says, it is a moral imperative." Pope Francis’ Encyclical Laudato Si – On Care for Our Common Home – creates a mandate for "an ‘ecological conversion’, whereby the effects of [our] encounter with Jesus Christ become evident in their relationship with the world around [us]. Living our vocation to be protectors of God’s handiwork is essential to a life of virtue; it is not an optional or a secondary aspect of our Christian experience.” This minor is one step the University is taking for the important role that stewardship of the Earth plays in our Catholic faith. It similarly resonates with the vision of Father Sorin, who said, “This College will be one of the most powerful means for good in this country.”

University approval for the minor has been completed and the minor is available to students of the class of 2020.