Vibrant networks producing INGENious results!

Most days, I find myself communicating with colleagues from afar on various projects, proposals, and ideas. On a typical day, I hear from Dr. Inês Direito in London (UK), Dr. Lelanie Smith in Pretoria (South Africa) and Dr. Carlos Efrén Mora Luis in Tenerife (Spain). We have many overlapping interests–one being how to understand student motivations and emotions and how to use this understanding to help students tackle and persist through challenges. I often hear from our co-author Dr. Bill Williams, from outside Lisbon (Portugal) as well.

A past meeting of minds among Inês (center), Lelanie (right), and me. These days we can only meet online.

In addition to engineering motivations, we are also all interested in sustainability — environmental, economic and social. So over the past few weeks, WhatsApp and Signal chats have been rich and frequent.

Today alone, Lelanie, Inês, and I discussed research plans. Inês, Bill, and I submitted a conference paper on Brexit (with Inês in the lead and comments from Bill and me). Inês and I refined a journal manuscript on engineering ethics (with me in the lead and verbal input from Inês — she will edit my current version in the morning).

Down in the Spanish Canaries, Carlos has been fighting sand storms, as dust from the Sahara Dessert enveloped the islands. The weekend’s sandstorms were one of a number of challenges he’s faced recently, but he’s never one to give up.

Carlos (Dr. Carlos Mora) speaking at the launch of the INGENIA project. Hundreds of students attended the event, which featured speakers from around the world.

Carlos and I didn’t win the grant we applied for this past September, despite having put months into the proposal. We’ve picked ourselves up, brushed off the disappointment, and developed a plan to perfect and resubmit. I know all too well that resubmitting makes a world of difference! It’s the best way to win funding. Yesterday, I was rallying our troops, gathering support for a new round of work. I am confident that eventually we will succeed.

But we haven’t been sitting around waiting for success to come.

In December, Carlos submitted an additional grant proposal, this one to the Cabildo of Tenerife, Spain, for €56,000. He received funding for the project titled “INGENIA.” Carlos explained to me that the word “Ingenia” comes from “Ingenio,” which is “Ingenuity” in English. So the project is fostering “Ingenuity” to support sustainability education.

I’m honored that (as a result of me coaching him on how to write grant proposals) he included me as a co-PI.

On the 31st of January, Carlos and his colleagues in Tenerife launched his extremely well-designed INGENIA project. It was a true thrill when over 300 people attended his launch that Friday!

Carlos has summarized in English that “INGENIA wants to show that students can find sustainable solutions to real life problems linked to SDGs in Tenerife.” Students will build their own research teams and find a supervisor who will help manage the financial resources for their project.” In other words, the students “will have to find relevant problems and then propose solutions. The final part of the process is selling their solutions to companies and administrative public offices.”

Students will engineer their solutions and compete for funding to realize their projects. Below, I’ve included information that Carlos wrote to described the project, which is being conducted in Spanish. I can understand a bit by reading the Spanish materials he produced, but he was kind enough to translate for me/us!

INGENIA project

The Spanish public universities agreed recently contributing to the 2030 Agenda by building and transferring knowledge and skills to society about the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Universities can contribute with teaching, learning, and student-participation methods to transfer not just the skills, but the motivation needed to face the SDGs. Like other Spanish higher education institutions, University of La Laguna (ULL) endorsed the United Nations (UN) SDGs initiative, and has a detailed understanding of the importance of its local problems linked to the environmental, social, and economical sustainability of the Canary Islands.

INGENIA is a project coordinated by ULL that is focused on the needs of the local society in the Canaries that supports building knowledge and skills on the participating students. INGENIA uses Project-oriented Problem Based Learning (PoPBL) learning strategies to motivate the students to find and propose solutions to real problems linked to the SDGs around their own environment.

Objectives

  • Train university and high school academic staff in using active learning strategies to impulse SDGs.
  • Educate postgraduate students, and academic staff, in facilitating techniques and strategies to guiding students in complex projects linked to SDGs.
  • Develop real student projects with a high potential for positive impact in the Canarian society.

Implementation

INGENIA will be implemented in three stages:

  • Informative and training actions. Informative actions will include a conference to be held at ULL in its theatre showing how students can change the world. Training actions will include workshops with specialists in Engineering Education focused on PBL and the evaluation of the impact of student projects.
    Goal: Get teachers motivated to help students in writing their proposals. Each of these teachers will also serve as guarantors for a team of students, and guarantors will assume the financial responsibility of the projects they back.  
  • Training of facilitators. A group of postgraduate students will receive specific training for PBL, Motivation, Conflict Management, and Project Management. Facilitators will collaborate with guarantors in guiding the student teams.
    Goal: Having at least one facilitator for each wining proposal.
  • Project development: INGENIA will include a call for proposals. Student teams must justify the relevance of the problem and the feasibility of their solutions. Winning teams will receive funding for their projects, and must execute their projects within two months. At the end of this period, each team will write a report to identify the impact of their solutions. Students will participate in a public exhibition in October 2020, and will also have the opportunity to show their solutions to companies and public institutions with the aim of getting additional funding to continue their projects.

The launch was a huge success and reached the press. Noticias Cananias and Eldiario both ran stories.

https://www.noticanarias.com/tenerife-la-universidad-de-la-laguna-inaugura-el-proyecto-ingenia-con-250-asistentes/

https://www.eldiario.es/canariasahora/nekuni/campus/ULL-promueve-emprendimiento-desarrollo-sostenible_0_990751736.html

Carlos explained that the 31st was a day full of feeling. One of the speakers told such a moving story that the audience shed tears of emotion. Specifically, two students described their experiences; the second of these is working with ‘invisible’ people, meaning people who appear in social statistics, but have no work, no home, and thus no address. Carlos said she did an excellent job transmitting her feelings. She said, for instance, “that one day, she cooked rice for homeless people, but she was so busy that she forgot to turn off the cooking plate.” The rice was damaged, but she salvaged and packed up as much rice us she could, and went to give it to people in the street in Tenerife. She gave a portion to one man, and stayed looking at him. As the man was eating that rice, he stopped, looked at her eyes, and said what a lovely smile she had.

When she finished her narrative at the launch, one retired professor raised his hand to say something, but when he tried to start broken into tears. He cited numbers — the number of people invisible to all of us — and then he said that he had lived this experience along with her, and that she had touched his heart. The student walked down from the stage and gave the professor a big embrace. All the assistants, students, and teachers in the audience started to applaud.

It is this sort of change Carlos hopes to inspire among more students, and this is the sort of communication I received from Carlos daily.

After the student’s talk, many people were in tears, including Carlos. But he couldn’t stop to weep: he was next up on the stage.

Carlos needed to explain details of the program and how it will run. He had to explain the schedule and what will be expected of the various people working together in teams — including the student team members as well as the post-graduate and faculty member (e.g., professors) advising each team.

Carlos said the event was so motivating, inspiring them all to go out and find problems to solve. He received oodles of questions from students and academics wanting to participate. He said “Yes, I still can’t believe it, but something positive happened today!”

I have included images that are copyright of the photographer, Emeterio Suárez Guerra, and used with permission of Carlos.

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