Discovering Dublin: Phoenix Park in Isolation (2/)

Aongus and I hadn’t spent much time in Dublin’s very large urban park prior to Covid-19. We were, afterall, just returning to Dublin after two years in London.

Our last days in London for Christmas 2019, ending my two-year fellowship and heading home to Dublin.

I’d moved back at the start of January and got things organized. Aongus followed on February 5th. Luckily, I already settled back into the flat and gotten things arranged nicely when he touched down on the Irish tarmac–a full month before isolation set in.

A couple days after Aongus’ return, things got very busy for me at TU Dublin. I was appointed to Chair and launch a new degree program. We held the induction on February 14. We were four weeks into conducting modules that when the pandemic hit and campus buildings shut down. From then on, work was all from home.

When the Irish government asked us to keep inside a 2-kilometer radius from our homes, and only venture out for necessary purchases and daily exercise, I pulled out a map on the “2kmfromhome” app and very happily discovered the entry to Phoenix Park fell within our allowable zone. I loaded the radius map as my phone’s wallpaper for easy reference–that made Aongus feel a bit claustrophobic! He’s not used to such a small bubble. His parents, aunts and siblings live outside it. Sadly, he couldn’t see his parents anyway, as they live in a nursing home. There have been very few visits. His dad had symptoms of Covid but tested negative. His mom had no symptoms but tested positive–go figure. Both are doing fine, but lacking visits has really taken a toll on his dad, who is fully aware of what’s going on.

Considering the radius, I wasn’t quite sure where entering the park alone would get us. During an online School meeting, which we held weekly for months until summer break officially started, I mentioned in the chat box that we had the entrance to Phoenix Park in our allotted circle. A colleague said, oh how lucky! A friend of hers had the same situation. Catherine said it meant we could use the Park in full, as long as we were carrying verification of our address.

To me that made logical sense–afterall, the masses of Dublin living near the Park we couldn’t all stand in the first hundred feet of the entry gate.

And thus began…

Our love affair with Phoenix Park

Soon we cycled to the park using Dublin Bikes, with a picnic of left-overs in hand for sustenance.

That first day we didn’t make it too far, but on our next trip we discovered the expansive views of the field at the Pope’s Cross, with amazing views over the city of Dublin toward the Dublin Mountains.

Park it, Deer…

We also discovered the deer of Dublin, so calm and tame.

The deer cluster by gender–doe and children together, and bucks in their own groups. In the forested area shown at the top of this blog (with the nifty leg warmers, a gift from ‘me mum’), we once saw an organized lesson in being a male deer underway. There were three sets of young males with antlers joined, play wrestling, and one more deer–who appeared to be the coach. We didn’t get a photo that day, as we weren’t allowed by the Park Rangers to stop to observe. By loud speaker they announced “Keep moving. You’re here for exercise!” or something of that sort. They weren’t messin’ that day–taking no shite….

Fortunately, over time, the sense of panic and urgency has subsided. If you leave the deer be and avoid crowds, you’ll be okay. It is usually easy enough to stumble on crows if you don’t move far for the entry at Parkgate Street.

…and chill

The deer have really loved having the park free of cars–the park is so large that motorists have typically used it as a cut-through, taking their cars at high speeds to get to the other side without much regard for pedestrians and cyclists, families and children. High-speed and rude drivers in the park, along with the poor quality of the pavement in the cycle lane leading into and out of the park, had previously discouraged me from cycling there.

I had, however, cycled to the US Ambassador’s Residence once to hear a NASA astronaut speak at a Fulbright Ireland event. There’s a sizable slope going into the park that takes some determination to climb. I felt so unwelcome by the hill and the rough pavement of the cycle lane going in (the car pavement is nice and smooth here), that I had avoided this park in the interim. I hoped–and still do–that they will repave the cycle lanes near Park Gate. Can’t imagine what has kept that simple act from happening.

This is the back side of the US Ambassador’s Residence. It faces south, toward the Dublin mountains and the Pope’s Cross. (See, nifty leg warmers!)

Although we’d enjoyed our Dublin Bike adventure that first day, but realized we’d need our own bikes. My own had been stolen from my courtyard some years before, but our maintenance guy gave me a discarded bike as a replacement. I’d parked it on the balcony, but hadn’t much luck using it. Mostly, I needed a more comfortable saddle.

So, in March, I was quite pleased to discover that Pavlov at Bolton Bikes could get it back up and running. It’s heavy and I have to baby the gears, but it works and it has been nice and reliable. Bolton Bikes repairs and also sells used bikes. We were very fortunate to buy one for Aongus that suits him incredibly well. Neither of our bikes is a magnet for thieves, which is fortunate since rates of bicycle theft are off the charts right now in Dublin.

I didn’t even report the earlier theft–really no reason since the police don’t really investigate.

Our bikes have worked out fine. They really serve us well and we are learning to love them and the freedom they provide.

…enjoy a scenic overlook

On our second or third visit to the park, we found the far end, to the west, had the fewest people. We’d ride out there and eat a quick snack, tea, or sandwich before cycling back home.

Ireland had an amazing streak of glorious weather, in March and April. Perfect like this for several weeks. We discovered this stunning view at the far end of the park, and reaching it became a regular goal:

…and a quiet little pond

Over time, we ventured into the gated area around the pond. The water lilies were delightful; my photos haven’t done them justice.

Aongus enjoyed feeding crumbs to the ducks and geese.

Just be yourself!

As the weeks progressed this corner of the park remained sparsely attended. We encountered very few people and were even able to curl up with a book on occasion. Wild and free and happy as can be….

(…but not in America!)

Speaking of America, I felt safe enough in Phoenix Park to attend the very first Dublin-based rally in support of Black Lives Matter.

Stand up for what you believe…

I elected to attend the #BLM rally in Phoenix Park, as I believed there would be ample room for social distancing. This location meant participants weren’t likely to get hemmed in as I feared would happen near the American Embassy. My assumptions were correct.

There was plenty of space where we assembled at the driveway entrance to the Ambassador’s Residence. There was also plenty space as we processed slowly around the property in a long single-file line, and one the rear/southside of the house where we knelt for a minute of silence. Any groups were households that arrived together. Many couples and a few families, and many brave individuals as we did not know what to expect. I saw this advertised on Twitter, with two locations available so everyone could stay in their allowable zone (which, by this time was 5km, I believe).

In any case, I was glad to be able to do *something* to support the #BLM cause, and to achieve that without violating any rules. It was a very small thing, but I had to make a stand for justice and also stand in solidarity with my hundreds and hundreds of Black American friends, colleagues, and former students. And in memory of my honorary grandparents, Bush and Ravella and their daughter Dot. So many people I know and love who had the opposite of a head start in US life simply due to the color of their skin.

Incidentally, a newspaper photographer showed up and took our pictures at this rally, but as there weren’t any juicy scoops to be had, the pics didn’t go viral. Even a telephoto lens couldn’t make this particular crowd look too dense!

All the Guards and Park Rangers who came around expressed sincere support for the cause.

It was a lovely and heartwarming event, and a story you probably didn’t hear on official news outlets.

…just let time drift by.

Since lockdown, I’ve come to know and love Phoenix Park. I truly hope it remains a place that’s safe for families, children, and people of all levels of ability to use safely.

One last set of views out across the Dublin Mountains, daydreaming and soaking in the peace and quiet:

Southeast Ireland: Cycling around Rosslare

Last weekend we tested out our new car-mounted bike rack. We researched good cycling routes, loaded the bikes for an overnight trip, and struck out Saturday morning for Wexford, the sunniest county in Ireland. On the island’s southeastern-most tip, County Wexford enjoys the highest number of summer days per year on the island.

En route to Wexford with bikes ready to roll.

We parked the car at our hotel in view of Rosslare Harbor, with its ferry port and boats to France, the UK, and elsewhere in Europe and fueled up with a sandwich.

Then we set out to find peaceful waters by bike. The port is the starting point for the Irish leg of a major European cycling route, with three sub-routes circling the area. It’s part of a larger European system of touring-friendly cycling roads.

Our cycling route this day totaled about 37 km and, with its loops, provided us options if we ran out of steam. We didn’t run out though! We chose tranquil little roads, were passed by the occasional car, puzzled at the road signs, and asked other cyclists for advice. GPS really helps with navigating roads in Ireland, but groping around can also be fun.

Ladys Island

Our first stop: Ladys Island, also called Our Lady’s Island. The island itself is a bird sanctuary, and the peninsula beside it is accessible to people and is a religious pilgrimage site. We completed the pilgrimage route by bike. There was evidence of recent outdoor masses beside the castle-like ruin. We explored a old cemetery, recently reclaimed from the brush. There were many people walking and cycling in the area.

The church here reminded me of the one in Staunton, Virginia, called St. Andrews, where my grandmother went. Designed during the same neo-Gothic loving era, I’d say, and not terribly old.

Carne Beach

We enjoyed the sounds of all the lovely birds and then we struck out for Carne Beach. It was beautiful and blue and the water seemed warm enough for a swim although we didn’t try. We just enjoyed the sun, sounds, breeze, and colors.

Rosslare

Then we cycled a long stretch to Rosslare village and beach. It was packed with weekend holiday-makers so we didn’t stay long. Turned away from a restaurant at 4:30 PM, we decided it was best to find food without delay. Rosslare doesn’t currently have capacity to serve many in restaurants and it was full of blow-ins from Dublin, like us.

We cycled back toward the Harbor and were fortunate to find the last table at Culletons of Kilrane where we enjoyed one lovely plate of fish and chips and another of salmon-wrapped cod. The high quality of the food was a pleasant surprise! And pulled pints of Guinness to boot!

The pub we tried before this one was filled by funeral-goers from the burial we’d passed earlier in the day, near Lady’s Island. As an Irish person, Aongus is 100% certain the pub booking was linked to the funeral. This is the only possible explanation, he insists. As an American, I’m not sure I can explain how he knows, even though I read up on funeral rites in the book “How to be Irish” by Daniel Slattery. Actually, I’ve read that funeral chapter twice, but some details still evade me. 

After dinner, we returned to our hotel and settled in for the night. The cycle route here is lifted off the street and was safe enough even after a pint of Guinness, which Aongus says was rocket fuel for me. I virtually flew home. 

Breakfast wasn’t well organized at the hotel, but Supervalue did the trick. We ate on the back deck of the hotel, then packed up and drove back to Lady’s Island to soak in a bit more birdsong and delicate tranquility.

The highlight of our whole trip came at the end, with an impromptu invitation to lunch at the holiday home of our friends Richard and Geraldine. I’d stayed the night with them once before here in Rosslare, between days of RoboSlam events that our team conducted throughout county Wexford, but Aongus had never been to their home. 

As we’d only chosen this destination the night before, I messaged Richard on the way down to see if they might be visiting Rosslare on this particular weekend. 

Geraldine and Richard arrived in town after us, but welcomed us with (virtually, not literally) open arms! I thought we’d meet at a cafe or on the beach, but they were eager to have guests and graciously invited to their place, nicknamed “Five”. Try finding that on Google Maps!

This was my first time visiting with friends in person since mid-March, and it was really good for my mental health to reconnect with beloved others. I even got to expand upon my new-found knowledge of Irish politics and governance by sharing ideas and perceptions with them. 

County Wexford and the Hays family gave us a lovely weekend and we look forward to visiting both again!

Lovely outdoor lunch with Richard and Geraldine. Plus Aongus and Shannon.

Discovering Dublin: Last days of normal life (1/)

Something was about to change here in Dublin on the night of March 11th. I knew this, and thus felt hesitation as well as excitement for an interesting day as I headed into work on the 12th.

You see, TU Dublin had an Open Day planned to show female high school students about our apprenticeship courses. My colleagues and I had put a lot of work into planning this, although we anticipated things could change due to coronavirus. Later this day, life was to shift decisively about our world here in Dublin.

The Last Day ‘Open’ at TU Dublin

A glimpse of Bolton Street with drama in the sky.

We waited anxiously for word from the university about closures. In the meantime, we took care. Although plans went ahead and during this Open Day, the new norms of hand sanitizer and social distancing appeared. Wee conscientiously worked to hold intimate conversations about life plans at a two arm’s length–not an easy feat in a loud and active space like the lobby of Linenhall, home of the TU’s Dublin School of Architecture.

Attendance on this Open Day was higher than one would expect given the uncertainty of life, but not as high as the past year. Only a portion of those who reserved places made it to D2 that day. It was well worth my own four-block walk into work to meet girls from as far as Wicklow who’d ventured up to meet us.

Setting up for the day.

I provided tours of the facilities–bricklaying, plumbing, carpentry, metal fabrication, painting and decorating, laser cutting and 3D printing, automated fabrication–at Linenhall and Bolton Street where apprentices learn. Those taking our sampler program, “Access to Apprenticeship” get to use to all these workshops, and to complete a small project in each to help them determine which to specialize in by completing a full course.

At the end of the event we heard that campus buildings would close that night at 18:00; after this, classes would meet only online.

The BIM modules we offer in my program did indeed meet that night, all online, thanks to the collaborative working platform my colleagues use to teach BIM. Kevin Furlong, Barry McAuley, and Emma Hays took it all in stride and kept on delivering! I was truly impressed.

Working it out during Covid-19

I already worked half time on research, so I actually labored from home 50% of my working hours, pre-Covid. For me, work life after the 12th of March looked pretty similar to before–lots and lots and lots of time at my laptop. There was less variety, though, and much less human contact.

I missed feeling creative. I wasn’t able to blog, as I didn’t feel reason to celebrate during a time of fer and hardship.

I got work done, but not with my normal level of zest.

The first two weekends after the campus shut down, we weren’t yet asked to isolate (we never officially ‘locked down’) but the government was asking us to keep our distance from others.

My household has one other person, Aongus, and this fact has kept me sane during isolation. I’m glad I haven’t had to go through this pandemic living alone. That said, my guy has much higher exposure to the outside world than I do, and could inadvertently drag Covid-19 home at any time.

As you probably know, Aongus and I really enjoy our weekends. We love getting out, exploring the world, getting exercise, fresh air and sunlight. In fact, not feeling pangs of guilt for taking weekend off is a major reason I moved to Europe from the USA. You’ll recall that Aongus and I made the most of every minute in London during my two-year fellowship there. We had plans to make the most of our precious weekends together in Dublin upon our return.

A Sunday at Greystones Beach

Sliding into a new normal, we had a couple weeks to adjust to freedoms and habits that were slipping away. We were still allowed to drive and explore, but were required to stay away from others. Our gym was still open during this time, as well, though we were distancing.

On Sunday, March 15, Aongus and I drove out to Greystones, where we were able to distant from others on the beach. We enjoyed the solitude in the cool winter breeze off the Irish Sea.

And we learned that lunches and loos were few and far between. From this day forward, we packed sandwiches whenever we ventured out, and planned ahead for long period of loo-less-ness.

The difficulty finding these that day told me that things were going to change more radically. We drove to some favorite spots hoping for lunch, but couldn’t stop because they were packed with people.

We did, however, find joy in simple pleasures: an apple, the sunshine, and loving company.

Holi-day at Bull Island Marshes & Dollymount Strand

St. Patrick’s Day was a holiday, so we made another trip trip to the sea, still pre-lockdown (to use the phrase lightly–we’ve never officially ‘locked down’ in Ireland to the degree of many other European countries).

Although Dublin’s St. Patrick’s Day Parade had been cancelled, and tourists discouraged from coming, we residents were still allowed out, but asked to keep our distance.

Aongus and I headed out to Bull Island, by car, as was typical for us before coronavirus. Walking and Dublin Bikes were our other main forms of transportation, and where they didn’t bring us, a bus or car would. “Back then”, we would never have dreamed of cycling to Bull Island or Dollymount Strand; they seemed so very far away.

Bull Island is a favorite among Dubliners though, and when we arrived the beach looked far too crowded to allow the distance I required, so we instead explored the marshes.

My colleague Damon Berry had recommended that I check them out, and this was the first time I latched onto the idea. Aongus and I had a nice picnic in the dunes.

Of course, we hoped to find passage across to the beach by way of the dunes, but the waterways prevented that. Nevertheless, we enjoyed discovering a tranquil strip of Bull Island where few people venture.

By the late afternoon, the beach had cleared out (it was the bottleneck along the wall that had presented the problem passing others) and we were able to visit the strand, which is called Dollymount.

As you can see, Dublin is quite chilly during March, but any opportunity to go outside, walk, and soak in the sunshine is prized.

Isolation begins

The lifestyle we had known was quickly sliding away. Soon after our visit to Bull Island, the period of isolation began. Aongus and I essentially hibernated for weeks. I was able to keep working from home. He, as a construction site project manager, was able to do some limited amount of work from home and was allowed on site, alone, occasionally, to do essential work, or check for security.

As we have a range of grocery stores (Fresh Market, Lidl, two Centras and a Daybreak) within 1-4 blocks of our flat and the food supply chains serving Dublin never let us down, we were able to source food easily and have learned many new recipes with what we can find in these stores.

That 2km radius we were allowed to travel from home for the purpose of exercise kept us sane, and we looked forward to weekends, hoping and praying for sunshine.

County Kerry: A day in Dingle

The Irish government has allowed domestic travel since June 29, and has been encouraging residents of the Republic to holiday inside the country to help revive the Irish tourist sector. Aongus and I were happy to oblige and we headed out for a four day weekend to the west of Ireland.

Unbelievably, my Irish man—born in Dublin and raised speaking Irish—had never been to Dingle! This rainy little fishing village is a favorite of Americans, and I’ve visited several times since my inaugural trip there in 2003.

The Fish Box is just to the left of Dick Mack’s Pub, across the street from St. Mary’s Church.

This particular overnight stay in this lovely little town included dinner at The Fish Box (amazing!), bed and breakfast at Bambury’s Guest House, and a kayaking trip guided by Irish Adventures.

And yes, we saw Fungie first hand, just 30’ or so away. Such a friendly and adventurous dolphin who has graced Dingle Bay since 1983. The tourism industry loves Fungie, with hundreds and sometimes even thousands of people boating out to visit the people-living dolphin daily.

On our kayaking trip were four learners—a couple from Cork and a mum and son from Dingle—and two instructors. A family of five got their own guide and travelled apart from us.

It was such a treat to pal around with Irish people enjoying their own home place. Truly an ideal time to visit. Especially since the seas were too rough for boating two days before and two days after our own outing. We really lucked out!

The pubs of Dingle were still closed during our visit, so there were no trad music sessions to enjoy, but we were able to do a little shopping. I picked up some exercise gear in hopes of our gym opening next week, and I also purchased a Cornwall Seasalt brand scarf to replace the one I dropped at Bonobo’s of Smithfield in February that so unkindly was never handed over to the lost and found.

Social distancing was easy in Dingle and we look forward to exploring more of Ireland as time, weather, and government guidelines permit. We were so very thankful for this one precious day of fun and glorious weather.

New-ish cap!

Special thanks to Noel of Irish Adventures for excellent instruction and leadership of the tour as well as his gift to me of an Irish Adventures baseball cap. They had actually run out of new caps, but gifted me one off their very own head! And it’s already perfectly broken in. Pop it in the wash and it’s good to go!

The photo gallery below shows an approach to Dingle via the Connor Pass (with new Wild Atlantic Way signage), the town of Dingle at sunset, and our morning out on the weather. Stay tuned for more pics of Kerry to come!

Ethics in Engineering: Calling for a Revolution

The platform Engineering Matters aired Podcast #59 on “Empowering Ethical Engineering” on June 25, 2020.

Bernadette Balentine is the host of Engineering Matters, and in podcast 59, she featured guests from Mott MacDonald, Canada’s Corporation of the Seven Wardens, Engineers Without Borders UK, the University of Leeds, the UK’s Institution of Engineering and Technology, and me, a Visiting Professor at UCL. You can find it at this link.

The podcast tells a fascinating story about a catastrophic bridge failure that happened in Canada, explaining how the overall engineering profession there responded by developing and adopting a strict code of ethics.

The overall podcast is 37 minutes, and I’m featured only briefly (around minute 28.5). In this post, I’ll provide a little more detail on the work I’ve been doing that led me to be included.

As you probably know, I was a Marie Curie Research Fellow at UCL for two years, and I still serve as a Visiting Professor there at UCL. I have a keen interest in the built environment and I’m also a registered architect in the States with LEED-AP credentials. My research specialty involves how people learn engineering and architecture.

During the Fellowship, Engineers without Borders UK came to me asking for help with research idea. As a result, my team and I conducted a small-scale qualitative study where we interviewed nine civil/structural engineers practicing in London about their perceptions of ethics and, specifically, of global responsibility—what it means and how they enact global responsibility in their day-to-day work. I reported this research while speaking with Bernadette for the podcast.

Bernadette asked what factors we had identified that prevent engineers from acting on ethical beliefs. Here’s some of what I said:

Even when early career engineers see opportunities to do something in a better, more ethical or responsible way, they often have trouble getting the idea accepted. Cost and time constraints limit their choices. Small and private projects nearly always prioritize cost and over environmental or social sustainability. 

Early-career engineers can influence material selection and thus carbon footprint to some degree, but many other decision are out of their scope of work. Crucial decisions were made long before they got involved. They select materials, run calculations, and make more detailed decisions, but they are often involved in a small portion of any given building or infrastructure project. Even when they see an opportunity to do better on a private project, their client usually only accepts it is the idea if it also saves money or time. 

That said, larger public projects provide more opportunity to protect the public good—and they hear about public discussions. But it’s other professionals, such as architects and planners, who often drive those discussions. On the other hand, the senior managing engineer we interviewed was quite able to affect things on a large scale; he had quite a lot of sway in decision-making and frequent opportunities to protect public Health and Safety. He took pride in doing so, and he also reached out to help mentor others to develop such skills. 

Early-career engineers told us they lack reliable tools for calculating environmental and social impacts of various options. Quite surprisingly, most don’t recall having discussions in university about sustainability. While they say ethics was probably covered in their professional practice classes, none of this was covered in a way that was “sticky” enough for them to recall it. Most learned about this after university, through CPD courses, their own research, and company induction programs on Health & Safety and anti-corruption with an implied focus on anti-bribery. 

Overall, the early career engineers in our study expressed: 

  • A lack of tools for demonstrating benefits of environmental or social action
  • Some degree of shortfall in training/preparation
  • Feelings of disempowerment due to decisions being made further up the business or by clients who didn’t value sustainability

One of the most important findings of our study was that the engineers felt empowered to act on job-site Health and Safety more than other areas. Job-site Health and Safety was the one thing, they said, that consistently trumps cost. They were also clear on company rules for reporting gifts.

This led me to wonder: Might we use the levers that facilitated sweeping change across job-site H&S and anti-bribery to facilitate quick change in other areas related to ethics—specifically environmental and social aspects of sustainability and justice? 

A helpful example was relayed by Malcolm Gladwell. In it, Korean Airlines went from having one of the world’s worst flight safety records to one of the best, and they did this by changing their own culture (with help of consultants) to allow individuals to raise concerns and challenge authority without personal retribution, without fear of reprimand.

I believe engineers need more of this type of empowerment and protection. The narrative Bernadette Ballantyne has woven on “Empowering Ethical Engineering” illustrates how Civil Engineering in Canada did precisely this.

It’s well worth a listen, regardless of whether or not you “engineer” things!

The Iron Ring worn by Canadian engineers after taking their oath to protect Health and Safety of all. Learn more at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Iron_Ring and on the Engineering Matter podcast.

Meanwhile, stay tuned for more details of our study, as we prepare various findings for publication in research journals. Many thanks to my research collaborators Inês Direito, Rob Lawlor, and John Mitchell, and the Advisory Board appointed by EWB-UK to help guide our work. Financial support came from the European Commission via my Marie Curie Individual Fellowship and a grant to EWB-UK from the Royal Academy of Engineers UK.

LSBU Sustainability conference on now, featuring Creativity research

London South Bank University (LSBU) has an event on this week called “Sustainability and Climate Action Events Series – Carbon, Climate, Energy and Resources” (for info and registration click here).

As I’m a Visiting Professor at LSBU, supervising Ph.D. student Thomas Empson who is one of the organizers of this event, I’m one of many in attendance. Thomas studies the role of creativity in creating sustainable design solutions. He looks at engineering and architecture. Thomas is also LSBU’s Sustainability Project Manager.

I’m so proud to be this researcher’s Ph.D. supervisor. He, Shushma Patel, and I have made an excellent team.

The week-long event kicked off earlier today and Thomas delivered an insightful presentation on his Ph.D. research on “Enabling Enterprising Engineers” and featuring work by HKS architects and Enfinffers for Overseas Development (EFOD).

Thomas Empson delivering welcomes, introductions, and cutting-edge research.

Thomas’ Ph.D. research project is coming together beautifully and he will be presenting his viva (=defending his dissertation) in August. We got a sneak preview today! This event, the LSBU Provost, Professor Pat Bailey, told us at the 9.30am Welcome and Introduction is the largest online event that LSBU has ever hosted. Thomas is one of the two main organizers for this LSBU conference. He’s done this alongside his research work.

As I’m working on various projects throughout the day (including our own online EER Meet Up for tomorrow afternoon), I’ve tuned in and out of the LSBU event. However, I was there “with bells on” for the 11.30am session led by Thomas!

The topic was “Creating Sustainable Development: Measuring the positive ecological, economic and social impact of the Katchumbala Maternity Unit.” Thomas presented his research and then hosted two high-profile panelists: Dan Flower, a Design Director for HKS Architects, and his dad, Ian Flower OBE and Founder of Engineers for Overseas Development (EFOD).

Thomas has been studying aspects of creativity and (environmental, social and economic) sustainability. He has evaluated several case study projects to assess creative practices, processes, outputs, and impacts. The case study he showed today was for the Katchumbala Maternity Unit in Uganda.

Thomas hosted two high-powered designer/activists who made this hospital a reality. It’s a father-son duo with an engineer dad and architect son.

The Hospital generated many positive environmental, social, and economic benefits.

There were also benefits ot the organizations involved:

Thomas has studied creativity within this project and has created a number of really helpful and useful models for assessing sustainable creativity. I’ll share those models with you later, as they are a significant contribution to the knowledge base and have been tested through empirical research.

Today, the audience got a sneak peek at these models and won’t have to wait until Thomas’ viva.

LSBU has loads of interesting sessions planned for the week–why not join in to learn more?

A new wave in conferences: Green and Inclusive via online options

This blog post shares ideas from a breakout “coffee chat” at the May 14th 2020 Big EER Meet Up, hosted by UCL with sponsors including REEN and TU Dublin. Our breakout session asked: Can we make future conferences greener and more equitable by providing online participation options?

It may be of use to people planning conferences for engineering education, engineering education research (EER), and beyond.

Title slide listing speakers for the coffee chat.

Shannon Chance initiated this coffee chat due to her concern for reducing the environmental impacts of conference attendance. Being part of the Marie Curie network (MCAA-UK) had made her aware of the scholarly paper on “Evaluating features of scientific conferences: A call for improvements” by Sarabipour et al (2020). This paper formed the basis of discussion. Shannon feels particularly compelled to develop viable solutions as she is the Chair of the Research in Engineering Education Network (REEN) that coordinates the bi-annual Research in Engineering Education Symposium (REES). REES 2021 is to be held in Perth, and REES 2023 is scheduled for Hubli, India. Although Shannon is passionate about bringing the global community of engineering education researchers together and helping build EER capacity, she’s concerned that so few can be involved in REES due to cost and distance. She recognizes economic inequality of access to the physical event as well as the environmental toll related to academic travel.

This coffee chat was intended to be informal. It was facilitated by:

  • Dr. Shannon Chance – Chair of REEN, from TU Dublin and UCL
  • Dr. Valquíria Villas-Boas – REEN Board Member, from the Universidade de Caxias do Sul
  • Dr. Inês Direito, from University College London
  • Dr. Carlos Efrén Mora from Universidad de La Laguna

The overall event was globally supported and attended. This graphic lists the co-sponsoring organizations:

Logos.jpg
 (Intense)

The session abstract explained:

Through informal discussion, participants will share experiences of online conference participation, its benefits and drawbacks, and explore how non-pandemic EER conferences could adapt to include rich and rewarding participation for those who can’t physically attend. We will explore recommendations recently published by Sarabipour et al (2020) who believe “Many meetings could still be improved significantly in terms of diversity, inclusivity, promoting early career researcher (ECR) networking and career development, venue accessibility, and more importantly, reducing the meetings’ carbon footprint.” This non-reviewed paper examined “over 260 national and international academic meetings in various disciplines for features of inclusivity and sustainability” and its authors “propose solutions to make conferences more modern, effective, equitable and intellectually productive for the research community and environmentally sustainable for our planet.” With such enthusiastic participation in recent online EER seminars, could EER possible lead the way?

Several resources are available for attendees. Anyone with interest can access them:

A very diverse group attended this coffee chat. We briefly describing introduced ourselves as, for instance:

  • A teacher of engineers
  • I like to work in teams
  • Was on the organizing committee for a conference transitioned to virtual last month
  • I am planning/organizing a conference in pre-college engineering
  • An architect
  • I’m current president of the Student Platform for Engineering Education Development (SPEED) where I found out how passionate I’m about Engineering Education 🙂
  • I consider myself a citizen of the world. I have lived in 4 countries and 7 different cities, and my family has 3 different nationalities.
We had about 17 attendees in all–good turn out for such a serious topic.

We started by asking participants to take a minute to type into the chat about an enjoyable experience you’ve had in EER virtual learning recently, or provide a short reflection about being a “virtual” or a “face-to-face” person.

  • Virtual conferences are great for being able to attend with less time & money commitment. However, we need better ways to meet people at virtual conferences.
  • I love teaching on a chalkboard! I miss being in the classroom with my students. I am enjoying the interactions that I have with students during virtual lectures, but it feels like the balance of control is much more strongly with me, and I have to remember to give students space to contribute the disruptions that are more natural in the classroom.
  • I loved this [online Big EER] conference!
  • Easy access to EER community across the world. I have loved attending session that are open ended questions about how we navigate online teaching and learning, and everyone can share what they have been doing.
  • I find that being a virtual participant is more environmentally friendly by avoiding air travel. it would also be easier to attend more events than I would in person.
  • Current time is forcing us to adapt quite rapidly to the virtual context, it is important to make the most out of this experience.
  • I prefer being a face to face person; I am more of a “face-to-face” person because I like to see people’s reactions and smiles.
  • I’ve enjoyed getting together with architects and engineers for informal chat.
  • I participated od EDUCON 2020 and I had a great experience participating in workshops.
  • I’ve had more productive and enjoyable small group meetings with my pastoral supervises since lockdown – better than when they are physically squashed together in my quite small office.
  • I enjoyed getting to know a larger group of people (and new topics) in EER that otherwise it would not be possible.
  • I enjoyed being able to meet persons from very different backgrounds and cultures.
  • Many of the most positive and engaging online experiences I have had, have been since lockdown.
  • It’s been nice to travel the world from the comfort of my house while enjoying engineering education research.
  • I’ve been very impressed with how smoothly it has run, and how easy to participate.
  • During this Corona crisis period I have had the opportunity to attend conferences, webinars that I would not have been able to attend in person in a normal period.
  • Last Dec the SEFi working group on ethics organized a two day workshop that integrated online participants in all sessions: online presentations from the team of Virginia Tech (Diana Bairaktarova & Tom Sealy), Q&As taking questions from online participants, mixed breakout tables with both in person and online participants. The workshop had 60% in person participants 40% online participants.
  • Easy access to EER community across the world. I have loved attending session that are open ended questions about how we navigate online teaching and learning and everyone can share what they have been doing.
  • This experience today has been great – lovely to feel connected to people and conversations that I would normally be far away from.
  • Also have been thankful for the opportunity to attend conferences/meetings that I wouldn’t otherwise be able to due to my reluctance to be away from home.
  • Yes, you can “attend” many more conferences in the same time and less expense.
  • Also much more awake for conference sessions (sometimes getting a decent night’s sleep can be difficult in hotel rooms).
  • I think though that it is harder to build the connection with people who you don’t already “know”.
  • There was a webinar by the folks who ran LAK 20 online on two weeks’ notice. The policy was to have speakers present at a time appropriate to their timezone and upload immediately afterwards so that people in other timezones could see the talk.
  • And somehow interacting with my normal face-to-face colleagues via online seems almost natural – the connectivity is there.

Then, Shannon presented ideas from Sarabipour et al (2020), who say:

Science is a global endeavour and we as scientists have the responsibility to make conferences more affordable, environmentally sustainable, and accessible to researchers constrained by geographical location, economics, personal circumstances or visa restrictions.

Sarabipour et al (2020)

There’s a need to modernize and to improve: 

  • Diversity
  • Inclusivity
  • Career development and networking, especially for early career researchers (ECRs) 
  • Venue accessibility
  • Environmental impact, carbon footprint (Sarabipour et al, 2020)

Many can’t travel, for example:

  • Early-career researchers
  • Researchers from young labs and low- to middle-income countries 
  • Junior principal investigators (Sarabipour et al, 2020)


There is inequitable access regarding:

  • Gender
  • Ethnicity
  • Socioeconomic status
  • Health and mobility
  • Geographical backgrounds
  • Career stage (Sarabipour et al, 2020)

Geographical inequity:

  • Visa inequity
Maps in the paper by Sarabipour et al (2020) provide a visual comparison of Germany, Iran, Argentina, and South Africa–green you can go without a visa, grey you must purchase a visa.
  • Travel requires resources: time, physical exertion, and family management, as well as funding.
  • “The less wealthy subsidize the expenses of the speakers, who usually attend scientific meetings free of charge.”
  • Registration fees can be steep and “Large conferences are often hosted in expensive cities as there are many accommodation options for large crowds, while conferences in more affordable locations are typically smaller in size.” Food often costs more there, too!
  • “Women and researchers from racial and ethnic groups, who are under-represented in various fields, are the least likely to be offered opportunities to speak at meetings in their discipline”.
  • “The experience of presenting at meetings for early career researchers (ECRs) and minorities who attend has not improved appreciably”.
  • Digital conferences and discussion forums can, in fact, serve to assist communication between early career and senior researchers since writing a comment or question in a forum can feel less intimidating than approaching an established scholar in person.” (Sarabipour et al, 2020)

Environmental Toll: CO2 emissions

  • “Global aviation as a country ranks among the top 10 emitters”
  • “Conference attendance represents 35% of a researcher’s footprint
This was one of four maps provided in Sarabipour et al (2020). For one person, “Flying from Perth, Australia to London, United Kingdom and back for the annual Immuno-Oncology summit 2020 generated about 3,153 kg (3.47 tons) of CO2. There are 109 countries where the average person produces less CO2 in a year”. It’s equal to a full year’s emissions of all the brown areas on this map. This is the same path that Inês and I plan to take to Perth if we are lucky enough to attend REES 2021.

Participants commented:

  • This financial impact will be exacerbated in the current economic climate.
  • That’s a great point @Shannon. We’re teaching Sustainable Development Goals, but attending conferences can have a huge negative impact.

A participant from the US queried:

  • The “environmental impact” from a single conference is miniscule.
  • Of course, this assumes that you believe that CO2 emissions are harmful …
  • We need a better way to “meet” people in online venues.

The last point gained support from other participants:

  • Agree – it’s difficult to do accidental networking/meeting in online conferences – tend to stick to talking to people you already know/recognise.
  • I agree.
  • Absolutely. Many interesting conversations/networking happens in less structured settings – coffee breaks, etc. How can we ‘create’ these opportunities online?

Shannon shared some Recommendations from Sarabipour et al (2020) that could apply in EER:

  • Replace in-person national and international meetings with more ground-based travel to regional meetings
  • Hold small and large meetings fully online or connect regional conference hubs digitally by live-streaming the conference [possibility for REES 2021+EERN-UK/IE]
  • Make research results more accessible globally via virtual access [eg, REEN database] and pre-printing
  • Foster digital networking by investing in relevant, immersive and interactive experiences [do more of these]
  • At physical conferences:
    • Stop generating junk (paper, souvenirs, badges)
    • Organize well-planned networking activities
    • Include public outreach & environmental clean-up (Sarabipour et al, 2020)
Graphic from Sarabipour et al (2020) of key considerations to take into account in planning any conference.

Next we discussed a question posed by Val: Why and how would making EER conferences greener impact you as an EER researcher?

  • Possibility to attend conferences via online would be very helpful for me as a researcher from SA without lots of funds – I would love to attend REEN 2021 but I don’t see how I’ll afford it.
  • Better access to far away and more conferences.
  • It would allow me to attend more conferences, since I wouldn’t normally fly to more than one conference per year for environmental considerations (would prefer not to fly at all).
  • Overall it would make easier to attend conferences if they are virtual. But also, it is easier to make connections in person.
  • Positive impact: more opportunities to attend events and meet people that I wouldn’t otherwise; ‘feel good’ reducing carbon footprint. Negative impact: human interactions are more challenging online.
  • With online conferences might see more female researchers participating, especially mothers with young kids who might find it difficult going away for a longer period of time.
  • I have never been to a REEN conference due to child care considerations, but I would definitely engage online.
  • Online conferences are less disruptive to teaching schedules – you can conduct your teaching and dip in and out of sessions.
  • Sometimes it’s difficult to physically travel to a conference fitting it in around teaching commitments.
  • Is it easier now to justify virtual conferences and meetings? Now we need to do it due to the Covid.
  • But if we want to build networks we have to do that intentionally.
  • I would like for online events to have ‘online dinners’ ‘online coffee breakout rooms’ where people could chat by video in an informal manner or to continue the discussion following a talk.
  • I suspect online conferences would encourage me to take a “chance” on hearing talks from people/projects that I was not aware of before.
  • I think that having online events makes it possible to design smaller, more frequent gatherings rather than trying to do mega-events.
  • When I was in Australia for a year, they told me how much time it took to get anywhere!
  • Some thoughts here on ‘virtual socialising’ at a virtual conference here http://www.parncutt.org/virtualsocializing.html
  • I am certainly more interested in attending a one day event online than I would be to attend a weeklong online event.
  • Totally agree with [above comment]! ASEE, for example, can be overwhelming. The sessions you want to attend have limited places. The colleagues you want to reach/get in touch with are difficult to find in the crowd!
  • I think virtual conferences actually make the physical conference more productive – you can read someone’s research, interact with them online, and if there is traction, you can meet in a physical conference and this will be more productive as you already know each other.
  • Totally agree – mix of virtual & physical is ideal.
  • Yes!
  • I had a glass of wine before talking to Eric Mazur 🙂

Next we discussed the question: How could online participation options work in EER?

  • Can do online collaborative workshops with colleagues at different institutions easily. Definitely easier to attend than in real life but would be my personal preferences to have a hybrid somehow – but unsure if I am at a conference if I would be interested in doing the online version of that….
  • Maybe maintain a certain topic coffee break every x weeks. This way we can meet people with the same topic interests. (Like group writing meetings.)
  • You have to be much more strategic in designing interactions – you just can’t have as many talks in a day, or such quick turnaround between talks, as you would in a physical conference. Large amounts of parallel sessions would be disastrous, I think. Today was a good model – multiple time zones, and everyone speaking was a keynote.
  • The same way works face to face.
  • Combination of keynote sessions, workshops, and less structured formal sessions. Other idea would be to provide the option to join ‘interest’ groups.
  • Would be nice if live streaming/recording of sessions would become common practice. Enabling online participation for in-person conferences. For conferences which are solely online based, including online informal sessions.
  • I went to REES in Bogota, 2017. It was a great experience. The sessions were very interactive. Very different from those conferences where you have 10 minutes to present your paper, nobody asks you a question and that is the end. I think that the way the sessions were run could be done virtually too.
  • Another random idea I would like to share: There are conference apps (Whova at https://whova.com/virtual-conference-platform/, Conference4Me) that have networking features (you can meet other attendees with similar interests). This could easily be extended to online conferences. Also, these apps could be extended to accommodate attending multiple conferences at one time, so you could make up a personal schedule of events from both conferences.
  • Haven’t been to REES either – distance was the reason.
  • I think we need to add ‘bring your own drink session’ to these online events!
    • 🙂
    • BoD
    • Well… this event was, after all, called BEER 😉
    • I agree with you Ines. Also if there were options for people to set up their own private meet-ups within the conference software – just as we would do when we form small groups during tea breaks.
  • Actually the REES format forces you to engage. Perhaps this could be a feature that can be built into an online session.
  • It’s also good to share recordings later – many colleagues couldn’t join due to timezones.
  • If you have a gap between the session and discussion, you might lose people.
  • Based on the number of online attendants today, there is a real need for this type of events.

Shannon posed ideas of holding smaller, regional conferences in alignment to share resources and conversation virtually, for instance:

  • The winter meeting of EERN-UK & Ireland could be aligned with REES 2021 scheduled for December 5-8 in Perth.
  • REES 2021 could broadcast some presentations and virtual attendees (such as those gathered on another site, or in their own homes) could submit questions using, perhaps, Padlet as implemented successfully at REES 2019 in Cape Town.
    • Another alternative to Padlet is Jamboard.
    • Agreed!! I was thinking of Padlet yesterday!
    • @shannon, I agree totally
    • Shannon, its a good idea, I am thinking of two or more research groups in different places meeting, individually, and then sharing their discussions with others.

Shannon noted that we need to implement sliding scales for registration fee, or somehow recognize that people from lower-income countries can’t access many of our events physically. Comments on that included:

  • The conferences that still have big fees are those run by societies that are trying to support their ongoing expenses.  I have seen major conferences where the fee is as low as $30.
  • I’m attending an audio conference coming up virtually but the fee is still $175. Not sure why.
  • Educon2020 had different fees for people from low income countries.
  • ASEE, for example, makes a lot of money at the annual conference to support their headquarters and staff.  Despite the $500 registration fee, they are still taking a hit to their sustaining fund.

By audio, we noted that conferences that had to quickly shift online had made payments out, that would be lost.

  • That point about sunk costs is a good one. The conferences that have paid a lot of up-front fees are mostly this spring and summer. Moving into (northern) autumn, we should see some of the fees come down.
  • Speaking of broadening participation, a virtual conference is a great way to get your students into the academic community at an earlier stage in their education.

One participant said she was new to EER and, in attending this Big EER Meet Up, found this academic community very welcoming. She said she felt much more welcome that in her home/technical discipline. She asked what our experiences were.

  • Shannon described her transition from architecture (teaching in the States) to engineering education in Europe after she attended SEFI 2012 and experienced a very warm welcome.
  • @shannon, I agree with you. I am a physicist and EER community is much, much more receptive than the Physics community.
  • Agreed, also more receptive than Aerospace. Feels like a real community. Inclusive 🙂

The session lasted 1.25 hours, and it drew to a close, participants added:  

  • Great discussions everyone – sorry I can’t stay much longer (it’s supper time in this household) – looking forward to ongoing discussion about moving online!
  • I need to leave now, this was a good conversation. Thank you to everyone for organising and participating.
  • I will also ditch… fake SA winters are hard work! Thanks Shannon, Inês and Carlos 🙂
  • What a great day, and final session. Take care everyone.
    • Bye Diana! Great work!
    • Bye Diana. It was great to see you. And what a fantastic presentation!
    • Thank you ladies! hope we can meet soon. SEFI was also moved online this year.
    • I know. Very sad about that.
  • Diana asked: Why is it so difficult to close this meeting? I enjoyed it too much! If you organize any events or online talks including ethics, drop me an email please so I can include them in the SEFI newsletter!

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.

A Public Service Announcement to reduce colds this winter

In the interest of public health, I’m posting a blog to ask, beg, and plead that when you’re sick you STAY AT HOME.

There’s more than one way to tell a story. With a dozen possibilities, I’ve decided to present two. How would you tell this one? What do you make of it all? What would you do?

Empathetic to the carrier

Imagine you’d come to work on a Friday, feeling a bit, ill but coughing and sneezing so violently by the time you arrived at your desk that you couldn’t even settle in right away. You had to leave the office to compose yourself and find some tissues. You trudged through work all day because you were up against deadlines. “Maybe I should have stayed home,” you think, “but I’ve too much to do.” Unfortunately, your desk is adjacent to 23 others in a large open plan, and two colleagues are seated directly in front of you working diligently away. Their jobs don’t permit quite as much work-from-home as yours. They say nothing. On the other hand, another colleague who sits behind you gets up and moves. She’s now sitting in her team leader’s glass-enclosed office right beside your own desk. You see she’s bundled up in a winter coat and gloves—maybe the heat isn’t working in there. “Wonder why she moved in there when it’s cold?” By the end of the day, you decide to make a similar move, as there’s no one in the office’s large, shared conference room. You work in this big room for a couple hours and then you head out, happy to welcome the weekend. By Monday, you’re feeling quite a bit better, and completely fine to head to work.

Empathetic to the victims

I recently witnessed an appalling situation where a colleague came to work in a large open-plan office. Fortunately, only five other people were working in the open-plan portion of the office that day. Also, fortunately, at this university and in this faculty office, we are all very welcome to work from home.

693fe992-78ad-4ab9-a508-2d2cbeec7624-1By the late afternoon, the sick one had moved into a conference room to work, but it was too late.

Unfortunately, within days, the two who face that colleague were very sick.

Why were my colleagues willing to submit themselves to these germs? It appears they didn’t want to seem impolite. (Very British, I think, and not the best choice in this case, in my opinion.)

Now it’s over two weeks later, and one of them is still out of work. The other is clearly struggling to recover and to make it through each day.

Early that day, I had closed myself off in a glass-enclosed room, where I worked with coat and gloves to avoid the flying germs. By some miracle, I escaped unharmed.

I’m not as reservedly polite as my colleagues, but, in this instance, I also did not go against cultural norms here to say, “WHAT THE HECK ARE YOU THINKING?!?” Back in the USA, I surely would. And, as an architect, I’m comfortable openly critiquing the situation. I don’t want to go hunting around or making passive-aggressive gestures.

So, while I can’t change the past, just maybe I can help make other people’s future healthier.

To help others, I’m saying it loud and clear here:

Please, please don’t let this happen to others. Don’t expose colleagues and students to your infections and germs.

This is true everywhere, but is incredibly important in very densely populated areas, like London.

The Many Senses that Matter in Transportation Design

list of senses by nick tyler

Attending the 2019 opening session of “Design of Accessible Transport Systems” reminded me of the need for designers of all sorts to consider a wider array of senses than the five that normally come to mind. This postgraduate course/module is taught by my primary research supervisor, Professor Nick Tyler.

According to Nick, human senses can be psychological, as we normally picture, but they can also be environmental and interpretational.

Psychological

Psychological senses include the main five that we all recognize: sight, hearing, touch, taste, and smell. But the list doesn’t end there. Far from it!

Other psychological aspects involve balance, proprioception (defined on Wikipedia as “the sense of the relative position of one’s own parts of the body and strength of effort being employed in movement), pain, vestibular awareness (having to do with vertigo), embodiment (essentially, seeing a person or thing as a clearly defined whole with clear boundaries), and temperature.

Environmental

Nick identified the following environment-related senses: rhythm, harmony, color, space, direction, pitch, time, and comfort. As an architect, I’m quite familiar with considering all these in the process of design.

Interpretational

Interpretational senses are even more subtle. They include the senses of self, ownership, justice, history, culture, politics, care, emotion, fear, wellbeing, safety, emotion, pride, responsibility, and symbolism. And, all clearly important to understand when designing anything for people.

During the class, meeting, Nick’s students practiced using tools to simulate various impairments, or as Nick calls them, different capacities.

Introducing PEARL

I had attended the class meeting to get another view of Nick’s research center at Tufnell Park, which is named PAMELA. This center will soon have a sister, named PEARL, as described by Nick in an email he distributed to his faculty last November:

November 19, 2018

Dear All,

Last Friday UCL Council approved the investment of £37.8M [37.8 million GBP]  in our PEARL facility (Person-Environment-Activity Research Laboratory), which will be a successor to PAMELA. This investment supplements a £9M [9 million GBP] contribution from BEIS, so the department will have the benefit of a new £47m [47 million GBP] research facility to add to its facilities in Gower Street and Here East. PEARL is the UCL component of the UKCRIC multi-university laboratory complex for research on Infrastructure and Cities.

PEARL will be a 9,500 m2 [square meter] facility, of which 4,000 m2 will be a laboratory space for building 1:1 scale environments and testing them with people — this means that we could have a 100m-long street, or a small town square, or a railway station with 4-carriage trains, station concourses etc. instrumented so that we can study in detail how people interact with such environments. The facility is available for use for transdisciplinary research and teaching where these require the use of big, instrumented, highly configurable space, and it will have a large and significant engagement with the local community.

PEARL will be located in Dagenham.

Huge thanks are due to Nigel Titchener-Hooker, who led the negotiations through UCL to secure this investment.

It is a massive vote of confidence in the department!

Yours,

Nick

Nick Tyler CBE FREng FICE FCIHT FRSA
Chadwick Professor of Civil Engineering
Director, UCL Centre for Transport Studies
UCL, Gower Street, London WC1E 6BT, UK
+44 20 7679 1562
@nicktyler4 @ucl-squared

Nick’s research is really making a difference–globally as well as right here in London– and I’m honored to have a first-hand view on some aspects of his work.

The two photos at the end of the gallery below explain more about PAMELA, and how to get involved as a participant in Nick’s research studies for people who live in or near London.