grace at a table

people speaking in a group

Pictured at top: Mechanical engineering student Grace Burleson speaks to Simon Peter Wekoye about how his family retrieves and treats water in the village of Bududa, Uganda.
Below: Humanitarian Engineering Program Director and Professor Kendra Sharp gives a tour of her MIME research facility, the Microfliudics and Micro-Hydro Lab, to Gretchen and Dick Evans as Professor Rob Stone looks on.


Establishing a New Track of Engineering

Oregon State alumni Dick and Gretchen Evans have a pretty good “track record” of supporting their alma mater. The Frances Evans & Madelyn Heesacker Track & Field Scholarship Fund supports women runners who are also engineering students.

The scholarships are named for their mothers who were standout athletes in an era when women and athletics was not a model for good future opportunities. 

When the couple had the chance to support a new track of engineering at Oregon State called humanitarian engineering, the globe-trotting couple found a match that suited their outlook: technical engineering competence, support for women and minorities, and a global humanitarian perspective.

“One of the important criteria for our involvement was the guarantee that the curriculum was not soft on engineering requirements, and that the program covered the technical skills necessary for engineering,” said Dick, a 1969 IE graduate.

Evans' career in the metals industry included almost three decades with Kaiser Aluminum, appointments around the globe, and years in executive-level corporate leadership including CEO at Alcan, Canada’s leading aluminum producer.

“An Oregon State engineering star can find a great job in the Valley, or anywhere, and never learn the lessons that come from a global experience. We take it for granted that we have world-class facilities and resources. But in many parts of the world, managers of a facility face water or power shortages, supply chain delays. They must also have the soft skills – such as communication, leadership and the ability to work across cultures – to meet these challenges,” Dick said. 

“The humanitarian engineering curriculum is a structured way for engineers to practice those human skills in challenging, real world settings,” Dick said.

Humanitarian engineering as a discipline seeks science- and engineering-based solutions to improve the human condition by increasing access to basic human needs such clean water or renewable energy, enhancing quality of life, and improving community resilience, whether in face of natural disasters or economic turmoil.

Gretchen Evans, an artist, interior designer and educator who graduated from OSU’s College of Education, can attest to the need for creative solutions in the global setting. “There is not too much time for electives and other classes when pursuing an engineering degree. We have seen engineers exposed to a broader, global perspective show a more reliable, realistic and innovation approach to problems,” Gretchen said.

Two years in planning, the humanitarian engineering program will be able to formally enroll students in the engineering minor by the end of the academic year.

The core courses for the minor were first offered winter 2015, including ENGR 499/599 “Engineering Design for Emergency and Low-Resource Environments.” Students must complete every credit of their engineering curriculum, as well as choose courses from an array of academic offerings, including anthropology, public health, philosophy, and women, gender & sexuality studies.

Endowed Professorship for Dr. Kendra Sharp

The couple made a $1.5 million gift, creating one of the only endowed professorships in this emerging field. The first Richard and Gretchen Evans Professor in Humanitarian Engineering is mechanical engineering professor Kendra Sharp, who directs the program.

“We were both so impressed, with Kendra Sharp’s passion and commitment and with what we saw as the depth of support at college and university level for this emerging program,” Gretchen said.

“One of the things that’s most exciting about humanitarian engineering is that it captures the interest of a more diverse group of prospective students than we typically see in engineering, including a significant number of women,” Sharp said. “We are thrilled that the Evans’ gift will help us channel students’ passion for making a better world. The stability provided by this endowment will make a huge difference as we move forward.”

Dick and Gretchen made prior gifts that helped build different aspects of the humanitarian program.
 The Evans Family Fellowship supports graduate student stipend and travel for humanitarian engineering-related projects.

For example, their fund supports some of the Peace Corps International Master of Engineering students to go abroad and complete their master thesis project work, in addition to completing their Peace Corps-related duties. 

Kendra Sharp also is the College of Engineering Peace Corps Master’s International program coordinator.

The Evans Family Fellows from the get-go, proves to be a dazzling bunch.

Thomas Mosier is a dual-major PhD in water resources engineering and mechanical engineering.

Mosier is creating an open source climate modeling tool that will help communities select the best location to install small-scale hydropower.

Leah Tai is a Master’s student in water resources engineering involved in the Trans African Hydro-Meteorological Observatory (TAHMO), a Kenya-U.S. partnership that explores the connections between weather, crop productivity, and food security.
Tai installs on-site weather monitoring stations and helps with student exchange programs to increase study of local and global weather. 

Oregon State has Strong Foundation for New Program

Oregon State’s humanitarian engineering program has a terrific foundation across the campus. 
Student organizations, including the award-winning Engineers Without Borders chapter and the American Society of Civil Engineering student chapter, have been working on water, energy and other projects in underserved Oregon communities and the developing world.

The new program is just one of a few nationwide with an academic curriculum, in contrast to humanitarian programs that are primarily an extracurricular activity.

Oregon State’s humanitarian engineering program is further differentiated by residing in a university that offers a graduate level opportunity through the Peace Corps Master’s International program in engineering. 

OSU was the first university in Oregon to join this program, and it remains one of just 10 universities nationwide to offer this degree in engineering.

Photo credit: "Grace Burleson talks to a family in Uganda" by Matt Rogers