By Lima, Marybeth
ASEE Prism , Vol. 15, No. 3
Engineers must engage the community in addressing disenfranchisement.
THE SKY GETS HIGHER in September. A fellow graduate student taught me that proverb, which she translated from her native Korean. I've always loved that statement, and I feel like it's true. As I write this essay on my back porch in mid-September, the Louisiana sky is so high and so blue it's amazing. Still, Katrina is very much on my mind, and there's one thought I keep returning to.
I have known for years that if a Category 5 hurricane ever hit New Orleans, predictions were that 100,000 people would die. I learned a year ago that 130,000 people in New Orleans have no personal transportation and would constitute the vast majority of the 100,000 casualties. I accepted the latter statement as truth but didn't think to do anything about it. My lack of thought on this issue bothers me.
I've spent my professional life committed to service-learning in engineering. Service-learning is defined as an educational experience where students participate in an activity that meets community needs and helps students gain further understanding of course content, a broader appreciation of the discipline and an enhanced sense of civic responsibility. For the past six years, I've worked with children in public schools in Baton Rouge and college students at Louisiana State University to design and construct dream playgrounds at public schools. We're on the way to making this happen throughout the city, and I'm currently on sabbatical trying to make this effort a reality statewide. I've been so committed to this endeavor that I became almost myopic about other issues. Katrina jolted me back to reality.
The effects of Katrina are mindboggling to me personally and professionally. The engineer in me is still critiquing inefficiencies in the collection, distribution and use of rescue efforts and resources, while the humanist in me is aghast at the tragedy and the vast differences in race, class and life in America that the hurricane exposed. …