Small rural villages in Cambodia's Mekong River islands are unlikely venues for an intensive cross-cultural learning experience for Charles Sturt University (CSU) engineering students.
Eight students last month took part in the Engineers Without Borders (EWB) Australia 2017 Design Summit in Cambodia, one of the poorest Southeast Asian countries, where 80 per cent of the population live in rural areas.
"The summit highlighted to the student the roles of community development, technology and engineering in helping build capacity for developing communities," said Dr Andrea Goncher, course manager for the CSU Engineering degree.
"Over their 14 days in Cambodia, we wanted the students to further develop personal and professional skills and apply these in a developing countries.
"The program is designed to help students recognise good development practices while applying human-centred design principles based on local community needs."
Initially, the first- and second year students learned about community life in the Cambodian capital, Phnom Penh, before travelling to and staying in villages on islands in the Mekong River, in Kratie Province.
During their village stays, students engaged with the human-centred design process by discovering community strengths, empathising with the end users of the students' design ideas, and developing ideas for the community to help them build capacity to design and improve waste management practices and water quality and distribution, for example.
"The students were able to apply their skills in a development context and learn about sustainable development practices," said Dr Goncher, who escorted the student group to Cambodia.
"They decided to address problems involving the villagers' educational opportunities, access to healthcare, and integration of more sustainable waste management practices."
After further developing their ideas on the mainland in Kratie, they presented their prototype design ideas to village members and stakeholders from the Cambodian Rural Development Team.
"The Charles Sturt University students were able to work in teams with students from around Australia and from various engineering disciplines to gather input and feedback from the community partners on their ideas," Dr Goncher said.
"After the Design Summit experience, CSU student engineers learned first-hand how to embed people-centred values in engineering. They have left the EWB Design Summit program better prepared to tackle important global issues."
The EWB Design Summit is an international study program where Australian university students and in-country community organisations collaborate to develop human-centred engineering ideas, sharing knowledge with local communities, and learn about development in Asia-Pacific countries.
The second year student engineers have now commenced four years of placements across regional and rural NSW.