The successful implementation of any water project requires a holistic understanding of the physical, social, political and environmental conditions in which that project takes place. You simply cannot design an engineering solution in isolation of its context. While the project may make technical sense on paper or in the lab, if your goal is to solve a particular problem, many other factors must be considered for a successful outcome.
From my own research, I know the importance of an integrated approach to water management. My master’s degree at UBC focused on developing chemical-free water treatment technologies that could be implemented in remote Indigenous communities. Chemical-based water treatment options are particularly challenging in remote locations because of supply chain issues and the cost and complexity of shipping chemicals to communities that might be accessible only by air, water or a logging road.
My doctoral work explored sustainable access to water in rural areas in East Africa. I was looking at this issue through a systems- and community-based lens that went beyond the technical aspects of water delivery. I developed a model that incorporates some of the factors that contribute to sustainable water service delivery so that decision makers could optimize programs and generate more sustainable outcomes for rural communities.
This research build on my observations that engineers and other professionals working within the water industry have an important role to play in ensuring that technical solutions take into account a project’s unique social, economic and political context. This is where a program like the Master of Engineering Leadership (MEL) in Integrated Water Management is so critical. It can help students develop the tools they need to develop workable water solutions by offering an integrated approach to understanding water.
The curriculum helps students develop both the technical and leadership skills they need to work for change within the water sector. Courses cover topics in treatment technologies, hydrology and fluid mechanics, paired with courses that address the business side of people management, strategy development and project delivery. A capstone project enables students to work directly with an industry partner to develop a solution to a specific challenge.
The program is designed to accelerate the careers of forward-thinking people who are already working in the sector and who want to be part of implementing solutions to some of the most pressing issues of our time, including equitable water use and climate change mitigation. On this past point, there is a pressing need for leaders in the water industry who understand the potential impacts of climate change and who want to be part of designing a climate-resilient water system that can handle both increased precipitation events as well as long stretches of drought – or both – depending on where you are in the world.
As the director for the MEL in Integrated Water Management, I have had the opportunity to talk directly with the students who have chosen to invest in their future through a professional master’s degree. They are all very motivated to make a difference, and they see the program as an accelerator to help them use their technical talents and leadership skills to contribute to the social good in a very practical, tangible and meaningful way.
Dr. Pranav Chintalapati holds a Ph.D in Environmental Engineering from the University of Colorado. He also completed his M.A.Sc and B.A.Sc. in Chemical Engineering at the University of British Columbia. He is also an Assistant Professor in the UBC Chemical and Biological Engineering Department.
“I’m interested in adaptable approaches for developing engineering knowledge, and I think experiential learning, where students learn through doing, can offer an integrated, holistic learning process.”